Screens can be really engrossing, and learning moderation is pretty hard. This is one of a small number of places (along with staying up as late as they want and eating as many sweets as they'd like) where an approach of letting our kids play with them as much as they want doesn't seem like it would be something that they were happy with in retrospect. The main issue I see here is in crowding out other things: when not on screens the kids do a lot of social, physical, and/or imaginative things that I think are pretty good for them. Not all screen time is equal from my perspective, either. If they're, say, getting better at reading I'm happy for them to do a lot more of that than if they're playing a video game fun alone.

I don't feel like we have the perfect approach here, and we've gone through a few different systems, but this is what we're currently using:

  • Podcasts and audio books: unlimited. I have a bunch of story tapes that my grandmother recorded for us, and Lily especially enjoys them. Let me know if you want a link.

  • Messaging, blogging: unlimited, though they don't do these very much.

  • Learning games: unrestricted before breakfast on weekends and between dinner and bedtime snack. If they think something (a program or a portion of a program) should count as a learning game they need to bring it to us and demonstrate that it is. Once a quarter all precedents are cleared and they need to bring games back to us, because otherwise you have "learning games" where they have mastered all of the learning portions and are just playing the games. This is primarily games like ABC Mouse and CodeSpark, though Lily recently proposed that karaoke count (which I said it was fine as long as she wasn't doing songs she knew all the lyrics to).

  • TV and movies: movie day once a week (usually on a day with bad weather) with our nanny for about an hour and a half; occasional movies together as a family.

  • Anything else: fifteen minutes a day; unlimited during long car trips and airplane rides. If they are playing a game together (End it isn't just one of them watching the other one play) then they can pool their time and play for a half an hour.

I asked the kids what they thought of the rules:
  • Anna: they're good.
  • Lily: they're ok.
I asked what they'd do if they were a parent:
  • Lily: If I was a parent I would change the fifteen minutes to ten minutes. Screen time is kind of bad for kids. I also like having an hour and a half for movies, but I think maybe it's a bit much?

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FYI but ABC Mouse is a Scientology run company and was recently fined by the FTC for $10 million for illegal billing practices. Personally I did not like it from an educational perspective either; there are lots of other better educational websites and apps out there.

I'm very surprised to learn this, thank you for posting! My kid only uses Khan Academy Kids for educational tablet time; do you have other recommendations?

My thoughts on screentime.

Since forever, the rule is 5 minutes of screentime per life-year per day (and the budget is updated weekly). Thus 45 minutes for a 9-year-old. We talk a lot about this in our family council as the kids try to renegotiate this. One change we did ~4 years ago is that there are different types of media time comparable to yours:

  • Pure reading, educational games don't count.
  • Highly creative, collaborative, real-life-like, or physical games count half.
  • "Normal" games count normal.
  • Addictive, solitary, violent, or artificial games count double.

Which games fall into which category was determined by the kids agreeing on how much each game counted on five dimensions and then grouping the results accordingly. This led to buy-in from the kids into the scheme, and we have been using that since then. It takes some effort to track this. It still amounts to higher screentime than for your kids but as far as I see lower than most of their classmates.

Benefits from screentime that I see are

I learn this only by talking with them. I ask what they found interesting or funny or how happy they are with their screentime (on a scale of 0-10) or which fraction of their screentime they see as fun/consumption vs. learning and productive ("40%"). I send them YT links, and they send me links back. I help with the network, and they help each other with Teams and Minecraft.

solitary [...] or artificial games

What's your definition thereof? I suspect it's different than what mine, because the games I play that are actually quasi-useful[1] I think would tend to fall into both categories[2].

  1. ^

    (arguably)

  2. ^

    Opus Magnum, Factorio, shapez.io, etc.

I have some reviews / recommendations of learning games here

Lily: If I was a parent I would change the fifteen minutes to ten minutes. Screen time is kind of bad for kids. I also like having an hour and a half for movies, but I think maybe it's a bit much?

haha that’s so sweet! :D

American Academy of pediatrics recommends no screen time for age <2. I tend to be more strict at that age because at least for my son it really “offsets” him for the day and all of the order and structure I put in place goes to flames. For my daughter who is a threenager, we have started to barter with control. For example, she can do 15 minutes of Khan academy if she agrees to stop at 15 minutes and pick it up tomorrow. Surprisingly she has been able to exercise self-control and stop at the time that we “made a deal” for. I can only imagine that this won’t be the case forever.

Are the time limits enforced via parental settings for different apps? If so, I'd be interested in hearing what technical solution you use and how well they work out. Do you have to have them working across different machines / operating systems, for example?

No technical solution. They enforce the limits themselves, and we pay some attention.