Tag Archives: screen time

Rationing Screen Time for Kids

If you have kids, you may be in the same boat as me – suddenly realizing that they are spending too much time in front of display screens. My wife and I are trying to ration their screen time, and I’d love to hear what you think about our method.

Our house has seven screens of various sizes, all connected to the infinite, interactive, on-demand Internet, and six are mobile devices; one television, two laptops, two tablets, and two phones. With this amount of gear, we almost always have a spare device wherever we are.

As parents, we want our kids to be comfortable and familiar with the technology given its increasing importance in global culture and commerce. We let them use those devices in order to learn how to use them and also as rewards for good behavior. But we’ve also been guilty of using those screens as babysitters when we needed to get things done or have a break from the kids. Personally, I’ve also been really bad at modeling good behavior when it comes to when and where I use my screens.

With that backdrop, the past few months have seen our kids more frequently pestering us for screen time. With one of our children, that pestering recently went beyond whining into full-blown, angry temper tantrums in public. Their expectations obviously reached the point of feeling entitled to play or watch something whenever and wherever they want.

This saddened me. Somewhere along the way, we failed our kids in setting and enforcing limits around screen use. We lost control.

The method we’re using to get it back is screen rationing, and this magnetic whiteboard with colored magnets is helping us to keep track of it all. To enforce the time limits, we use our kitchen timer or a timer on the device they are using.


Here are the rules that go with the board, and the rationale behind each rule:

  1. Each colored magnet is worth ten minutes. Discrete and concrete time units.
  2. Only mom or dad touch or move the marbles or all marbles are lost for the day. A deterrent to tampering.
  3. TV time can be shared or pooled. Encourages cooperative behavior for shows longer than 30 minutes.
  4. Computer/phone/tablet time cannot be shared or pooled. Caps total screen time per day to two hours per person.
  5. Both people lose time for fighting, no matter who started it. Deterrent to fighting.
  6. Time is lost for misbehavior. Consequences for bad behavior.
  7. Time used cannot be earned back. Used means used.
  8. Time lost can be earned back with good behavior or performing additional chores. Reinforces good behavior.
  9. Bedtime is still bedtime, even if you have time left. Limit setting.
  10. Time resets at bedtime. Every day is a new day.
  11. Time cannot be given to the other person. It’s not their responsibility to allot time.

We’re prepared for a rocky first few days or weeks for everyone as we all get used to this new structure, but we’re hopeful that the benefits will spill over into other areas.

What do you think?