Lori Lori is a work-at-home mom of three living in Noblesville, Indiana.

I used to wonder why kids had their noses buried in iPads at restaurants.

I figured there was some reason – maybe the parents had been with the children all day and needed a break. Maybe they wanted a few minutes to eat and talk to each other. Maybe the parents were outnumbered and it’s simply hard to engage everyone, especially if a baby was there. Perhaps it was the first time the kids were on devices in a week. I didn’t know the back story and the back story really shouldn’t concern me anyway, but I was curious why the kids weren’t chatting with their parents or coloring.

Fast forward to the last year. A few months ago we went to dinner at our favorite local Mexican restaurant. Our family of five was seated, my husband and I passing our one-year-old son back and forth every couple minutes when he grew restless, giving him chips and other snacks to keep him occupied. He’s in the super fun stage where he refuses to sit in high chairs. Sounds relaxing right? Don’t be jealous!

The bigger two kids were getting rowdy because they wanted to talk to us and our attention was all focused on the baby and our attempt to prevent him from spilling salsa everywhere. Between the salsa and him chucking crayons like he was a quarterback trying to win the Super Bowl, he also managed to spill a full glass of water on my husband who had to sit in wet jeans for the rest of dinner…the spill happened before we had ordered our food. I decided to go ahead and hand over the tablets we’d packed “just in case.”

Within five minutes, we saw two other families we knew, both with children not on screens. While both of the families were baby-free and had only two kids, I still wondered why we couldn’t manage to keep it together for an hour? We were the family I used to look at and silently wonder why they had handed over devices during dinner.

Guys, I tell you, I want nothing more than to have a nice family dinner where everyone says a prayer and what they’re thankful for and the best part of their day, then proceeds to color pictures while waiting for their food. But that perfectly painted picture just isn’t a reality for us and a lot of other families, too, amiright? Sometimes we are a device-needing kind of family when we go out to eat these days.

Screen Time Limits

The American Academy of Pediatrics tells us that children should have no more than two hours of screen time per day. between watching TV, playing on mobile devices and other items, including computer time at school. During the summer months we stay under that amount of time, unless we go to the movie theater or rent a movie. We are always at the pool, riding bikes, at a park or with friends. We make it a goal to make the most of the winter months by going ice skating and doing other fun activities, yet sometimes we still exceed the two hour mark and I am sure we are with the vast majority of families who face the same thing.

My five- and six-year-olds both LOVE their devices, like most kids their age. They’re seen grabbing them every chance possible, even sneaking the devices on occasion (they literally have pretended to be asleep and went down to the main level to get them after we left their rooms). As much as I despise the screens in their faces, they want to use them before school, after school and every other time they get “bored.” I’ve always kept those devices in arm’s reach, so I guess I’m partly to blame.

The thing is, I’m a stay at home mom for many reasons and one is that I wanted to be able to spend a lot of time with my kids after school. When I’m here and EAGER to play with them, talk to them and be with them, it’s frustrating when they prefer a screen over me. Even if they are using it to play educational games or learn Jojo Siwa’s latest dance (things I consider to be more than just watching shows that aren’t beneficial). I’d prefer to be spending time WITH my kids during the moments I’m not occupied with my one-year-old son or cooking/cleaning.

Our reliance on devices has bothered me for some time, and I finally got to my breaking point after fighting with my kids nightly to hand over the iPad before bed. I’d been turning a blind eye for awhile, but the time had come: we needed some better rules in place about screen time.

When I suggested limiting screen time initially in a moment of frustration and without a well thought out plan (it was more of a threat than a suggestion I suppose), my kids looked at me like I had two heads. One started crying and one shook her head “no” violently, clutching her iPad tight to her chest.

After I had some time to think of a plan and how to really monitor their screen time, we discussed it as a family. We developed some new rules and a list of things that must be done before they can have any screen time.

The kids have to read for 20 minutes, spend 20 minutes getting physical activity of some sort (if they can’t get outside, they can do a workout video with me, jump in the bounce house we have in the basement or do GoNoodle). They need to get dressed (there are exceptions – we are all about the occasional Pajama Day!) and color for awhile and do something creative. Once this is all complete, I’ll hand over an iPad and we discuss the amount of time they can use it.

I can’t say the kids were the slightest bit eager to comply, in fact they both moaned and groaned and probably would have picketed with signs if they knew how, but they are doing better with cutting back and have a better attitude about it now that some time has passed. Man does it feel good! We’ve had a couple dinners out sans devices and they were successful. We’ve brought stickers, books, and played “I Spy” and Tic Tac Toe. The kids have (somewhat) patiently waited for the food to arrive and enjoyed the time at the restaurant and so have we!

Let me make one thing clear: I’m not a device hater. I’m pretty attached to my phone, too. I know there are benefits of technology and devices, but I’m also aware of the harm too much of these things can cause. In moderation I think devices are just fine — it’s impossible to keep kids in a tech-free bubble.

To that end, it’s my own goal to make an effort to check my phone less, stick with the kids’ reduction in screen time (one hour a day), and encourage more play. We are replacing the time that was spent on devices talking and existing together. It may be tricky but I know we can do it!

Does managing screen time stress you out? Have you tried to enforce a tech-free zone?

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