How to set screen time ground rules at home

     (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    Has the Minecraft craze hit your house yet? The building video game has been going strong in ours for well over a year. Around here, we see Minecraft as a really great game for kids. It’s engaging, it’s social, it’s creative and it’s strategic.

    But Minecraft is also addicting, and last summer, it was quickly taking over our lives.

    We have some basic screen time rules, but with four kids home all summer long and virtually no structured activities, those rules were sliding. In fact, they slid so far we we couldn’t even remember what they were by the time Labor Day hit.

    So, although it sounds enormously corny to type it, we had a family meeting. We’re not really family meeting people, but we thought we’d try it out. But please don’t call it a family meeting. Let’s call it an after dinner conversation. With all of us. Where we took notes.

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    I served as both scribe and discussion facilitator. The first thing we did was brainstorm what was going well with Minecraft. Here’s what we came up with.

    We have fun when we play.
    We can play with each other.
    We play with our friends.
    We build lots of cool things.
    We think about how to protect our stuff.
    It’s not (very) violent.

    Then we brainstormed issues we were all having about managing the playing of Minecraft:

    We argue about who is allowed in our “world”
    Sometimes we destroy other people’s stuff
    We spend too much time playing it, and that can make us crabby
    We argue when it is time to stop playing

    The kids had already made a themselves a list of Peaceful Minecraft Rules over the summer, so they decided that to cover the first two points, there just needed to be more kid-on-kid enforcement of those rules. The issues remaining were time spent playing and issues that arise when it’s time to call it quits.

    Now that school was back in session, we’d have to come up with a policy that would mesh with our responsibilities. So we listed those:

    Making lunches
    Hanging out

    We looked at how much more there is to do during the school year and decided that we had to make it fit our new schedule.

    The teen suggested 30 minutes per day.The tween suggested one hour per day.The second grader suggested weekends only.In alliance with her sister, the first grader suggested one hour per day.

    Weekends only was a shockingly unpopular choice, but we talked about how it would be better to not have to manage Minecraft play every day. So we we looked at the family calendar and noticed there was a lot of stuff going on Saturday mornings and Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. They decided to have Minecraft days would be on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

    Then we looked at the time suggestions. After some discussion, they decided to meet half-way, 45 minutes per day. They even picked a single time slot so that there wouldn’t be any question when it was or wasn’t Minecraft time.

    We also talked about enticement to follow the guidelines. They decided upon these additional policies:

    Minecraft days can’t be “made up.” If we miss one because of activity or a family or social event, that’s OK.
    Only kids who have their homework finished, pajamas on, and teeth brushed are ready for Minecraft time.
    Mom will give five-minute and two-minute warnings so that we can put all of our stuff away, if necessary. 

    If you don’t stop when it’s time, you miss the next Minecraft day. (We thought this was kinder than banishment to The Nether)

    The first kid to stop gets to be the first one to start the next time.

    After sribbling all of that down on post-it notes, we agreed to try for two weeks and then talk again (you know, after dinner, with me writing down what they say, but NOT at a family meeting, ’cause those are so corny).

    How’s it going so far? The first day was rough. Huge tantrum over stopping from one of the younger ones, which led to the other ones reminding said child that meant no Minecraft the next time. Which of course, made the tantrum even bigger. I wondered why we’d wasted our time, realizing we’d just magnified the drama.

    But then, on Minecraft Day Three, that kid was the first one to be finished. It’s been miraculously smooth sailing. We’ve missed several of our “days,” with virtually no push-back. They’re self-monitoring, we have almost no discussions about the game now, and the system seems to be working. Bizarre, right?

    The ultimate test will be the follow up meeting, errr, after dinner conversation. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    In the meantime, are your kids part of the Minecraft madness? Does your family have (corny) family meetings? Do you have tips to share?

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