You wouldn't send your kid to a sleepover without telling the parents about your kid's allergies or bedtime bugaboos. Why not use the same logic with screen time rules?
We know it's hard to do. It can feel like you're being judgmental or don't trust the other person to take good care of your child. But if you have strong preferences about what and when your child consumes media, you need to speak up even when you're not around to supervise. Each situation calls for a different strategy. (And don't forget to empower kids to talk to caregivers about what they are and aren't comfortable watching, playing, or reading.)
Here are some suggestions for expressing your wishes to babysitters, friends, and relatives:
Daycare or After-School Program
- Assess the situation. If you have a choice of daycare or after-school programs, ask the director about his or her stance on media use before you sign up. Say: "Do kids ever watch TV or play video games during the day?" But if you find out after the fact that your kids are consuming more media than you'd like - or you don't like what they're watching or playing - it's time for a talk...
- Be respectful but clear. Ask: "What's your policy on TV/movie/etc. use when the kids are in your care?"
- Find a solution that works for you. Try something like: "I'm not comfortable with my kids watching that much TV. What alternatives can we come up with?" If you still don't get what you want, you can band together with other parents to present a unified front ... or change caregivers.
- Check in. Your kids might love the teenage babysitter who brings candy and lets them play on her iPhone, but when it comes to your house and your kids, it's important to speak up for what you expect. Besides, if she wants more babysitting gigs, it's helpful for her to know where you stand on everything from bedtime to posting pictures of your kids online.
- Be specific about what is and isn't OK: "I don't want them watching any TV at all, but they can play 30 minutes of video games before dinner." Or prepare them for the challenges you think they'll face: "My daughter will probably ask you to read Goosebumps before bed, but please ask her to choose a different book instead. I don't want her to have nightmares."
- Consider putting a checklist of dos and don'ts on the fridge.
- Be clear. Uncle Bob may love your kids but have no clue that Red Dead Redemption isn't your idea of age-appropriate gaming. And how about the aunt whose taste in books leans toward the romantic? Help relatives (and yourself) by speaking up about your media rules. Say: "We're only watching G-rated movies in our house right now." Or: "I liked the book you got for Danny last year. He's probably ready for the next in the series."
- Do damage control. If your sister tries to be cheeky and buys your daughter a "How to Flirt" book, explain to your daughter that you'll have to keep it until she's older, even if she gives you the stink eye.
- Stay flexible. You may have had a great plan for how and when your toddler could watch TV or play with the iPad, but as she gets older, new choices open up.
- Compromise. You have to agree on some basics so you can present a united front to the kids. Often one parent is more lax, and this can really irk the more restrictive partner. Hopefully you can work out something you both can live with. Just make sure to have this conversation behind closed doors. Try: "I'd like to start eating dinner at the table instead of in front of the TV. How do you feel about that?"
- Fix mistakes. If one spouse breaks the agreement, hash out the issue after the kids are in bed. "We agreed the kids weren't ready for PG-13 movies. I'm upset that you took them to see Alita: Battle Angel after we'd made that agreement. How can we talk to the kids about this change to our rules?"
This blog was written by Sierra Filucci of Common Sense Media. Common Sense Media is a great resource for parents navigating their way through the digital world. It provides tips and information for parents (like this blog post) as well as reviews of movies, games and much more.