It was 4 pm and the TV in our basement was blaring. Almost in a daze as I made dinner, I tried to calculate how many hours of screen time my daughter had for that day.
“The entire movie of Frozen, plus four episodes of Mickey Mouse Club House. Or was it five episodes? Maybe this was episode six for the day…?” Regardless, I don’t know if the TV had ever actually been shut off, and for that, I was ashamed. I always thought I would be better at regulating screen time with my kids, but right then, I needed to make dinner, and keeping the TV on was the only way it was going to happen.
Now repeat this same situation for a week. Something needed to change, and soon.
I threw around the idea of TV time tokens with chores and such, but it felt like so much work that I wouldn’t actually follow through with it, and to get my husband on board seemed impossible. Simply saying “one episode and one movie a day” as we had in the past didn’t feel like it would work either, because here we were at this point, needing a new solution.
One day, I finally found our core problem. Who was addicted to the constant noise of the television? It wasn’t my daughter, even though she was the one watching it. It finally clicked in my brain that it was me who was addicted to screen time, not her. I was the one not wanting to take time to manage it and tell her no. It was easier for me to just tell her yes to Mickey Mouse and not deal with the fight of saying no, or the boredom that would follow if I didn’t allow it. She kept asking for shows because I kept letting her watch them. I needed to change.
Again, more and more brainstorming on the best way to manage the screens in our household ran through my mind before I found a solution. It needed to be easy and convenient because if it was too much work for myself, I knew I would cave.
It was about another week later when the solution hit me.
Let her manage her TV time by herself. Bam. It was that easy. With the proper settings in place, why couldn’t she? Why did I need one more thing to worry about as a mom?
Here’s what I did. (Please keep in mind, none of this is sponsored, it’s just what I chose to do/use).
We have an Amazon smart TV, which comes with a kid’s FreeTime app. On this app, I am able to set which TV apps my daughter has access to and how much screentime she is allowed. We gave her access to Disney+, PBS, and Netflix kids account. Considering that we were at 5+ hours of TV time a day, we set the time limit for 3 hours a day to see where that would get us.
Then came the time to teach her how to use the TV on her own. I spent time showing her the power button and how to use the navigation to move around to which app she wanted. I taught her how to specifically get into the FreeTime app and then navigate from there. And I explained how she only had so much time to watch her shows. Once the time was up, that’s all she had for the day, and would have to find something else to do.
One week of this in place and we never even hit the 3-hour time limit. I moved it down to 2 hours and occasionally she would hit her time limit. If she ever did, she would be sad for a minute, turn off the TV, and then find another way to occupy her time. We are now at a 1-hour 25-minute time limit for a day and it seems to be just the right amount of screentime for us.
In a matter of weeks, we went from 5+ hours of my daughter in front of the TV, to 1 hour, 25 minutes. If that. And the biggest contributing factor was that it wasn’t me micromanaging it, it was me placing the responsibility of the TV in her hands, with a little help to stay in the correct apps and managing the time.
Here are a few reasons why I think it worked so well.
- Just knowing there was a time limit helped all of us remember not to just turn it on anytime we wanted. Everyone was more mindful about when to use the TV. Especially myself, when I knew that the TV running while I made dinner was my biggest saving grace, I needed to use it as a tool at this time, so I didn’t want her time limit running out before 5 pm.
- We were lucky enough to have the ability to use the Amazon FreeTime app, which came with all of the settings we needed. Once she was in the app, she couldn’t get out without the parent password.
- We didn’t use her time limit on family movie nights. If it was a movie we turned on for all of us to enjoy together, that time was on us.
- The fact that we trusted our daughter with the TV remote and gave her the responsibility of regulating it for herself made all the difference to her. She hesitated to complain about her screentime coming to an end because she was grateful we let her run the TV herself.
- We also set time limits that she could not watch shows before 8 am or after 8 pm.
- At one point she figured out she could watch TV longer if she didn’t get into the FreeTime app. After a firm talk with her about why that wasn’t okay and that she needed to only use the FreeTime app, we haven’t had any problems since.
We’ve been using this method for over two months now and it still seems to be working great. My favorite part is that once screentime is over, she silently resigns the remote to its designated spot on the shelf and quickly finds her way to the toy shelf to find a new way to occupy her time. There’s no screaming, no fighting, no trouble!
She has less TV time, I am not constantly trying to keep track of how long the screens are on or changing from show to show for her all day. The TV remote is in her hands, it’s her responsibility, and we all win!
Just another great example of self-reg and why teaching children how to be independent can be helpful to everyone involved.