How to Reduce Screen Time
Screen time happens, and like a weed, it can start smothering good things. How can you reduce the amount of time your family spends with screens and media? Here are a few thoughts from Charlotte Mason on making and transforming habits, ten tips from the government, and a detox plan from Oliver DeMille that might be just the thing to help your family reduce screen time.
Timing, substitution, and consistency is the key. As Miss Mason states in a passage about changing bad habits, “one custom overcomes another. The watchful mother sets up new tracks in other directions; and she sees to it, that while she is leading new thoughts through the new way, the old, deeply worn ‘way of thinking’ is quite disused” (v. 2, p. 89). Slow and steady wins the race!
How to change the screen-watching habit
- Wait for a natural break in routine to introduce a change
- Plan a wide variety of family activities to substitute for time previously spent in front of a screen
- Stay focused and consistent until the new habit is established
1 – Choose a natural transition time
One of the easiest ways to begin is to wait for a natural transition time — the beginning or end of the school year, a family wedding or house move, a vacation, or anything that breaks into the normal routine. Have a family meeting and let everyone know that a change is coming, when it will arrive, and what you expect life to look like once the change occurs. Depending on the age of your students, it may not be necessary to explain that the changes are taking place in order to reduce screen time. You can simply announce that the family will be learning a new art or increasing participation in a desirable activity. Focusing on the positive makes the upcoming change something to look forward to, rather than something to dread.
2 – Plan activities
In A Thomas Jefferson Education, Oliver DeMille suggests a useful method for “detoxing” the family when switching from institutional education to something more nurturing. His ideas fit well with Charlotte Mason‘s thoughts on changing a bad habit, and both are appropriate ways to reduce screen time. DeMille recommends “a careful program of family activity . . . which emphasizes wholesome activity that does not reward conformity but the attention of the individuals. Some examples include hiking, hands-on art creation, service projects, travel, etc.” (94).
DeMille cautions that a major change can be stressful, but by “over-programming family time with wholesome and constructive projects, the family can ease off” gently and move into a lifestyle more conducive to learning. This aligns nicely with my favorite admonishment to “do and be; don’t sit and stare!” As an additional benefit, doing a variety of activities together helps parents be a good example.
3 – Be focused and consistent
Miss Mason writes that as new habits are being formed, the family “sets up the course of new thoughts, and hinders those of the past, until the new thoughts shall have become automatic and run of their own accord. All the time a sort of disintegration is going on in the place that held the disused thoughts . . .”. New habits will become ever more firmly established as old ones are shelved and forgotten.
Excessive screen time is bad for health, too, so the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services offers a number of free resources. These include the Media-Smart Youth: Eat, Think, and Be Active! curriculum and a screen time tracking chart (PDF) to help you reduce screen time. The ten helpful tips below can be downloaded as a PDF as well.
- Talk to Your Family
- Set a Good Example
- Log Screen Time vs. Active Time
- Make Screen Time = Active Time
- Set Screen Time Limits
- Create Screen-free Bedrooms
- Make Meal Time = Family Time
- Provide Other Options
- Don’t Use TV Time as Reward or Punishment
- Understand TV Ads & Placements
Oh, the things you can do!
Just imagine how many interesting things can be done once the screen time habit is broken! There could be books, drawing, music, creative hobbies, imaginative play, and so much more. Ultimately, the reward is to see each family member gradually develop genuine interests in constructive activities and the reading of good books. Some will take longer than others, but the effort to reduce screen time is truly worth it.
AmblesideOnline.org offers free lesson plans, and many of them will help to cultivate creative habits, including artist study, music/composer study, nature study, and poetry study. Studying great models helps students not only to become more culturally literate, but to also develop an understanding of beauty, proportion, and artistic communication.
If you want to learn how to do any sort of handwork, you can learn from a book, a local class (find them at art museums, craft stores, county parks and recreation departments) or online instructions (YouTube, Skillshare, Craftsy, Ravelry, etc.), or better still, from a live person sitting next to you. Grandparents can often teach delightful skills—if you don’t have grandparents nearby, contact an assisted living home, and see if there are older people who might enjoy sharing a handcraft.
If you’re not familiar with A Thomas Jefferson Education, by Oliver Van DeMille, it’s a book I found helpful. My copy flutters with sticky notes and the text is annotated all the way through. I came across TJ Education fairly late in our homeschool career, but it was compatible in many ways to the educational principles I gleaned from classical education and Charlotte Mason’s work.
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