New Year, New Rules: Managing Screen Time

Kids everywhere area headed back to school for another exciting year of learning and growth. Here are some tips to help you manage screen time so kids can focus on school.

Backpacks are packed, lunches are made and, to the simultaneous elation and sadness of parents everywhere, school is back in session. The kids are off to conquer a new grade, engage with new concepts and learning modules and generally rock another year of learning. You can almost taste their excitement over seeing friends again, comparing summer adventures and sharing the colorful new backpack or school supply they can’t wait to put to good use.

With all the excitement that comes with back to school, it might be time to think about your digital strategy for the year. If your kids are like mine, as the summer wore down, they may have found themselves online a little too frequently, enjoying far too many hours of favorite games such as Roblox or Fortnite. In order to re-center their focus back to ever-important schoolwork and away from screens, you may need to lay out new expectations for screens during the school year.

As teachers ease kids into homework and encourage reading after the bell has rung for the day, you, too, may want to ease kids into restricted screentime in order to switch their focus from the digital world to the real one. But the good news is, it can be done! Kids are adaptable and will adjust if the rules are clearly defined… And enforced (we can do this, fellow parents of the world!). 

New Year screentime tips

Set daily limits

Decide whether kids can earn more time on the weekends

During the week, it can feel rather easy to limit screentime. Kids are often exhausted after a full day of school, and, once after school activities pick back up, they may find it challenging to even find the time between soccer practice and homework to even go online. But you may want to go ahead and set limits anyway, so that there are no questions as to how much screentime is allowed. 

For years, my kids tried to get more time on the weekends when they didn’t use their daily time. During the school year, we allow 30 minutes of non-school related screentime on weekdays and one hour a day on weekends. My kids would often try to talk me into more, reminding me on Monday they didn’t get any because of sports, and Tuesday was the same and so on. If the kids had a good week with minimal whining about homework or practices, we would sometimes allow an extra hour for good behavior. Whatever your rules, just make sure the kids understand them out of the gate.

Differentiate between school screentime and fun screentime

My oldest finds herself relying on the internet more and more these days for help with homework. She has been enrolled in a bilingual school since kindergarten and her Spanish skills surpassed mine years ago. When she has to write an essay in Spanish, she frequently needs Google translate to help her with words and phrases she can’t quite navigate unassisted. We make sure that her school-related screentime doesn’t count again her fun screentime because we want her to be able to get help when she needs it. Allowing kids to not deduct online research time from their fun time ensures that they won’t clip corners when doing school work just to avoid losing time on a beloved game or online activity.

Consider signing a tech contract

There is no question that putting things in writing helps all involved parties. Creating a clear and concise guide that outlines rules and time limits means that there is little room for disagreements to break out or for kids or parents to claim they weren’t clear on what the rules were. A simple Google search turns up a lot of great pre-made contracts (we’ve linked a great one here), or you can absolutely draw up your own contract that clearly outlines how much screentime is allowed per day as well as what must be done before screens are turned on (homework, chores, etc.). In our house, we also differentiate between internet screentime and TV screentime. Because we don’t worry as much about our kids watching a 30-minute sitcom on Disney+ the way we worry about our kids online with others for 30 minutes, we allow up to 30 minutes per day on TV or the internet, but we certainly know a number of people who only allow 30 minutes total. 

However you decide to navigate a new school year with regards to electronics, just make sure you stress to your kids that schoolwork comes first and then try to enjoy the year. It’s going to be a great one!