How to Answer the Screen Time Challenge (Especially with Challenged Kids)

"Screen Time" is a BFD in our house. Episodic wars are fought over it throughout the day, every day. Limiting young children's exposure to technology is difficult in most households, but when you have a child who requires a whole lot of assistance to do much else, it's nearly impossible.

During our medical trip to New York, for example, all screen time limits were off… and Malachi happily played on his iPad and watched TV for hours and hours. There was no point at which he was tired of it. No point at which, when it was time to turn it off, did he not have a complete meltdown.

And I know that lots of people are out there telling you how terrible screen time is for young children. Even after updating its recommendations last fall, the American Academy of Pediatrics still says children under 2 should have no screen time at all and after that less than two hours per day.

I don't think screen time is evil. Screens are now everywhere in our homes, in our classrooms and in our social lives. Heck, I'm glued to my phone all day long. I even believe that at some point, children without touch-screen literacy will be the ones singled out for intervention. 

That said, I do think that limiting screen time: 

  • forces me to be creative in how my children spend their time; 
  • limits their exposure to violent, sexual, aggressive, amoral, age-inappropriate and frightening imagery/language;
  • allows me to be aware of what they are watching and reinforce the positive lessons in their real world lives; 
  • gives my kids a chance to interact with and learn about the physical world.

Still. It's really difficult. I felt like I was spending my entire day keeping the kids away from screens just so that when Dad came home, he could hand them the iPad and relax. Didn't quite seem fair. 

So I found this post last fall on One Perfect Day and made a Screen Time chart like hers: 90 minutes per day with 10 minute "tickets" that the kids can spend pretty much as they wish. Except: no more than 30 minutes at a time, at least two hours of break in between and no "rollover" minutes to the next day. (However, no rules for people gracious enough to babysit and when kiddos are sick.)

It wasn't working so well. My kids never really embraced the "saving up tickets" idea. They are the type who will use up ALL of the screen time they possibly can and then whine intermittently throughout the intervening time. It was getting to the point that they were arguing to have 90 minutes at a stretch because they still had tickets even though it had NEVER worked like that. Also, sometimes there were special occasions or interminably long days where I needed some extra time but it's not like I could fight with them all day on sticking to the chart and then give up at the end of the day. 

So, here's my new solution:

This is a 8.5 x 11 laminated sheet with 4x2-inch laminated 30-minute "tickets" for morning, afternoon, evening and "extra" screen time. Each ticket is affixed with sticky-back Velcro. The space where the ticket goes on the chart lists the requirements needed for screen time. For example, in the morning, they need to eat breakfast and get dressed first. The "extra" ticket can be given or taken away with good or bad behavior.

The kids helped me make it by picking out the color of their tickets and feeding the pages through the laminator. They were SUPER excited about this process!

So far today it's been working well and the kids seem less upset and confused about when they can play Angry Birds. Wish us luck!

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Looking for a meaningful gift? Dark & Light: A Love Story in Black and White is a beautiful and insightful board book available here. All profits go towards my son's medical needs. 


  1. Good luck! Hope it works for you :-). I also find this extremely difficult when Mason won't do much by himself. We have a 2 hour a day rule during the week which they take from 4-6 all at once so I can do stuff around the house and make dinner. We are more lax about it on the weekends cause I'm lazy on the weekends ;-)


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