As mentioned previously, this Christmas, Santa got the three older kids Kindle Fires. I shot a great video of them opening their presents and screaming in disbelief. Up until very close to Advent, we’d always shut down their requests for personal electronic items. My husband and I only recently changed our minds. While in some families screens are no big deal, we over-thought this decision for weeks. We don’t have a TV and until recently, the kids and I have all shared a desktop and antiquated laptop during the day. (Fulton does have and iPad and has for many years as it is one of the few things he can do unassisted. But the benefits of technology for Fulton, and Teddy, belong in another post entirely.) I do have an iPod touch and when my husband is home he has a Samsung tablet, plus a laptop from work he brings home occasionally.
We stream cartoons and movies on the desktop, plus do online classes, and until Christmas, each child got one half hour of time on the desktop each day for games or whatever. A typical half hour usually included Minecraft, watching Minecraft videos on YouTube, uploading and commenting on DIY.org, emailing friends (for Addie) or Barbie Life in the Dreamhouse. The laptop is really only good for web searches, typing practice, Quizlet, and word processing. No one ever asked to use it during their half hour. Sometimes, I’ll use the laptop to blog in bed but typically I use the desktop to write, email, lesson plan, create scout meeting agendas, schedule everything, chat with my husband while he’s at work, and a bunch of other small tasks my kids all say looks like Facebook. I use my iPod primarily to check email, take too many pictures, text, listen to music/ podcasts, and chat (I finally took Facebook off it for good.)
Overall, I think we had a good balance of screens and doing everything else but screen. The one sticking point was that each child sat next to the computer while the others did their half hour of screen time so, every afternoon, rain or shine they all sat for an hour and a half and staring at the desktop. During school, we were getting congestion around the two available computers. And if the laptop was acting wonky, it was hard for everyone to get on the desktop. Usually it wouldn’t come to fisticuffs, I mean, we should all be able to share, but it seriously messed up the flow of our mornings.
Tony thought about getting one family tablet but I really didn’t want to try to “help” everyone learn to share that during the day. (i.e. keep fighting to a minimum over who’s turn it was to use the tablet.) I thought a tablet a piece for the older three would allow them all to work on their school stuff promptly and then they’d all complete their half hour of screen time at the same time, freeing up an hour each afternoon. Plus, now they can all play games, like Minecraft, together. However Tony and I both knew ground rules needed laid so the kids understood what was expected of them and how ownership of their own tablet didn’t equal all day screen time.
I searched Pinterest for screen time contracts, collected some ideas, made some tweaks and typed up the Mantoan family version. I presented the first draft to the kids for feedback, made some revisions then asked them to sign it. No signature, no Kindle Fire. Some people might think it’s overkill, but I’ve always found it best to clearly outline all rules, expectations and consequences to my children. It prevents ongoing questions (Can I get on my tablet now? Now? Now? Now?), and it’s harder for kids to not take responsibility for their actions. (I didn’t know I couldn’t join Facebook and set up a public event for all my friends to come over tomorrow night.)
Our contract clearly states the times their tablets may be used, how they may be used, what must be completed before they can get their screen time, safety measures and my favorite part, “Suggestions to revise this contract must be made to your parents in writing. They will respond to said suggestions within 48 hours. Pestering will result in a denial to review suggestions.”
Kindles do come with an app that controls when and what kids can use on their devices, but I want my kids to know what is expected of them and give them the freedom to do the right thing. If they don’t learn to control themselves, what will guide them once they’re older and the parental blocks come off? Our contract will prevent them from stumbling across too much junk (a big NO to requests for social media accounts and commenting on YouTube) and safety settings on search engines filter out a good chunk as well.
Do your kids have personal electronic devices or screen time during the day? Do you regulate their time or oversee what content they’re viewing? How much time is enough, or too much? Did you specifically address online safety? Leave your answers and comments below!