We Give Our Son Unlimited Screen Time–Here’s Why

How we found a more peaceful home life, screens and all.

We Give Our Son Unlimited Screen Time–Here’s Why

Credit: Jenn Cox

Kids and screen time – it’s something parents are guilted about regularly. I remember when my son got his first tablet, we were setting up screen time alarms and tracking how long he was on it, and in the end, it seemed to cause more stress than anything else.

There were more screen time opportunities as he got older and started playing video games on the computer and Nintendo Switch. So, we set down some basic ground rules:

  • No screens in the car (unless we’re on a road trip longer than four hours). We make a lot of trips to Ottawa to see family, and I always found the car to be a great opportunity for conversation. We listen to music, look at the surroundings, and read or draw.
  • No screens an hour after getting up and an hour before bed. I didn’t want my son to wake up and go straight to a screen. The same goes for before bed – blue light can cause sleep disruption later, so it’s not allowed.
  • Be honest about what you’re doing on the screen. We are constantly discussing the dangers of the internet and how it can be a scary or even dangerous place, and we keep communication open about what he’s playing, who he’s playing with, and what he’s watching on YouTube. We even check his search history regularly.
  • Keep your life balanced. As soon as you let screen time take over your free time, we take a break from it.
Author Jenn's son standing in front of a Nintendo console Credit: Jenn Cox

How we found balance as a family

So, the biggest rule for us was balance. We understand that our son wants to relax and chill out after school and on weekends – we all do. But we don’t want him to become a hermit. That means he can choose when he plays if he doesn’t let it control his waking hours. We give him free reign.

Our son is a big reader and has read over 150 chapter books (we track them on the side of our fridge). He always has at least two books on the go at any given time. He also plays a lot of hockey, is in a league (we have games or practices two to three times a week), and plays team sports for his school. He’s ten and also started going to the park solo to meet friends, and he does this often – he has a lot of really nice friends who live in our neighbourhood, and we keep his social life pretty active with lots of play dates.

How we keep each other accountable

Once we relinquished control of screen time and handed that responsibility to our son, he took it very seriously. He takes regular breaks from the screens and is very transparent and straightforward about what he’s doing – for example, he’ll ask us permission before he starts playing with a new friend on video games. He doesn’t have many chat features enabled on video games; if he does, he must get our approval first.

He comes to us with the big questions. He doesn’t go poking around the internet looking on his own – first off, he knows he’ll get a straight answer from us (we always promised him we’d be completely honest in our answers to his questions). Secondly, we regularly check his search history, and (so far) he hasn’t ever looked for anything we’d deem inappropriate.

Author Jenn's son pointing at a computer screen Credit: Jenn Cox

Giving your child the big responsibility of managing their screen time makes them feel heard and respected; in our case, it has created open and honest communication in our family. We talk a lot about what he’s doing on devices, and he knows we’re checking up on him. He knows that if he’s ever dishonest about something with screens, the right to manage his screen time will be taken away. He takes a lot of pride in what we put him in charge of, and we think it’s a great life lesson overall.

This may not work for every kid; I get that. But it works for us. For us, this whole parenting thing is about give and take: we’ll give you the freedoms as long as you don’t take advantage of those freedoms. And ultimately, we have a more peaceful home life, screens and all.

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