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Tech & Media

When Friends’ Parents Have Different Screen-Time Rules

Mar 10, 2015

Parents are still working out the rules when it comes to what their kids can watch or play on a screen (and for how long). Netflix, iTunes, tablets, smartphones—never has so much been so easily available to preschoolers and the elementary set. While everyone is trying to figure out the best approach, the easy answer seems to be ‘just use common sense.’

Of course, common sense isn’t common—all families are unique, and different parents have their own levels of what’s OK for their kids. But what about when it’s not their kids? How do things come into play when it’s a playdate?

Your perfect set of guidelines for your child’s TV tastes might get obliterated when she hangs out at her best friend’s house. Or, you’re pretty relaxed about video games and kids movies (within reason), but it sometimes feels like other parents are judging you.

Discussing rules with other parents can feel like running through a minefield. No one wants to accidentally offend someone else or come across as being negligent or an overly uptight sancti-mommy or daddy. Being friends with the parents of your kids’ pals makes the talk easier, but this isn’t always an option. Even if you’re not besties, you should be familiar with someone if he or she will hosting your child for a few hours. If you have concerns, that drop-off conversation can be a good, casual way to get a sense of what the kids will be watching or playing, and whether you’re fine with it for next time.

Common Sense Media has an article suggesting ways to enforce screen-time rules with different people, from daycare providers and babysitters to family. The author writes, “You wouldn’t send your kid to a sleepover without telling the parents about your kid’s allergies... Why not use the same logic with screen time rules?”

Well, the short answer is an allergic reaction could lead to a trip to the hospital and a dose of too-much-TV is pretty benign. Still, for those feeling strongly about specific concerns, this is a good time to raise them in a friendly manner. (Dictating rules to someone else in their own home would likely drop you back in the sancti-mommy category.)

Discussing rules with other parents can feel like running through a minefield. No one wants to accidentally offend someone else or come across as being negligent or overly uptight.

In an article with the awesome headline, “When You Can’t Stand Your Kid’s Friend’s Parents,” Rebecca VanderMeulen suggests phrasing requests diplomatically, and not in ways that could be misinterpreted as critical of the other parent’s own rules. Even so, there’s still the risk of coming across as a demanding helicopter parent.

Andrew, a Toronto father, doesn’t remember anyone ever making special requests about gaming or TV/movie-watching when his five- and seven-year-old have had kids over. However, he and his wife always make it a point to share what happened with their guest’s parents.

“Our habit is to actually report to the parents what went on, in a highlights kind of way,” he says. “It’s ‘We had a great time! We visited the park, came back to the house for a snack, and the boys played Lego and then a bit of Minecraft. We had some popcorn and a juice, too.’ Something like that.”

Asking what the kids did for the afternoon can be a nice, non-confrontational way to find out whether your child were glued to someone else’s screen all day. Of course, screen time isn’t always a bad thing.

Use these kinds of opportunities to discuss with your kids why you have your own rules in place at home.

“Having a friend over is exciting, and often that involves showing off your collection of screen treasures—be they games, DVDs, or favourite YouTube videos,” says Andrew. “Typically, the kids flip from one device to another and then move on to other activities.”

Besides, even if you have strict rules on TV/tablet time at home, it can be important for kids to experience new environments that differ from what they are used to. As long as it’s safe, this teaches them about being flexible and independent, and helps them understand other families can have different rules.

You can also use these kinds of opportunities to discuss with your kids why you have your own rules in place at home. It is important to find ways to explain why other parents may let their children do things you don’t (or forbid things you think are fine) without undermining their authority.

When it comes to content, you should try to empower your kids to be able to talk to their friends or other parents if they feel the show they are watching or the game they are playing isn’t right for them. Honestly, though, this might be idealistic—lots of kids end up watching their first horror movie at a friend’s and then bring back the nightmares for their parents to deal with for the rest of the month.

If you’re dead-set against your kid spending an afternoon watching a screen, one way to side-step the issue is to play host. If your house means your rules, you could always leave off the TV and have other activities ready to go—crafts, sports, board games, dress-up, whatever. Of course, if you’re always having people over, you might wish just once there was a playdate elsewhere, so you could have some time to yourself to relax. Maybe watch some TV or catch up on your Candy Crush…

Article Author Erik Missio
Erik Missio

Read more from Erik here.

Erik Missio used to live in Toronto, have longish hair and write about rock ‘n’ roll. He now lives in the suburbs, has no-ish hair and edits technical articles. He and his wife are the proud parents of a six-year-old girl who is already pretty adept with a tablet, and a two-year-old boy who probably will be sooner than appropriate. He received his MA in Journalism from the University of Western Ontario.

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