Back-to-school is officially a “season”. Depending on where you live in the United States, it starts in early August and ends around the third week of September. At some point, take the time to plan out how your family uses media.

Back-to-School sort of reads like a book.

Introduction: saying goodbye to summer and changing the mindset from summer drifting to gearing up for back-to-school, checking out new teachers, friends, and necessities. And of course, making lists.

Chapter One: Shopping for supplies, outfits, connecting with old friends, and making room for new ones.

Chapter Two: Organizing, adjusting to the family’s new back-to-school rhythm, and clearing space on the refrigerator for all the different schedules and meal plans.

The rest of the chapters unfold with the school year. We prepare to be ready for surprises so we can enjoy our time without too much stress.

Before things settle in around mid to late September, there is an essential family discussion to add to Chapter Two:

The Family Media Plan: Have a conversation about the family’s use of TV, computers, etc.

It makes sense. Just as we can’t merely react to the reality of band rehearsals, sports practices, and parents’ meetings, we can’t react to the reality of media and electronics in our families’ lives.

Family Media Plan: Why?

Media’s everywhere. According to the National Center for Health Research children under two are spending more than 2 hours a day on electronic media. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children under 2 should not be exposed to screen time.

It gets worse as our kids get older: teens are engaged with passive screen time nearly 7 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year.

With mobile phones, tablets, televisions, and computers so ubiquitous, parents need to take the wheel for their children’s wellbeing.

Effect of Screen Time

Too much screen time correlates with lack of sleep, issues in school, obesity, as well as behavioral challenges such as aggression. The  straight line from too-much screen time to all these problems is obvious – our kids need more free play, natural movement, and a sense of genuine rather than virtual community and relationships.

Children need time to experience their own motivation so they can engage in creating their own futures.

I recall a field trip to a local nature center, just 5 minutes away from my daughter’s elementary school. The parent carpooling chose to put on a DVD in the back of the car rather than talk with the kids about their expectations on the drive there and their experience on the drive home. And – ironically – the DVD was Dr. Doolittle! So the kids were watching a movie about fake animals during a trip to interact with real animals. Totally odd.

Parents need to take control, and they can do so collaboratively by having this important family discussion.

Setting Family Intentional Media Time

There are many families who will look at recommendations such as no screens in bedrooms, turn off the TV during dinner, set up a “parking lot” where all tablets, phones, and other electronics go 3 hours before bedtime and feel they’re being punished. Or worse, that the parents get a dressing down from kids who are a lot smarter and know better…at least according to the latest kid-oriented cable sitcom.

Don’t let sitcom parenting stereotypes determine how you approach parenting your own family!

Remember you’re not doing this to punish – you’re doing this for your family’s emotional and physical health and balance. Not to mention, by setting an intentional media plan, relationships can blossom.

Begin the discussion by talking about positive family memories. Vacations, walks, funny events…even times when you washed the dishes together and danced around to music. At the end of that conversation, ask everyone what they had in common.

There might be one or two family movie, enjoy pizza and popcorn memories, but I would wager no one says “Remember that time Dylan was on Instagram, Jamie was playing X-Box, and little Brett was on mom’s iPad? That was great!”

In other words, ask your family to be mindful of what is truly most important. Together you can plan a gradual family media diet.

Other topics to discuss:

  • How do the adults in the house model screen time? Kids love getting in on this kind of topic!
  • Make a list of specific channels and shows the family might want to share. Take stock of individuals’ favorites and whether they are “essentials” – particularly on school nights.
  • How does the family balance screen time when there’s a spread of ages? For example, if there are older kids in the house who rely on the Internet for research and getting the assignments from the school, are they allowed equal screen time with a child in kindergarten?
  • Can we set up a screen-free room or a room dedicated to a screen?
  • What ideas should we employ for a family electronics parking lot?
  • Bring up Internet safety in an age-appropriate, healthy way. For tips on you can check out the advice of Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting here.
  • Make a list of alternatives to mindless screen time. Discuss how family members can help each other. For little ones, this Sleepytime Club post has some ideas to counter using SpongeBob as your babysitter

If a media diet is a loaded subject for your family, start with monitoring together. A non-judgement-based chart for each family member – including parents! See how you’re using electronics in the house and talk about it at the end of the week.

Guidelines for a Family Media Plan

Once you’ve had the discussion, you can take it from there using resources such as these guidelines on the Healthy Children site.

Most important, beginning the discussion, collaborating as a family builds relationships and awareness. It paves a path for an intentional school year – and what could be better than that?

More Family Plans

And as long as you’re clearing space on that fridge for the yearly activities, get the free Bedtime Blueprint by filling out the form below. It will tell you everything you need to know about planning your days for sleep – including when to park those electronics.