I’m going to start this post with a confession: I never thought I’d have kids that would be addicted to screen time. In fact, I didn’t even think my kids would have access to devices and technology. I listened to other parents and the media, but continued to assume this was someone else problem.

But then…

(I know those are famous last words!) On a trip, a long time ago, my husband cleverly set up our iPad to be a movie screen that both children could watch. So much for insisting that our car NOT come equipped with a DVD player!

The iPad was our gateway travel technology-drug. What started as a simple movie here and there on a trip, turned into handheld devices for each child to play games. Educational, of course. We rationed that if they were learning during screen time, it couldn’t really be that bad. But then…even the educational element when by the wayside when they discovered Minecraft.

Eventually we purchased Kindles for each of them to use on a trans-Atlantic flight last spring. When we made the purchase, I was confident they would be used for reading only. There was no way we could fly with enough books to keep the kids entertained for 2 days of flying so digital was really the only way to go.

Before I knew it we were traveling with 2-3 devices PER KID!

Last summer on our big road trip I had a little realization. As the children were fighting in the back of the car- because somehow all of one child’s devices got charged overnight, and none of the other child’s had- I realized how addicted they truly had become to the screen. This was no longer about someone else, it was personal!

My husband and I decided to put our heads together to come up with some EASY and EFFECTIVE ways to limit screen time when we travel.

Let me pause here. If you think this sounds impossible, I challenge you to at least try. I was a little nervous when we first instituted some of these rules, but it’s actually been extremely successful. And we’ve found the most success when we set the ground rules right off the bat so there is no arguing or negotiating.

Here are the best ways we’ve found to limit children’s screen time:

  1. Retain Control: I debated calling this “re-gain control,” but perhaps it was just me that needed that heading. We sat down with our children and reminded them that their devices were a privilege NOT a right. I wanted to change their thinking so that they saw it as a privilege to earn, rather than something they deserved. Having this conversation went WAY further than I could have imagined. We let them know that for our future travel we would be setting up some rules that we expected them to follow. It was all non-negotiable.
  2. Set Limits: Decide what your limits are, and stick to them. For example, if you are on a 6-hour trip, how much screen time are you okay with? And does the type of technology matter to you (movie, game, educational game, etc.) We talk to our children about their limits before we even pull the car out of the driveway. This gives them an element of control and they do well knowing what to expect.
  3. Use Controls: Most devices have parental controls that you can activate. For example, on our children’s Kindle we can set it up to where they have to read for 1 hour before gaining access to their games. This takes the accountability off of everyone and allows the device to monitor it!
  4. Earn Time: Another thing we’ve seen a lot of success with is letting our children earn screen time by completing educational worksheets, mandatory quiet time (where we usually just listen to music and pray they fall asleep!), excellent behavior during a stop, etc. We usually let our children know when they will have the opportunity to earn screen time, and how much we will allow should they earn it. Again, being very clear up front limits the amount of arguments or negotiations.
  5. Out of Sight, Out of Mind: I still maintain that I’ll never have a DVD player actually in my car. I just think the temptation is too great when kids see it all the time. Likewise, I try to keep my children’s devices out of sight when we travel. For some reason when they are busy doing other things, they don’t think about asking for their technology.
  6. Technology Free Travel: Piggybacking on the previous concept, every once in a while we will travel technology free. It never fails, at first the kids act like they are not going to survive. But an hour into the trip, they never think about the screens again. We’ve seen the most success when we don’t even travel with the devices! (Word of caution, if you decide to try this…you should probably limit your own screen time. I have been called out for working on my phone!)

You may also enjoy:

Road Trip Entertainment Ideas For Your Next Road Trip (9 suggestions have nothing to do with screen time!)

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