Screen time – Setting strict rules and getting the balance right

Mum of three offers insight into her strict regime on-screen time during the holidays and potential pressure points.

Jacinta Zechariah believes that children need rules when it comes to screen time over the holidays. “I have three children and I use a mixture of agreement and rules,” she explains. “I’m happy to be one of THOSE Mums, and if they’ve done their homework and chores, they can have their screen time.”

House rules on screen time

The household has some very strict rules around how much screen time is allowed, and where. “There are no screens in bed, only books, and the amount of screen time they get depends on their age,” Jacinta says.

Sometimes the rules don’t go down well, especially with Jacinta’s youngest, who complains that he gets less time than his brother and sister. The main challenge is managing screen time over the summer when Jacinta is working from home, and the children need to be entertained.

Getting the balance right  between on and offline

“My work is computer-based, so I’m on a screen when I’m working, and the children love to point out that I’m on my screen all the time,” she says. “I do try and tone down my work hours when they’re around and spend time with them to set an example. It’s also important to get them out and about to help them spend less time on screens.”

The rules don’t just apply to how long the children are online – it’s also about what they are allowed to access. “I do definitely check what the children have accessed and whether they have kept to the rules each day,” says Jacinta. “It’s difficult because the younger ones do complain, but I tell them the eldest didn’t have a tablet at their age, and because she helps more around the house, she’s entitled to more screen time.”

Managing what kids do online

With Netflix and streaming being available, Jacinta notices that her younger children may start to watch series that are perhaps a little old for their age. “They aren’t inappropriate as such, but it means they miss out on shows that are meant for their ages, so I keep an eye on that,” she notes.

None of the children use social media, although, at 12, Jacinta’s daughter has recently signed up for Musically. “I don’t see the point of it, and I don’t like it, but her account is private, and we monitor it very carefully,” says Jacinta.

Other devices such as games consoles are set up so they can’t connect to the Internet, and there are parental controls on all devices so that Jacinta and her husband can see what is happening. “My daughter started secondary school last year and has a phone, but it’s set up to need my permission to download anything, so I know exactly what she is accessing.”

With a mobile phone, Jacinta’s daughter does use messaging, such as What’s App. “She’s on it all the time, and I have had to tell her off more times than I know!” says Jacinta.

Top screen time tip

The key to managing screen time is to have clear communication and rules, says Jacinta. “We talk to the children about their favourite channels and interests, and try to make rules and permissions that will be acceptable for them.”

Jacinta Zechariah is a Teacher by profession but now is a stay at home mum working on her first children’s book.

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