Screen-time is a big issue with a lot of parents. How much to allow? How much is too much? What to allow? How do we protect our kids online?
I think there are good reasons to be concerned.
Screens are addicting.
Video games are especially addicting. People try to justify video game use, and while they do have their plus side, they also ARE addicting.
They were addicting back when I was kid and Nintendo and Super Mario brothers was all the rage.
It doesn't take research or scientific studies to know that screens are addicting. Observation of the human race is all you need. Just look at all the people out everywhere on their phones all the time. I know from my observing my own self and family members, that they are addicting. I can remember feeling addicted to Commander Keene, as a kid (anyone else play that game?). I've gone through periods of my time, where I spent more of the day on the computer, rather than off. It's easy to get lost in a screen.
It's not that computer or screen time is bad. It's that it can become addicting and turns into the default activity. It takes the place of other activities....reading books, playing outside, creative pursuits, imaginary play. If a child (or adult) is bored, or unsure what to do, they default to sitting down in front of a screen for entertainment.
I don't want that for my kids.
So, this is how we handle it.
1. Limited time:
Generally our children are limited to 2 hours of screen time a day. That does not include any time they spend doing schoolwork on the computer.
2. Different Time Limits for Different Activities
The time is broken down into two different activities. Watching a show/movie and general free time. They are ONLY allowed watch in the evening, after chores are done, from 8:00 PM-9:00 PM. If they aren't home or aren't done with chores they miss out on some or all watching time. Small exception for the teenager...she is allowed to stay up later, so she is allowed to start watching later.
3. Broken up time.
My kids get 1 hour of free time on the computer a day. This time is broken up into two 30 minutes increments and they have to set the timer for each 30 minute set. If they want to do two 30 minute sets in a row, they can, as long as a sibling isn't waiting to use the computer.
4. Different limits for weekdays versus weekends.
During the week, my kids only have a few activities they are allowed to do during their free time. Email. chess, writing stories, a math game, and creative stuff (like playing around in paint). These are (in my opinion) the least addictive computer activities. Weekends, they are allowed to spend their time on more junky/video game type stuff. Still limited to just 1 hour a day, and we don't own a video game consoles. However, on weekends, they may play games on say mylittlepony.com or angry birds. Things like that. They aren't allowed to do that during the week.
Honestly, we don't have any great protective mechanisms on our computer. We do keep the computer in a public area, but don't have any web protective things (like K-9) installed. For one thing, I think google search algorithms have improved quite a bit over the last several years. It is a lot harder to "stumble" on something bad, then it used to be. Being the paranoid, hypochondriac that I am, I have hours and hours and hours of google search experience, and I have almost never stumbled upon anything bad or problematic. Things have improved to the point (in my experience at least) that one has to be LOOKING for something bad, it's much harder to just stumble upon it.
6. Google Safe Search
We do have Safe Search installed. It's not perfect, but it's good enough to keep kids from stumbling across anything they shouldn't. The thing I like about Google Safe Search, is that it works silently. The person doesn't really "know" it's on. It doesn't create this idea of forbidden fruit. I really don't want the only reason my kids don't look at porn to be because it's blocked. I want them to not look at it, because they don't want to and they know it's wrong. Because some day those are kids are going to be adults and move out, and then no one will be putting blocks on their computers. I believe very strong that it's important to do the right thing because it's the right thing, not because you are somehow physically prevented from doing something wrong.
7.No hand-held screens/ no video games
We just don't have any.. Well, we do have one, very old, broken Ipod that they use to listen to music, but music is about all it's good for. The screen is cracked and has some sort of other big blotch on it, so playing games or surfing it really out of the question. Oh...and I guess they do use my cell phone as a camera a lot. But, that is generally it. They don't play games on the cell phone. The only screen they generally use is the chromebook.
We don't own any video game consoles or things like that....so no wii, or x-box or PlayStation of whatever they have now. The only games they can play are things on the computer.
How it's working. For the most part, these limits work very well. My kids no longer fight over whose turn it is to get on the computer. They know they have a limited time, and that is it. They have become much better at finding other things to do. They don't race into the house to see who can get onto the computer first. They spend more time playing other games and less time worrying about the computer.
What about you? How do you handle screen time with your kids?