For the longest time, we did an excellent job minimizing our kids' screen time. Then the grandparents came and fucked it up.
Until this fall, our kids basically had the privilege of a movie on Sundays. If they really did not behave well during the weekend, we would take it away. It was a nice chance for us to get stuff done and/or get a break for about 90 minutes. We've been having these "Sunday afternoon movies" for years. We started with the 90 minute Disney/Pixar films we owned, and then transitioned to 3-4 episodes of shows they liked on Netflix.
A couple of years ago we first got an iPad, and we then started occasionally letting them have 15-20 minutes of games on the weekend. More recently I had tied the iPad time to chores. When they put their laundry away, they could have the iPad. They had to take turns, and when the timer went off, the time was up, no negotiations.
Sure they asked for more. They were always asking for our phones, tried to wheedle us into more iPad time or to have a movie on Saturday AND Sunday, or to watch one more show. But the rules were set. There was never TV or games on weekdays and they never even asked.
We don't have a television set, and movies/shows. are generally watched in the basement on our screen, or on a laptop or iPad upstairs.
Then my parents bought the boys Kindle Fires. They bought them a couple years ago for my sister's kids but I told them we didn't want them. Then B & L realized that their cousins had them, and started their attack on grandma and grandpa. Finally I relented. Now they got 1 hour of kindle time on each weekend day when/if they finished chores and nothing else was planned. They could play games, read books, or listen to music.
In preparation for our trip, I changed the settings to allow them to access videos to download for the flight. And I turned off the time restrictions. And for 3 weeks they basically had unlimited screen time every single day. Even when they went back to school, MIL gave them the kindles as soon as they came home & finished homework and they played until we got home and made them put it away. On the 2 snow days, they probably were on those damn things for 13 hours straight.
Additionally, since our basement is being fixed, we had the laptop set up hooked up to speakers in the living room and MIL would frequently watch her shows on it when the kids were awake so they would crowd around to watch, and then demand their own shows which she always gave in to.
I took the Kindles away on Monday and told them they were not getting them back until January, and then only if they showed some improvement in behavior between now and then. I also made G put the speakers and laptop away.
I don't in any way think the screen time caused the bad behavior, because it started well before. But I do know that it is impossible to connect with them when they are absorbed in their screens, and I am coming around to the "Peaceful Parenting" mantra that connection is necessary for teaching and modeling good behavior and values.
Of course, it goes both ways. I have my own obsession with my Kindle (or more accurately, the app on my phone) and I know that putting my phone and books away is also part of this solution. I know my kids behave better when I give them my full attention. Its just a vicious cycle---they act badly, I retreat to my phone, they act worse...Then I lose my shit and let them watch a show so that I can have a break.
Screen time was our biggest bribing tactic...but it also didn't really work. I just kept giving them second and third chances to "earn" the time back because I needed them glued to their screens so I didn't have to deal with their behavior and wants and needs for a while.
We may still do family movie night on Friday, because I think sitting together and watching the same thing is a whole different situation then each kid watching their own thing on their own device, and even the two kids watching together and G and I using the time to talk is somewhat better.
The rest of the weekend will be challenging. We have no set plans and its winter. I know they will ask a million times, and I will have to say "no" each time. We will have to be engaged and creative in keeping them occupied. I am going to make G sit down to plan the weekend at least loosely tonight so that we don't lose our shit and cave. Library, indoor swimming, baking something, board games, books, legos. We will have to find a way to get through the days...and thankfully there is always wine.