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The Box Office: A Method for Limiting Children's Screen Time
The general consensus amongst “experts” is that kids should spend less time in front of screens and more time in other pursuits. Many moms (the real experts) agree, but find monitoring screen time to be tedious. Communicating your expectations to your children and making them take some measure of responsibility for their actions can make the task easier, and eliminate tiring negotiations that can wear down your resolve.
Our family has handled screen time by using a ticket system. You can tailor this method to your own lifestyle, values, and expectations.
Creating the Tickets
On a publishing program on your computer, create a set of tickets for each child. The easiest way to do this is to use a business card or label template. Our tickets say the following:
This Ticket Good For
30 MINUTES OF SCREEN TIME
including television, computer, and any type of video games.
May redeem no more than 4 tickets per day and 10 per week.
Excludes homework, family movie/game nights and visits to Grandma’s.
Management reserves the right to declare “screen-free” days.
Tickets may be seized/withheld if deemed necessary for disciplinary purposes.
Print out one set of tickets for each child. You may color code them, as we did, or simply write each child’s name on the back of his/her allotted tickets. The tickets are then cut out and laminated using a machine or self-adhesive laminating sheets. You may wish to give each child a special pouch or envelope to hold their tickets.
Making the Box Office
Recycle an old box, such as a shoe box, cereal box, or dishwasher detergent box for this purpose. Cut the box to the desired size, and cover it with decorative paper. Label the box “Box Office”. Ours is laminated with the same self-adhesive sheets we used on the tickets. Put the box near the television or somewhere easily accessible to the children.
Enforcing the Method
First of all, it should be universally understood in your household that having the television on is not the default setting for your family life. Kids should know that they cannot turn on a screen without thinking and evaluating how they want to spend their screen time, and of course you should make it clear what kind of shows, video games, and websites are always off-limits. When a child wants to redeem a ticket or tickets, they let you know and turn the tickets in to the “Box Office”. You may set a timer yourself, teach them how to set a timer, or even give them their own timer to keep with their tickets. The tickets may be withheld for discipline, or you may even create a way for them to earn the tickets they want, up to a limit. If your child proves themselves untrustworthy by playing over their time limit or sneaking screen time, make sure to stand your ground by restricting their tickets and even removing their screen access. Tickets may be re-issued at the beginning of each week or at a time determined most suitable by you.
Teaching children to use discernment in the time they spend exposed to screens is an important skill that will help them become productive adults. And breaking the habit of constantly staring at a screen will be healthy for your whole family.