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How to Manage Screen Time as a Family

5 ways to control tech use in your household, and make time for what matters

Katherine Lissitsa
May 12, 2020

There’s no use in pretending that technology isn’t taking our world — and our kids — by storm. Whether it’s a cell phone that’s left unsupervised or the shows they watch on an iPad, kids are getting a whole lot of screen time these days.

“I have three girls between the ages of 12-16 at home. When they chat with their friends, plan parties or schedule meetups together, they don’t pick up a house phone or run across the street like I used to as a teen — they use technology.” says Kate Arthur, founder of Kids Code Jeunesse.

“As parents, it’s a challenge to make sure we allow the kids the space to communicate with their friends, without allowing them to be sucked into mindless browsing on their devices.”

While many families are currently learning and working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are more screens being used at home than ever. While classrooms pivot to online teaching, our kids’ screens have become an essential portal to their education. All this time spent on devices might seem concerning, but you’ll be happy to know that we have a few tips and tricks you can use to manage screen time in a family.

Content counts

Since we use the words ‘kids’ and ‘code’ in our name, we’re clearly making a case for children and technology. We strongly believe that digital skills will help kids navigate our technological world with far more ease as they grow older. So our first tip: switch up their YouTube videos for code from time to time.

By introducing them to Scratch, HTML or Python projects or our Code Club activities, your kids will learn to solve problems, be more creative, and feel more confident when using technology. Not to mention that coding lets them experience their other interests in an alternative way. Coding can be combined with arts, music, sports and more to give kids a multidimensional experience.

Changing up the content they consume is one way you can turn screen time around but we recognize that lowering time in front of screens in general is also key to managing the use of technology at home.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

If you’re answering emails at the dinner table or scrolling through Facebook while pushing your kid on a swing, chances are, it won’t set the greatest example.

“In our family, we talk about the use of technology a lot and call each other out when the use of technology gets in the way,” says Kate.

“For instance, absolutely no technology during meals or family time. In our family, each of us has the same authority — whether parent or child — to ask for the device to be turned off.”

As a parent, you’re the one that your child learns a great deal from. They observe you and trust that your actions are the right ones. So our advice to you is: don’t do what you don’t want your child to do. That means, when you’re spending time with your kids, it might be a good idea to go from screen time to face time (not of the iPhone variety, of course).

Screen time is not a reward

Studies have also shown that using technology as a positive reinforcement could send the wrong message to your child. Child development experts say that parents shouldn’t use screen time as a reward because it not only puts technology on a pedestal, but could turn them into excessive tech users in the future.

The flipside is just as bad. If your child learns that no screen time is punishment, then the alternatives become part of the penalty. In other words, no screen time could mean go outside, read a book, or play with your sibling. These are all fun activities, but your child may associate them with the punishment and only do them to gain access to their devices.

Keeping track

If you want to have some hands-on control over your child’s screen time, we suggest getting on a family media plan. Having a central control hub will let you set limits on how much screen time your children get. This could help you avoid excessive use of technology and will settle your kids into a routine, which could help them understand balance in terms of screen time.

Don’t forget to unplug

Simply putting the phone or tablet down may sound like an obvious tip, but hey, it works. Our final suggestion is this: find an activity that gets the whole family involved, but that doesn’t involve technology. It can be game night (board games, that is), a team sport, a drawing session — whatever tickles your family’s fancy.

Having a routine family activity will not only help you manage screen time as a family, but it may even bring you all closer together.

Learning to code doesn’t always mean sitting in front of a screen. In fact, developing your computational thinking skills doesn’t need to require a computer at all. Check out our website for lots of unplugged activities that explore logic, complex systems, and algorithms.