Getting the Rules Right

Lynn JataniaWhen screens started being part of our daily lives – not just for work, but for entertainment, communication, and news – we parents had to do some serious thinking. What would the rules be? How would we govern these new devices? What were the best choices?

We worked at it, and tried a few things, and came up with some guidelines. But as with all things parenting, working with media is a work-in-progress. We’re constantly revisiting and renegotiating the rules as we figure out what does and doesn’t work for us.

We’ve always had The Big Three rules when it comes to screen time:

  • No devices in bedrooms – bedrooms are for rest and sleep.
  • No devices at the dinner table – that means Mom and Dad too!
  • No screens before school in the morning.

That last one got a lot of complaints from the kid squad, but it worked well for us. Our kids all went to an early start school, and so had to be out the door by 7:45 a.m. for an 8 a.m. school day. That rarely left a lot of time for screens, and certainly any gaming would have made them late. It was a good rule both for the schedule, and also to make sure their minds were clear and focused, ready for work.

This year, our oldest son is in Grade 9 and at a new school. Now, he doesn’t begin his school day until 9:15; he doesn’t have to be out the door until 8:45 a.m. He’s always been an early riser, and often he’s sitting around with his homework done, lunch made, twiddling his thumbs for an hour until it’s time to catch the bus.

Often, he had to check his text messages to see what the commute plan for the day was – who was meeting where and when. And that led to checking a few of his gaming apps, which reward you for collecting your coins a few times a day. And that slippery sloped its way into a half hour of gaming time before heading out the door in the morning.

So far, it hasn’t been a scheduling problem. He sets his own timer to warn him that it’s time to go; he respects it absolutely and has never been late.

But is it a brain problem? Would he be able to concentrate better at school, get better marks if we limited his morning screen time? Would he fill the time with reading or art or engineering projects instead? Are we limiting him in some way?

As with most things tech-related – it’s unknown, it remains to be seen. One thing is for sure – as the rule-makers, it’s pretty hard to go backwards. Now that pre-school screens are seeping their way into the schedule, it would be extra hard to take them away again; it’s always easiest as a parent to say no first, and yes later, than the other way around.

So for now, we’ll let it ride and see how it goes. But it’s definitely something to watch and think about.

What about your family – do you allow pre-school screen time? What works for you?