Setting Limits: Limiting Screen Time by Scheduling

There are set times for school, sports practices, and after-school programs. It’s not so odd to start scheduling game time as well. Scheduling is one of the most common methods parents use to set screen time limits in order to avoid overuse of video games. Limiting screen time by scheduling can be a very useful technique for children who are unable to keep themselves away from digital media.

One familiar and effective strategy is to allow children limited access at designated times on school days with more relaxed weekend access. Another is to allow children access to technology only after they have completed homework or other tasks and responsibilities. Schedules with specific time allotments are typically best for children who can become overly immersed in their digital play. For children who need to learn how to prioritize, schedules that allow screen time only after completion of chores and homework may be best.

There are a variety of strategies for effectively limiting screen time by scheduling. Here are some of the most common ones and how you might apply them to your child:

Enforceable Expectations
Enforceable expectations means having a very clearly defined set of parameters that need to be fulfilled before there is screen time access. Parents do need to be actively involved in monitoring behaviors to make this an effective approach. Enforceable expectations include guidelines like, “after your homework is done,” “after you go outside and play,” and “after you complete your chores.” Enforceable expectations work best for children who are doing well in most areas of their lives but may occasionally get too immersed in digital play. Not only does this type of strategy help children prioritize, it assures parents that they do not need to be overly concerned about overuse of technology because their children have many other interests.

Regular But Rigid Limits
This strategy is highly structured with little variation so kids know exactly when and how long they can use digital media. Parents who use this strategy may have different limits for weekends, holidays, and school days, but these do not waver — no matter what. Children who become overly involved in things such as Facebook and texting may need parents to shut off the Internet at night, contact their cell-phone provider to stop texts at a certain time, refuse to allow them to have a computer in their room or a smartphone at all. They may also want to employ the help of browser add-ons like LeechBlock or use parental controls to regulate access to home video game consoles, handhelds, and Windows computers.

Regular but Flexible Expectations
Parents who use this approach leave themselves the option to allow kids more screen time on any given day. This schedule might allow screen time for an hour a weekday and two hours a day on the weekend, but may include exceptions for family car trips, vacations or sick days. It is important that this flexibility remains in the parents’ hands and that the kids understand that bugging, begging, and pleading for more time is not going to work. This is a good strategy for children who might tend to abuse limits if they are not very clearly and regularly set.

Responsible Priorities
This is a technique that many parents use, but depends heavily on the nature of your child and your availability for supervision and guidance. It is strongly recommended that children who struggle in school complete all or most of their homework before being allowed screen time, but it may be unreasonable for some children to come home from school, take only a brief exercise or relaxation break, and then return to hours of schoolwork. If screen time is important to these children, it is best that they get their most difficult homework done before playing a video game, browsing the internet, or using their cell phone.

Setting screen time limits by scheduling works well for many families, and even parents of children who do not necessarily need them may wish to set limits on screen time right after school. We suggest that decompression time, breaks from school, and relaxation are not defined by video game play or other screen time. The first thing your child does when she comes home from school should not be to sit in front of a screen. While she may need to relax, it is important that she not become dependent upon screen time activities for releasing pent-up stress from the school day or other situations, and there is compelling data to suggest that playing video games may not be a very good reward for homework completion. When your child comes home from school, engaging in some form of physical activity or something that engages their brain as well as their body is encouraged. If that isn’t practical or possible, listening to music, being creative, meditating or doing yoga, or even phoning a friend is preferred.

To read more about setting limits, see our series of articles listed below:

Should Children with ADHD or Autism Play Video Games?
How to Limit Kids’ Video Game and Technology Use
5 Tips for Parents on Limiting Screen Time
7 Steps Toward Limiting Screen Time
Limiting Children’s Screen Time Through Curation
Use a Play Diet to Limit Screen Time
When a Play Diet Isn’t Working

To find out how to make the most of the screen time you do allow your children, see our list of Playbooks and app reviews. To learn more about integrating digital play into your child’s recreation time, read about Play Diets and the science behind Learningworks for Kids.

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