Today I read a post highlighting ways to entertain children without a screen while traveling. I get it. Parents want to find activities to engage their children. Travel is a tricky place to discuss the value of screen time. My philosophy is whatever keeps you sane while traveling is great. I don’t need any added guilt over letting my kids watch a movie for the third time. I’m happy if everyone has eaten, gone to the restroom, and isn’t bickering.

Screen time is not evil.

Screen time is amoral.

Screen time is like bricks. You can use a brick to build a hospital or you can throw it through a window and ruin a building.

Screen time matters in how you use it.

My kids love to AirPlay the camera on the AppleTV.

My kids love to put the camera on AirPlay on the AppleTV.

My three kids lost about 90% of their toys due to smoke damage in our house fire. The plastic stuff couldn’t be cleaned. We did get a few things back, but we were concerned about the chemicals the remediation company uses to clean them. I listed out all their lost toys for insurance and received a check to compensate for our loss of toys. We knew we would be traveling, so we bought each of our kids an iPad mini with the insurance money. I have never regretted this decision.

It’s been fun to see how each kid uses their device. My oldest is 8 years old and loves using the camera to make movies. We’ve taught her how to use iMovie, how to write a script, set up a shot, and how to find good lighting. My son loves puzzle games and Khan Academy. He is six and can tell you about Euler’s totient theorem and cryptography because of Khan Academy’s high quality videos. My youngest is 4 and doesn’t use his iPad very much even though he has access to his device most of the day.

Every family is different and needs to set their own rules based on their values and kids’ personalities.

Here are a few rules and guidelines we use for our kids’ iPads

  • No iPads or TV until homeschool is over and their rooms are clean. They call Friday, Saturday, and Sunday “Free iPad Days.”
  • I limit their twaddle, nonsense, silly games. I love puzzle games and educational apps.
  • I deleted YouTube Kids, because I have zero control over what videos my kids are watching. My 4 year old found videos of people opening candy and my big kids started asking for toys and food for food challenges. Now they can only watch YouTube in the living room with me or my husband.
  • Safari is turned off. This way if they accidentally click on an ad in their game then nothing happens.
  • We use it as discipline. My middle child is difficult to discipline. One time we deleted all his games and he had to earn them back.
  • My daughter watches Netflix, but has to ask me about the movie or TV show before she watches. She knows the moment she stops asking then Netflix will be deleted from her iPad. She is a good girl and I trust her. Besides I can see her viewing history and I know if she has watched something I have not allowed.
  • They don’t know the password to the restrictions. They can’t download an app without me downloading the app. All in-app purchases are turned off. (So far this works! We don’t let them watch us put in the code.)
  • For apps that cost money then they need to pay for it themselves with chore money.
  • No iPads while putting on shoes and getting out the door.
  • No iPads are allowed when it’s socially inappropriate. We ask the kids to put away their iPads when friends come over and when we go spend time with family.
  • They know we can take away their iPad if they don’t turn it off when we ask them to turn off their device.
  • Sometimes iPads are allowed at the table while we eat, but headphones are required. Gasp! I know. You see, we homeschool, Daniel works for himself, and we are together all day long. For our family, dinner time is not the only time we see each other. Sometimes we ask them to put them away and sometimes not.

We are glad our kids have access to technology. We hope to teach them more about technology and eventually how to code. Two of my kids have been introduced to coding through ScratchJr and KodablePro.

Screen time isn’t evil. We can use it build our kids or let them use it for nonsense. Sometimes even silly games are fun. With guidelines and basic rules based on a family’s values and a child’s personality screen time can be a great tool for education and fun.