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How to Set Media Limits for Our Kids

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A few days ago a kind reader sent me the following email–just perfect for a blog post!
“How does your family organize computer time/accessibility? I am finding it increasingly difficult with many kids of different ages in the same household, and having the appropriate restrictions on the digital “stuff” around the house. We have a family home computer in the kitchen, my oldest has a laptop and a cell phone, one has a Kindle, and two boys have an iTouch. All of these devices can access the internet, and I have yet to find parental controls that can be tailored to different ages. We are struggling so much with this. It’s mainly me! I am struggling with what to allow them to use and how often. “
My answer:
I have  noticed that there are two things that are causing constant vigilance and reassessment in our rules about technology use in our home, and those are — the kids keep getting older and technology keeps changing!  It was so easy to set rules when they were young.  Here’s an example of something that just snuck up on me.  None of our kids have phones yet, so I hadn’t thought through rules on that yet.  But on the last iOS update to my son’s iPod touch, they made a way to “message” others, which is just like texting.  He told me he was texting his cousin through his iPod.  So, new rules were made!
1.  Talk about why media needs to be limited.
Pornography is insidious and destructive.  Our kids need straight talk about it (as soon as they’re mature enough), so that they can have more power to resist it.  They need accountability, just like adults do, so have regular talks about whether they have accidentally seen something on their device or whether others have shown them something on theirs.  Media can also be addicting–games, Facebook, even blogging.  All of us need to practice moderation and set appropriate limits for ourselves and our kids.  Decide what those are, write them down, and keep each other accountable.  For example, my oldest is not allowed to play games in bed at night.
2.  Have rules and enforce them.
Here are some of the rules we have in our home right now.  Only educational movies during the week; fun movies just on the weekend (and usually just Friday and Saturday nights).
No TV ever, except for occasional sports events–and then we mute the commercials.  (We have rabbit ears for that!).
No computer during the week, unless it’s for schoolwork.  I’m the only one with an iPad, and the kids don’t know my passcode; they can’t pick it up and play it when they want to.  When I do give them a turn, it’s only 20 minutes during the week or 30 on the weekends (and they are not to expect that they will receive a turn every day).  I always turn off everything I can when I hand it over to them (such as Safari internet browser and Installing Apps–keeps them out of the AppStore).  Adding friends and multiplayer games are always turned off.  There is a way to lock everything so that just one app is available–this is great for the littlest ones.*
My oldest got an iPod Touch for his 11th birthday.  He never has Safari internet browser turned on, and I’m the only one who has the code for it.  Also, I have to approve every app he puts on it by typing my own iTunes password, which he doesn’t know.  He’s only allowed 1 hour a day on it, and only after he’s completed all schoolwork, chores, and instrument practice.  He knows that it’s a privilege for him to have it and as parents, we have the right to take it away if there is any reason to do so.
 Always remember, you’re the parent!
3.  Have internet filters.
I agree that parental controls are very difficult to figure out.  We have internet filtering and parental controls to block out many websites on the computer, and I’m the only one who knows the password.  It’s a password that isn’t used for anything else.  Of course, there are always things that sneak through, so it’s best to only limit the kids to certain websites that you deem safe.  Here are a couple of newer things that suddenly caught me off guard with my kids using them–Spotify and Instagram.  You must always be vigilant!  I am around when we need to surf the web for research.  Talk to your kids openly about Internet safety–about not giving their name or address out.  Let them know that there are predators out there, just like the strangers who drive down the street and talk to kids.
4.  Reassess things often.
         Talk with your husband and with your kids.  Rules will need to be changed often as the kids grow older and as technology changes.  Encourage everyone to be open; we don’t want our kids to hide things from us.
5.  Pray.
        This should be first!  Remember James 1:5 which tells us that God will give us wisdom.  All we need to do is ask and believe!
A good book to read that addresses this subject is Six Ways to Keep Good in Your Boy by Dannah Gresh.  . (By the way, the review I wrote about this book has been “pinned” 31,000 times on Pinterest.  Lots of moms see this as an extremely important issue!)

And a great video to watch:  “Captivated“.   I heard Philip Telfer speak at a homeschool conference, and he has a lot of wisdom about technology.  They even have a study guide to help you guide your family in studying why media is so powerful and why we need to set limits.  Here’s a YouTube on it.
Do you have other suggestions for ways to set media limits for our kids?  Please share with a comment!
*Settings/General/Accessibility/Guided Access — to lock your iPad into a particular app
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  1. Homeschool Parenting Summit 2.0 October 16-21, 2023
  2. Great advice! We have a no TV rule in our house as well. (Except if someone is sick with a stomach bug.) Our weekend entertainment is Little House on the Prairie and popcorn. Computer time is for typing lessons and the occasional educational video or math games for the youngest. We even set a kitchen timer for “Wii Minutes” that can only be used on the weekend. I am just finishing up the book Six Ways To Keep The Little In Your Girl and will be moving on to the “boy book” next. 🙂

    1. I love Little House! We need to add that to our repertoire!

  3. A friend just sent me this by email. –Gena

    Hi Gena,
    I saw your post. We have K-9 web filter , it’s free and blocks things all of the time. It has a big list of things you can choose to block or allow.
    Maybe this will help.

  4. Great post! I’m thankful that for mow my kids are little enough to not have to worry about any of that. Well, I guess I just mean the safety part of it because we do have to constantly be away of how much TV time they get (PBS kids and certain DVDs we have) because my son LOVES watching screens. I don’t want to think about how much more difficult it is going to get as they get older! =)

  5. Great Post. Great advice. This is an area I struggle in myself. With my daughter we homeschool but we have to be very flexible as I also work part time. My mom watches her while I work and no matter the Iimits set on tv it seems to go out the window when she is around. I know most of the time tv is just back ground noise but it annoys me that its on all the time. I shut it off the moment I get home. My daughter is really good about what she watches.. we don’t have cable so its the rabbit ears and netflix that she watches and most educational or sweet shows. She is not allowed on the computer, my kindle or her ipod unless I am home to monitor it. She will mostly go into educational sites on these so even though I do limit access to the electronics I am comfortable with her usage of these. Its the tv. Give my daughter a choice of playing or tv and she will pick playing something. I know it might get harder as she gets older for now the electronics don’t hold her attention too much.

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