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Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Question:
I am wondering if you would post regarding how you manage rules around electronic devices and your children. Recently, several moms and I were together for dinner and this topic kept us occupied for several hours.  I have kids ranging form 17 to 9 and it is getting harder and harder to manage what one can do and the others cannot do.  I think a topic on this would be of great interest to so many of us out here looking to hear what other families have found works for them. Many thanks! — Rosanna S.

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Answer:
Terrific question, Rosanna! I agree — hearing how other families are managing things is so helpful! And you’re not the only one with this on your mind. I get questions about kids and screen time weekly. So much so, that Ben Blair and I even covered this topic in one of our first Periscope broadcasts. If you missed it, I posted the video online here.

But I know some of you aren’t into video, so here’s a little recap of what we covered. As we were writing up our notes for the broadcast, we realized they our approach can be summed up in three Es:

1) Embrace
We embrace screens at our house. Both Ben Blair and I work on laptops. We have an iPad in the kitchen. We have iPhones. A Kindle. And an iMac. There are lots of screens around and we don’t pretend otherwise. (And let me take a moment to acknowledge how much privilege we have that “screen time” is even an issue.)

Instead, we try to focus on the positive aspects screens bring to our home. For example, our iPad in the kitchen has enabled us to try tons of new recipes easily and on the spur of the moment. Services like Skype and Facetime keep us connected to family and friends from all over the world. Our kids use screens for coding tutorials, for foreign language learning, and creating art. And when we’re having a family discussion about a current event, being able to look up facts or figures about it as we talk — having endless libraries of information at our fingertips — is one of the biggest miracles of modern times.

We don’t make enemies of the screens. We start by focusing on what awesome tools they are.

2) Environment
We put a lot of responsibility on the environment in our home. If screens are the most tempting thing in any room of our house, then we have a pretty crummy house. Instead, we think about what activities we want them to do, and then make sure it’s really easy and appealing to do those activities.

For example, art supplies are easy to access. We have a cozy reading crammed with books for all ages. We make it easy to use the kitchen — even for the little kids. We keep the board games at their fingertips. The dress ups are on display. And we make the outside of our house — our yard, the swings, the hammock, the trees, the jump ropes, the pull-up bar — as inviting to the kids as possible.

The idea is that we make sure our home, and how we’ve set it up, facilitates the activities and conversations we want to promote.

3) Enforce
I think this is the hardest one. Because it requires a consistency that we can’t always provide. But basically, it’s this: Decide on your family’s screen rules and then stick to them. (Obviously being willing to adapt as needed.)

For example, at our house, we made a rule that we would collect all portable screens every evening and charge them in our bedroom (so that the kids aren’t tempted to sneak them into bed). This rule works great when we are enforcing it! But if we’re too tired/lazy to collect the screens, then (surprise!) it doesn’t work so well.

Though I said this is the hardest, the good news is, it gets easier. Good habits eventually form!

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These notes cover our current strategies, but I want to be clear: just like everyone else, we are figuring this out as we go along. Parents everywhere with screens in the home are having to tackle this. There is no historical precedent, and we don’t have a thousand case studies of families that have already handled this successfully to look to. It’s just so new!

So with that in mind, please share what you’ve tried at your house, or if you’ve heard of a family that has a screen policy you admire. We want to hear!

P.S. — If you’re wanting more on this topic, our video goes into greater detail.