If your back-to-school plans include a shake-up of routine and a reset you are definitely not alone.

A theme in our end-of-summer parent sideline chatter has been the much-anticipated reduction of screen time that comes with school and a new routine. If you have followed our family over on @fivepax social media for a while you know, we are all about that screen-free life. For years our kids watched cartoons on weekend mornings while we prepped for adventures. And then maybe a few hours on a rare afternoon when we the parents needed to get some work done.

As the older kids have gotten bigger we have extended to 3 hours of tech each week with more hours available to be earned through chores. We have had a million things in our favor (a kiddo with screen anxiety to start). But we have also made a lot of intentional decisions as well. And we stick to them even when our kids let us know how unfair it seems. More on how below.

But let’s be real, it’s hard. Really hard to both set limits yes, but to stick to them.

Here are 5 strategies to help your family cut back on screen time that don’t feel like a dreaded punishment for everyone involved. These tips will leave you feeling confident about how to limit screen time for kids and set everyone up for a successful school year. 

1- Establish family limits

Start by setting clear and reasonable limits and boundaries around screen time that work for your family. If you face resistance, set a timeframe when you will revisit the new limits. Together determine what is working well and what may need to change. Kids, like everyone, are far more likely to accept change if they have a real voice in the decision-making. Display these new or re-established screen time limits where everyone can see them and you can revisit them regularly.

2- Identify a list of fun and active alternatives 

Create a list of activities you can do individually and as a family instead of reaching for the remote, iPad, or phone. Review and update the ideas regularly and use them as a reference point on tricky days. A poster in the toy room or a printed list on the fridge are great places to store your fun list. Great family activities include a walk, bike ride, a hike, or another outdoor activity you can all enjoy together. Try drawing, crafts, board games, cards, and magnetic blocks that can be played inside and alone or as a family. Ensure you have a mix of both indoor and outdoor as well as family and individual choices. 

boys and dad hiking in woods
Hiking and exploring outside is our family’s favorite screen-time alternative.

3- Avoid reward and punishment around screen time

Every parenting website has told you to make screen time a reward and the ultimate punishment. And let’s be real,  taking away the iPad actually WORKS for quickly correcting undesirable behavior. But making a loss of screen time the ultimate threat for behavior correction sends a big message that the iPad is the most important reward to strive for. We know screen time isn’t all evil. But when parents position it as the most powerful prize, we are only feeding that screen addiction and placing such a high value on its worth. This one is a long game, there is no quick and dirty secret to making this shift overnight.

4- Lead by example with screen time use

It’s a hard sell to the kids that cutting down on screen time is important if you are unwilling to do the hard work yourself. Create separation between work, and social media and ensure you have adult limits on screens and time with your phone, too. Our best and universal tip to start is creating a “phone zone” to drop phones during family mealtimes and family adventures.

boys having a picnic
When we feel like we are leaning on screens to get caught up on work more than we would like, one parent takes the kids out for a picnic to give the other parent a quiet house. This maximizes work for the parent back home AND gives the kids outside time with a parent who isn’t distracted by work. Go team.

5- Recruit your community

A quick chat with the parents of your children’s friends will likely uncover you are not alone in this effort. But this isn’t the space or time for grandstanding or shaming. Our kids have a lot of friends who are only children who get a lot more screen time than they do. If we were a single child or a single parent or a whole host of other factors and variables our screen limits would look totally different. It’s not a comparison game its a how can we all work together toward more hang time and less screen time situation! Set up playdates, and family dates, and create some stories your kids can share at school on Monday.

three boys riding scooters on a sidewalk
A tip from a neighbor we got was to start one of your weekend mornings with a scooter ride to get muffins instead of cartoons over bowls of cereal.
Did they complain about getting out the door? Yes! (peep the toddler who is still in his pajamas)
Did we have an awesome morning as a family? Also, yes!

And then… Revisit and Recalibrate

After a few days, weeks and months revisit your screen time behaviors. Together determine what is working and what needs to be tweaked. Maybe this means easing back a bit more screen time or maybe scaling it back even more. There is no perfect balance across all families. We really are all doing our best, sometimes just surviving, and it’s not a competition. Land on what feels and is working best for your family in this chapter of parenting. The goal of reducing screen time should be to improve your health and connection. Hiccups are to be expected, be willing to go slower if that is what feels best. 

Have an amazing start to the new school year!

And if you need more support or advice, commiseration, or anything really, drop me an email at brittany@fivepax.com!