Screentime Mindfulness: A Script

For the origin of this script, see the article We Took Away Our Kids’ Screentime; This is How We Gave It Back

Sit down with this script and with your child. Select a videogame they will play, the device they will use, and the amount of time they will spend doing it ahead of time.

Welcome to Screentime Mindfulness.

Please take a moment to set your device away from you so that you are not touching it. Or push your chair back from the monitor if you are sitting at a computer. Get in a comfortable position and close your eyes.

State the day of the week in your mind. Think about what has happened in your day. Briefly list the big things you have already done. Then think about what you still want to do with the rest of your day. What do you still want to accomplish? Briefly list them in your mind.

Imagine the device you are about to use as a red dot on the timeline of your day. A bright, fun, happy spot.

Now think of the people in your day today. Who did you enjoy talking to? Who made you laugh? Who did you help? Take a moment to visualize the faces of two or three people whose company you enjoyed. Add them as bright spots on the timeline of your day.

Think of what you will go and do after the screen time is over. Decide now what you will go and do. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just make sure it’s something that will make you or someone else happy.

Now think of the amount of screen time you are allotting yourself. See it as a big number in your mind. See that number and think of the fun and enjoyment you will experience for that amount of time. Now visualize that time coming to an end. Imagine the number dissolving, and you turning off the device. Closing that chapter of your day. And now imagine returning to the timeline of your day. There are more bright spots to come.

Repeat in your mind:

I am the master of my time

People matter to me more than devices

I will find joy before, during, and after my screen time is over.

Slowly open your eyes and take three deep breaths. You are now ready to begin a session of responsible screen time. Play hard and have fun!

12 Guidelines for Family Screentime Rules

1. You are the parent. You know your child best. Rules aren’t designed to be fair or be like ‘everyone else’. They are for you as the parent to give your child what is right and good for them. This may be no screentime at certain times.

2. Screentime is a fun activity, but there are other enlivening, fun activities as well. Find ways to involve kids in other activities so they have something else to ‘go to’ besides screens. Set times and establish habits for doing these activities.

3. Avoid making screentime the major reward or punishment for good or bad behavior. For example, taking away screens for bad behavior at school or rewarding with screens for good grades might seem like a good idea, but it emphasizes that screens really are the best thing a kid can have. There is a role for screentime as motivation, but it should be balanced and limited. See #8 for a potential idea for screentime as a motivation.

4. Help kids understand that screentime is a fun, relaxing activity that has value, but it is designed to be very attractive compared to other activities, especially activities that require effort. Activities requiring focus and attention should come before screentime activities.

5. Avoid games that require kids to play every day to avoid a penalty or to earn a special reward. Avoid games that encourage purchasing virtual content (upgrades, special items, bonus features). Avoid games with lots of advertising content. Typically, a game or app that is purchased is higher quality and has fewer behavioral addiction traps compared to games or apps that are free.

6. Interactive, game-like screentime is screentime regardless of content. There are many valuable educational programs available. There are also many programs with superficial educational content. Regardless of content, well-designed interactive educational games may have the same emotional/behavioral effect on your child as purely entertaining games. Mindful attention should be given to the time spent on these screentime activities.

7. You should try out the games your kids like to play. They will appreciate you trying it out and will have fun watching you play. You can better understand what your kids enjoy while playing the game and make it possible to talk more about the game. You can also make sure the content is appropriate for your child

8. While screentime should not be a default reward/punishment, you can pair time spent doing other challenging, attention-focusing activities with the amount of screentime given. We found we could pair extra piano practice (beyond the normal requirement) with extra screentime. Kids’ practice times went up voluntarily!

9. Make sure to have certain days that are screentime breaks. It is good for kids’ brains and for families to take a break from screens and do other activities. It is also good for kids to recognize they can have a good day without screens.

10. Avoid kids having devices in their bedrooms. A device ‘check-in’ ensures kids aren’t staying up late doing games or using devices at inappropriate times. Put passwords and locks on devices and computers so there is an extra barrier to engaging with screens. This protects kids from accessing inappropriate content and also helps enforce the rules you set with your kids. We found our kids appreciated having a barrier to keep them from ‘sneaking on’ screens.

11. While you are ultimately the rule-setter (see #1), working with kids to set goals and guidelines for screentime usage is typically more productive in the long run than an overarching mandate. The freedom and ability kids have with screens should be commensurate with their age, mental/emotional maturity, and their ability to self-regulate. The older kids get, the more you should let them work with you to define rules up front. The best way to enforce rules is with appropriate digital barriers and locks so you don’t have to battle over what you already agreed to.

12. You have the opportunity to model good screentime behavior. Set rules for the adults and allow the kids to enforce them for you. This can include no phone usage while driving, no phone usage during mealtimes, etc. Kids learn best by example!

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Adam Washburn

Adam Washburn

PhD Chemist, father of six kids, and local bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.