Want your kids to spend less time with screens and more time actually doing something? Try the do-before list—a simple way to set screen time limits.

“An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion…”

This is Newton’s first law of motion, and often referred to as the law of inertia.

So why should you give a shit? And what exactly does this have to do with parenting?

When your kid is watching TV, how easy is it to get them to stop?

When your kids are bored – how much whining do you have to endure? Because they have (insert nasally, ear piercing whine) “nothing to doooooooo!!!!”

When you’re plugging away at a project at work have you ever noticed you fall into a “groove”? You might call this “being in the zone”, or the woo woo in you will call this “dancing with your muse”, or unicorn friend, or whatever.

The law of inertia, applied via screen time limits, can help get your kid off his butt, out of boredom, and getting stuff done.

I mean, I’m all for having lazy days, and am a big believer that you don’t need to be doing something to be a worthy human being. Unstructured time and play is a priority and always will be.

We have an agenda though: less time spent in front of the screen.

Benefits of screen time limits

Less time in front of the screen means:

  • Fewer opportunities for kids to get into trouble online (when they’re older—I’m building habits now)
  • Lower the chance of a predator finding your kid and having a little chat with them
  • Increases time spent in front of real human beings
  • Decreases the amount of chores that you need to do
  • Less chance of developing socially awkward kids
  • Reduce the chances of your kids becoming the smartphone-loving and instant gratification-craving adults many of us are (cough)
  • Wins for everybody.

Introducing the do-before list.

What is the do-before list? It’s a list of things—not necessarily chores, that your kid needs to complete before even fathoming turning on a screen. Whether a television, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Here are some ideas to create your own, and if your kid is old enough—work with them to create an appropriate list:

Before I turn on a screen, I will:

1. Make sure my room is clean
2. Pick up toys
3. Feed the dog/cat
4. Read for one hour
5. Journal/draw/paint/color for one hour
6. Play outside or with toys/siblings for one hour

See, chances are, they’ll do each of these screen-free activities for more than an hour. Unless you’re my kid and he watches the clock to make sure he doesn’t journal or read for one second longer than he needs to.

Most kids, the non-OCD ones anyway, will get lost in whatever activity they’re engaged in—and likely for longer than they anticipated. Motion = more motion, remember?

You can make this a simple checklist in a visible space in a common family-centered place on a chalkboard, blackboard or on a sheet of paper. For younger kids, you can post the items on poster board.

Are we breeding the next generation of “doers” by encouraging them to develop and follow checklists? Maybe. However, the items on the checklist can be loose enough to allow for plenty of creativity and flow.

It’s not just good for kids

May we suggest you create your own do-before list for yourself? How many days of the week do you find yourself lost in a game of candy crush, surfing Facebook updates, or watching funny cat videos before you’ve even gone to the bathroom in the morning?

Maybe you’ll want to cross one major item off your to-do list before you even open your internet browser. Maybe you’re not allowed to turn the TV on until you’ve cleaned up the dishes from dinner.

Regardless of what’s on your list or your kids’ list – the goals are the same. Spend less time online and more time face-to-face, unplugged.

I double-dog dare you.