Kids & Screens: How Two Cheap Timers Fixed Our Family Time

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by Robin

A conversation with my clever children led to a simple way to put screen time in perspective.  A month into the idea and it's working better than I truly thought possible.

Our family time had gotten way off course.  After a season of perpetual busy-ness we lost perspective on what spending time together looked like.  Last post I talked about our Family TechReboot; how we were able to step away from our screens and move toward eachotherI was determined to keep the healthy offline habits we'd enjoyed on our tech-free cabin get away. 

Less than 24 hours into our time disconnected from technology, we all agreed we wanted to keep this real connection going.  This time, it wasn't just me.  (Because, it usually is just me griping about too-much screen time.)  This time the idea came from the kids.  I couldn't be more excited.  Because those ideas that the kids come up with - those are the habits that tend to stick.

Here's the story...

 Hooray for getting outside again! (...a .gif I don't know how I created.)

The forest was quiet and the cabin was toasty warm.  I was curled up on the couch by the fire, knitting yet another blanket (because I've turned into the Crazy Blanket Knitting Lady - more on that another time).  Next to me my daughter had her first knitting project on the go.  Along with my son, we chatted and made dumb jokes.  Both kids talked about how they were having such a good time.

That's when I made my move.

"Yeah, guys, I'm having a great time, too.  It's really nice to have this time to just be together and not have anything distract us.  I think at home we all have different screens that keep us feeling busy and keep us separate from each other."

Surprisingly, they nodded in agreement.  I masked my shock.

"There's so many crafts and hobbies we used to do, that we've all kind of forgotten about.  When we have a moment, we seem to all just turn to a screen, instead of doing anything else."  Was I laying it on a bit thick?  Time for me to sit quietly and see where this goes.

Then my10 year old daughter said, "I read at school that we should only have two hours of screens each day."

"Is that so?"  I said, knowing full-well.

She continued, "What if we just had 2 hours each day?  We could have timers to keep track."  Yup, she's her mother's daughter - there's no problem you can't plan your way out of (well, except OVER-planning and UNDER-acting, but, again, that's another post).

"What do you think, son?"  This is where plans get dodgy, he's the wild card.  Our 7 year old is usually an all-in or all-out sort of kid.

"Sure, " he said.  "I think that sounds good."  I'm not completely certain he grasped the scope of what he was agreeing to, but there was no going back now.

This conversation and plan was exactly what I had hoped would come out of this time away from tech: a workable solution for putting screen-time in perspective.  I was giddy.  For real.  Absolutely giddy.  The kids had come up with a solution on their own and that's a great path to buy-in.

So, here we are, a month later.  We now have 2 simple timers (similar to these) that countdown the 2 hours max each day for screens.  They've embraced this idea.  They've each decorated their own timer with stickers.  They remind each other to turn on their timers when one forgets.  When their timers go off, they (usually) get right up and find something else to do.  Very limited nagging is required.

Back to old hobbies - creating cartoons and...tutorials?


It hasn't been all smooth going. 

In retrospect, the wide expanse of unplanned time during our March Break was not the best time to start this.  During the school week, 2 hours feels plentiful.  During the break - it was a little painful.  It was hard to watch our son, who was our most committed tech junkie, suffer through some screen withdrawal.  And to be honest, he wasn't the only one.

We had gotten into some less than stellar parenting habits.  Screen time was quiet time where Ed and I could do what we liked, or what we needed to do, without worrying what the kids were getting into or needed our help with.  With limits on screens we were forced to be more active parents.  It's sad that this was an adjustment, but it truly was. 

  • We needed to help them remember the real things they used to do. 
  • We needed to plan outside activities for us to share in. 
  • We needed to plan play dates. 
  • We needed to help them clean up after their messy selves (screens are just so darn tidy). 

We needed to be involved parents again.  

It was painful to see that we kinda weren't before.  It's heartening to know that we're doing better now.  A simple idea from a little girl, plus two $8 timers have brought us back to our connection to each other, rather than the internet.

Do you have a way to manage screen time in your home?  How's it working for you?


  1. THIS IS HEAVENLY. Seriously. Good work! I currently have a timer to wake my son up from his nap so he's not up all DAMN night.

    1. Thanks, Kyla! I wish I had thought about timers for naps when my son was a toddler - smart thinking, Smart Lady. :)

  2. Great post! Something I have been trying to get under control in our house. Where did you find the timers?

    1. Hope this helps you! These are just simple kitchen timers from our neighborhood hardware store. Should be easy to find. :)

  3. This is a great idea and I love that you did it as a family. I've been meaning to get my kids to limit their screen time but haven't been willing to make the leap myself. I think a timer is exactly what we need. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Kassiah! The timers are still working great for us (though I feel like 2 hours is too long - but - one step at a time!) :)

  4. So important to put a cap on this!
    We have been using a timer for awhile now. Our 7 year old gets a total of 45 minutes on school nights. Since we just have one child, I use the timer on my phone

    Kim from Philadelphia

    1. Hi Kim, 45 minutes sounds way more reasonable! I'm thinking of working our way back to that amount. Truthfully they very rarely have 2 hours on weekdays where there's time for screens, most nights are busy with real life stuff. Thanks for commenting! :)

  5. A question, Robyn- I don't know how we would find 2 hrs for screen time during the week. Our son attends aftercare on the days I work; those days we get home at 6:00. Between a little outside play if the weather is nice ( and it's a time of the year when it's daylight), homework, dinner, bedtime prep/ shower... The evening is filled.

    1. We rarely have 2 hours in the week either - thank goodness. It's not a system where they are entitled to 2 hours - its a maximum. So if there are real things to do, that's the priority. It's the weekends where we feel the benefits the most.

  6. Gotcha! Can see how 2 hours can easily occur on the weekend!

    Screen- free week is coming up at our son's school and he is so mad! I told him he can't opt out of this ibe!!

  7. Nowadays, a number of mothers just want to be free from their children and high-tech screen is something that could make their wish come true. As the consequence, their children are unable to keep their eyes out of screens. This quite shocks me. I am happy that you make efforts to have screen-free time with your children.

  8. Timers look like a great idea! We use these, and then the boys have to decide themselves how much to use per day, or else they end up without enough tokens to last the week. http://overthebigmoon.com/technology-tokens-free-printables/ They get 6 hours worth from Mon to Fri during school days, and in the summer they get 10 hours worth (Yikes, I know, but it works for us.)


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