Is it time to put your kids on a screen time diet?

It’s Summer Time Mamas, and your kids are spending way too much time on those screens, aren’t they? Is it time to put your kids on a diet? A DIGITAL DIET that is! Limiting your kids’ screen time this summer doesn’t have to seem like a punishment (for your kids or YOU).  Create your summer screen time rules with a digital diet plan.

What is a digital diet and how do you implement a plan? Let’s do this together, Mamas!

First, let’s treat this like a real diet.  Most moms have attempted some sort of diet in the past or you may be on one right now, so you are probably aware of what factors to consider.  Here are some main factors in a diet:

  • What do you eat?
  • When do you eat?
  • What do you need to avoid?
  • Are there any special circumstances to consider?
  • What research supports this diet?
  • What results are you wanting?
  • Are there any risks involved?
  • What changes will you have to make?

Then, there are several main features of a GOOD diet, which include:

  • Flexibility
  • Balance
  • Likeability
  • Activity

Now, let’s apply these same considerations to a digital diet.

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Step 1: How much screen time is allowed?

REAL DIET: figure out what you CAN eat.

DIGITAL DIET: consider HOW MUCH screen time is allowed.

The amount of time allowed on a screen should be determined by age, ability, and the needs of the parent and child.  This is a non-judgement zone, so do what’s best for you, Mama!

SCREEN TIME RECOMMENDATIONS BY AGE

  • 3-5 year olds to one hour of screen time a day
  • 6-14 year olds to around 1.5-2 hours a day
  • 14 year olds and up to no more than 3-4 hours a day

It is also recommended that all screens should be turned off at least an hour before bedtime because the blue light messes with the sleep cycle.

MY DIGITAL DIET PLAN FOR A 5 YEAR OLD

I am planning for my son to have about 2-2.5 hours of screen time per day

Child with TV Remote Summer Screen Time

Step 2: When is screen allowed?

REAL DIET: There are limitations on when to eat. Some diets allow several small meals throughout the day.  Some diets restrict your meals to three set times a day. And some diets require fasting for periods of time.

DIGITAL DIET: when will screen time be allowed?

We’ve decided to stick with a 3 MEALS A DAY plan.  We’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks now and my son is getting used to the schedule.  He doesn’t usually ask for more time, but when he does, I just say, for example, “You’ve already had your breakfast screen.” Having a set plan in place reduces the screen time struggle significantly.

What about snacks? Just like my kid has snacks during the day, you can allow bite sized amounts of screen time if you’d like.  I am planning on these blocks of time to allow him to play some educational games on the iPad. If you’d like to use snack screen time as time earned by completing some specific task (that’s above and beyond what they normally have to do), then use it that way.

Ok, ok…dessert!  Dessert should be a special treat.  If you feel like your child needs a little extra time on a screen, then call it dessert and give it to them sparingly.  Just like with any sweet treat, this should be special and limited. It may just be a time where YOU need a break or a quiet moment to complete a quick task. 

MY DIGITAL DIET PLAN FOR A 5 YEAR OLD

Make it simple and plan your digital diet like a real diet.  Here is our “meal” plan.

30 Minutes of Breakfast Screen

30 Minutes of Lunch Screen

30 Minutes of Supper Screen

30 Minutes–1 Hour Family Nintendo Time

*Allowing screen time around meal time gives my son the chance to watch some screen and gives me the opportunity to get meals prepared or clean up after a meal.*

Step 3: What type of screen time is restricted?

REAL DIET: there may be things you avoid, like gluten, dairy, or animal products.

DIGITAL DIET: There may be certain shows or games that hype your kids up and should be avoided later in the day.  Or, there may be shows you eliminate all together (How any times can one watch Frozen 2?).  Limiting social media may also be important, especially for older kids. 

MY DIGITAL DIET PLAN FOR A 5 YEAR OLD

Avoid most “fighting” shows, especially in the evening (ENERGY BOOSTER)

Avoid Luigi’s Haunted Mansion game in the evening (NIGHTMARES)

Ban Frozen 2 (Mama’s Sanity)

Summer screen time digital diet plan time allotments for each "meal"

Step 4: Can Screen Time be Increased or Decreased for Special Circumstances?

Like with any diet plan, there are times that arise when you aren’t going to follow your plan.

REAL DIET:  Going on vacation?  You know you will probably eat a little differently than you do at home.

DIGITAL DIET: Going to be in the car for 10 hours? (like we are planning!)  Then that iPad time might get bumped up a bit.

Vacations can cause you to get off of every schedule you stay on at home.  From sleeping to eating to watching a screen, vacation schedules are usually more flexible.  It is a vacation, after all.

REAL DIET: Have you ever been on a diet (or eating plan) and thought “if I skip breakfast and lunch, I can splurge on supper!”

DIGITAL DIET: can screen time chunks be combined for a longer watch party later?

Well, that might be an option for some days in our digital diet. Let’s say you have a movie day planned….explain to your child that you have a special movie day planned, but that means you’ll have to skip some of the other screen time.  If it’s something they really want to see, then they will most likely be ok with that.

REAL DIET: Also, just as with dieting, there are days where you fall off the wagon completely and eat everything in site (not speaking from experience or anything).

DIGITAL DIET: There will be days when you allow more time, just because.

Maybe it’s raining or someone is sick (you or your child). Being flexible is key, but don’t be too flexible, too often.  Try to stick to the schedule as best you can so your child knows what to expect.

Some other special circumstance to consider:

You make the schedule to fit your lifestyle and your kids.

Weekends:

You may decide to only stick to this schedule during the week, and be a little more flexible on the weekends.  That’s completely up to you.  As with all diet plans, you have to individualize the program, because what works for one person may not work for you.

FaceTime with Family:

Sometimes, screen time doesn’t count, like when the grandparents want to FaceTime.  Although a screen is being used, this doesn’t have to count against your child’s regularly scheduled time.

What about kids who split their time between different households?

IF you feel comfortable asking the other side to follow the guidelines, then ask, or better yet, decide on the guidelines together.

If you are Parallel Parenting (thanks Ella’s Blended Family for teaching me this term!), then keep your guidelines for your own home.  The other side may have different or no guidelines at all.

Just make sure your child understands you are trying to keep them healthy and encourage them to place limits on themselves. (if they are older). However, don’t be upset or angry or punish your child for watching a screen all day, every day if that’s what the other side allows.  

MY DIGITAL DIET PLAN FOR A 5 YEAR OLD

Vacation: Don’t throw the plan our the car window, but limit screen time as best as possible.

Weekends: Extra screen time may be allowed at times.

FaceTime with Grandparents: Unlimited

Summer Screen Digital Diet Family Planning Workbook

Clipboards and bulletin board with summer screen digital diet family planning workbook pages

To help you out, get the FREE Summer Screen Digital Diet Family Planning Workbook when you sign up for my email newsletter, Dishful Thinking. You’ll get 5 planning sheets to help you set your guidelines and rewards, keep track of days completed and extra time earned, and plan your weekly screen schedule.

 

Step 5: Do Your Research and Know the Benefits of Limiting Screen Time

REAL DIET: understand the science behind the plan if you want to make educated decisions.

As a science teacher, I always want to understand the science behind why you should or shouldn’t eat particular foods.  Sometimes it’s easy to get roped into the latest fad diet that your second cousin posted on Facebook and used to lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks.

DIGITAL DIET: What does the research say about screen time? A LOT!  It’s easy to find mulitple credible sources that explain the why’s of limiting screen time.

Some benfits include:

  • Improved Mental Health–spend more time with family and being creative
  • Improved Physical Health–spend more time being active and exploring outside
  • Improved Sleep–eliminate all screen time an hour before bedtime
  • Improved Social Behavior and Less Aggression–monitor exactly what is being watched/played

Consider this:

Many kids have spent the better part of the last year staring at a screen for hours a day.

Even if your kids were in school in person, they probably spent more time on a screen than you realize.

Many teachers, like me, relied more on digital assignments to reduce paper handling and to allow those who had to miss school (like for quarantine) an opportunity to continue learning along with the class.

This summer, let’s take a break and put our kids on a digital diet.  Let’s help our kids RECONNECT WITH THEIR CREATIVITY and FOCUS THEIR ATTENTION ELSEWHERE besides a screen. We can find ways to help our kids stay entertained without putting a screen in front of them.

MY DIGITAL DIET PLAN FOR A 5 YEAR OLD

Expalin the benefits to your child so they know WHY and won’t feel like the limits are a punishment.

Design your plan together, if possible.

Child holding tablet that says Too Much Screen Time?

Step 6: What are the GOALS of your DIGITAL DIET and what are the REWARDS?

GOALS:

REAL DIET: it’s good to have a set goal in mind.  Then you have a specific result your are trying to accomplish.

In a real diet, you decide how much weight you want to lose or how much your want to improve some measureable physical condition. 

DIGITAL DIET: we should have goals too. 

What are you trying to accomplish by limiting screen time? 

REWARDS:

Along with goals, usually come rewards.  What rewards will you kids receive for accomplishing the goal of limiting screen time?  Hint: It should NOT be extra screen time.

Real Diet: Rewards motivate you to keep at it.  

Some examples of rewards for following a real diet include things like buying a new outfit or treating yourself to a spa treatment. It isn’t advised to treat yourself with food.

Digital Diet: Some rewards for following the screen time plan could be buying a new toy, taking a special day trip, or scheduling a special playdate.  It is not advised to treat your child with extra screen time as a reward.  You can, however, plan for ways for your child to EARN extra screen time. 

MY DIGITAL DIET PLAN FOR A 5 YEAR OLD

GOALS

Spend more quality time together

Spend more time being active and outside

Spend less time relying on a screen for entertainment

REWARDS

New Pokemon Cards

Trip to the store to pick a new toy

Invite a friend to play outside or go swimming

Step 7: Are There Risks Involved in Limiting Screen Time?

REAL DIET: there may be risks to consider, especially if you have underlying health issues.

DIGITAL DIET: Mama, your sanity may be at risk.  You’ll need to find other ways to entertain your kids.  You may have to listen to whining and complaining.  But, the best way to combat these things, before they break you and have you reaching for the remote, is to plan ahead!

Create a Summer Schedule. Or better yet, find one that’s already been done for you that works for your children. A quick Google search will give you MANY free options to choose from. 

MY DIGITAL DIET PLAN FOR A 5 YEAR OLD

Follow a Summer Schedule to avoid meltdowns! 

One of my favorites can be found at Raising Kids with Purpose

Step 8: What Changes Must You Make?

REAL DIET: One of the most challenging parts of a real diet is making changes to your habits.

DIGITAL DIET: Changing our daily habits can be difficult, but sticking with it is important in order to accomplish your goals.

Changes to consider include:

  • Removing screens from bedrooms
  • Eating while watching a screen
  • Handing over a screen every time you ride in a car

Look for the little changes you can make.  They all add up!

MY DIGITAL DIET PLAN FOR A 5 YEAR OLD

CHANGES

No screen in the car (except on long trips)

Reduce the length of time spent on a screen each “session”

Step 9: Features of a Good Diet Flexibility

Flexibility

Being flexible will allow you to pick and choose when you can bend the rules a little in order to fit the situation.

Balance

A well-balanced diet is most recommended.  Balancing screen time with other activities is most recommended for your kids.

Likeability

If no one wants to follow the plan and the benefits and rewards aren’t set in the beginning, you are setting yourself up for failure.  Plan everything together and focus on the benefits of following through.

Activity

In most diet plans, it is recommended to increase physical activity.  Physical activity is very important for children.  Plan multiple options to get moving!

MY DIGITAL DIET PLAN FOR A 5 YEAR OLD

Allow wiggle room

Don’t eliminate all screen time

Agree on rules and rewards

Plan activities to get the whole family moving

Don't Forget to Get Your Summer Screen Digital Diet Family Planning Workbook!

Clipboards and bulletin board with summer screen digital diet family planning workbook pages

To help you out, get the FREE Summer Screen Digital Diet Family Planning Workbook when you sign up for my email newsletter, Dishful Thinking. You’ll get 5 planning sheets to help you set your guidelines and rewards, keep track of days completed and extra time earned, and plan your weekly screen schedule.

 

You’ve Got This!

You may get some resistance and pushback for creating a new plan, but stick with it!

Lead by example!  When possible, put your own screen down and show your kids that you see the importance of limiting your own screen time.

Now, it’s your turn Mama.  Let me know in the comments what your plan will look like!

4 Comments

  1. Andrea Santogrosso

    This is awesome! A screen time diet is a lot more friendly than no screen time at all. I’ll definitely be implementing some of these strategies with my kids this summer.

    Reply
    • Lifebetweenthedishes

      Thanks! I hope you and your kids have a happy summer with less screen 🙂

      Reply
  2. Mary Stephenson Su

    We have a rule “no screen time before lunch” and I think it works pretty well. After lunch, we have some screen time where their old nap time used to be. It gives me a break to rest or get work done. Some times it goes on too long, but I guess that’s the flexibility you talk about above. We try to keep it under two hours and then move on to something else.

    Reply
    • Lifebetweenthedishes

      I’m glad you’ve found screen time rules that work for you and your family! I think that’s the most important part 🙂

      Reply

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