The Insane Art of Balancing Screen Time and Back-to-School

| Sep 27, 2021
The Art of Balancing Screen Time and Back-to-School

Well, after a summer of parks, picnics, walks and snacks—so many snacks—we are almost a month into back-to-school, and I don’t remember how we did it last year. Our children come home every day, somehow both exhausted and riled up, which creates extra tension no one needs. Add that to homework, dinner and bedtime routines all crammed into the 4pm to 7pm time slot, and it’s a recipe for disaster. Every. Single. Day. How do we do it?

At our house, the summer is basically two months of rule-free, unstructured chaos, while we try to balance kids, work, activities, play dates and our sanity. Fortnite, YouTube Kids, Disney+ and Netflix were there for us when we needed them the most, and I’m not ashamed to say that.

“Screen time from dawn till dusk is no more, and the little ones are ready to start a revolution.”

The pandemic had us all working from home, which is easier said than done with a toddler pulling at your shirt and a six-year-old literally running laps around us. I was outnumbered, I had no choice. Okay, I totally did, but I definitely allowed plenty of screen time and video games throughout the season, especially with regular heat warnings keeping us inside. So, now that we are back to a regular routine, there are lines that need to be drawn. Screen time from dawn till dusk is no more, and the little ones are ready to start a revolution.

The Art Of Balancing Screen Time And Back-To-School

Our first few weeks of morning before school were actually pretty successful. The kids got out of bed before me and grabbed their tablets, but when breakfast was ready, they put them away with no issues. We had some cartoons on during breakfast, but no one fought, no one complained. I was genuinely surprised and a little proud. This was my first mistake.

We are slowly learning how to cope with our after-school routine, and it feels like it changes every day. Today my son and nephew came charging out of the school yard determined to get into some duos in Fortnite before the night was over. Sure, it sounds good. Have a snack, a little screen time, play some games, life is good. But first, wash your hands, put away your lunch bag, feed the pets, say hi to your sister. These are all things that take away from his gaming time, which is more limited now. And you know what that means—bigger tantrums.

“But in no world am I letting him spend the only proper meal we get together with his face in a screen.”

We got through it, the kids were able to play together, life was good again and dinner was ready: pasta, his favourite. “Can I have my tablet with dinner?” he asks. Abso-freaking-lutley not. “But I barely got to watch it today!” Accurate. But in no world am I letting him spend the only proper meal we get together with his face in a screen. The tiny human was again displeased.

The Art Of Balancing Screen Time And Back-To-School

My two-year-old is stuck with grown-ups all day now and adores her big brother, who is now suddenly gone all day, and she doesn’t quite understand why. Of course, it isn’t his responsibility to tend to her. We do, however, require them to spend some time together, mainly while I’m doing dishes or cooking, because she is an adorable little maniac who will destroy anything in her path if unsupervised.

He tried to use this time to get HER to look at his tablet, so he could see it and I couldn’t get mad. This sort of thing usually leads to him no longer paying attention to her and me coming out of the kitchen to some form of tornado, possibly in the form of TP-ing the living room. So again, no tablet. I’m basically the worst.

“I love screens too, video games, Netflix, scrolling through social media, I get it-and if we are being honest, most parents do.”

So how do we balance it? Video games, cartoons and YouTube Kids are some of his favourite things. I refuse to be the parent who says screens are bad and takes everything he loves away. I love screens too, video games, Netflix, scrolling through social media, I get it-and if we are being honest, most parents do. The trick is going to be teaching them how to fit it in when able, and put it away without a fight.

The Art Of Balancing Screen Time And Back-To-School

Many families could benefit from a schedule of sorts. Plan which time of the day is set aside for play, screens, homework, dinner and the bedtime routine. I WISH this would work for us. Sometimes my mental health requires me to let them have more screen time, I’ve accepted that. Sometimes my son is just drained from school and deserves to curl up in his room, away from his sister to watch some Bluey. In our house we need flexibility.

“Sometimes my son is just drained from school and deserves to curl up in his room, away from his sister to watch some Bluey.”

My next idea was to allow a certain amount of screen time each day that they can use whenever they want (aside from when they have other responsibilities like homework). This one—I think—could work, until I’m the one that breaks the rules, and we descend into chaos. That’s on me, but I know it will happen.

Here is what I found works for us. Chore charts. I know, ground-breaking, right? Every day we have a set of chores. There are the usual things like making the bed and feeding the pets, but we also add in things like “help mom out while she’s cooking,” or “read two stories”. When those chores are complete, and nothing is on fire, they can do what they want.

The Art Of Balancing Screen Time And Back-To-School

The chores vary each week, so sometimes he gets a break, and sometimes I get a break. We have made it clear that there is a period of time before school and before bed that we cannot be on our screens because it’s time to wind down. I guess we ended up with half schedule, half chaos, but it seems to be working. Today I cooked a meal without my toddler screeching at the gate, and while I did the dishes, the kids laughed, had homemade Popsicles and chatted with me. We were content.

I don’t want to get my hopes up here. Maybe I’ll come back in two weeks with a huge retraction, but for now, this is the system that works best for us. In a world full of constant parental guilt, sometimes you need to write your own rules (or maybe always). Every kid is different, every parent is different, and every household is different. This is the best thing for us right now, and I realize that will change eventually, and then we can adapt again.

There is no rule book for parenting, so as always, make the choices that are right for your family and feel no guilt about doing what you all need to thrive and, sometimes, just survive.

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