Screen Time

Day 326

We have a friend who spent most of his childhood without TV.  Apparently, his mother called her children to dinner one evening and they were too entranced with a rerun of Star Trek to comply.  So, the story goes that she actually flung the TV down the stairs, and that was that.  They didn’t get another one for ten years.  In his words, “For me TV went from Mork and Mindy to Alf, just like that.”

When I first heard him tell this story before I had children, I was shocked at his mom’s crazy behavior.

Now that I have kids, I totally get it.  TV is a powerful intoxicant to kids.  I often wonder why my youngest needs help to turn her shirt right side out, but can somehow navigate the myriad of buttons and commands on the network of television remotes.

photo(217)I have always considered us a family that doesn’t watch that much television.  We don’t watch it before school or during during meal times, etc.   Case in point, I have had this second TV and VCR boxed up and functioning as an auxiliary clothing rack in the corner of my bedroom for a year.  I can’t remember why we even brought them here with us, but we haven’t used them.  I can’t quite let them go however. I might need them…just in case, not the best Simple Year attitude. Don’t judge me…

Recently, I read a statistic from a Kaiser Institute study that found that an average 8-18 year-old will spend 7 ½ hours a day in front of a screen.   SEVEN AND A HALF HOURS?  That’s like a full time job.

I find that particularly hard to believe since anytime I’m in a crowd of moms, at some point the conversation always turns to some kind of my-kids-don’t-watch-TV-one-upmanship. You know the conversation.

Annoying Mom: Claire only gets to watch a single educational program on the fourth Friday of every month.

More Annoying Mom: Oh, I know what you mean, Winston only uses the computer during his weekly on-line Pashtu lessons. 

Most Annoying Mom:  Yes, same here, my kids had to ask me what that black box was when we were visiting their cousins, those little rascals“

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” But, I digress.

Can you believe all those other parents that allow their children to watch so much TV and play so many computer games driving up the averages, making you and I look bad?

Then I started to take a hard look at the time my school-age kids spend staring at a flat glass plate–a mommy audit.    Through the week, I allow screen time after all homework and chores are done, an hour or two usually.   On Fridays, they could play after they finished their chores which take them about 4-6 minutes even though they complain loudly about their indentured servitude.  Screen time that evening could be very easily 3-4 hours. When I honestly monitored the weekend habits, after cartoons in the morning, maybe a movie in the evening and then some computer time sprinkled in, it was very easily 5 hours.    Where does the time go?

I found that as conscientious as I tried to be, my kids still watch an average of three hours of TV a day.  Oh no, what’s next, a steady diet of Vienna Sausages and Little Debbie Fudge Rolls?

So, rather than throw the TV down a flight of stairs, I implemented a new rule about three weeks ago.  No electronic devices of any kind can be used Monday through Thursday, unless it is directly related to homework.  For the first week, our house had the atmosphere of a methadone clinic.  My youngest little addict was frantic every time she saw the TV and was literally counting the days until Friday.  My oldest would stroke the black lifeless face of her iPod touch with an air of mourning.

But in just a couple of short weeks, things have gotten easier for all of us. The pace is a bit slower through the week since everyone isn’t trying to rush through homework and piano practice to watch an episode of Dog with a Blog.   And, I’m pretty sure my kids are smarter already, we may start Pashtu lessons next week.

17 Responses to Screen Time

  1. Good job! It is so so so hard. I always said I would never plonk my kids in front of the TV just so I could get some things done. But guess what? I sometimes plonk my kids in front of the TV just so I can get some things done (cooking dinner usually). I find it alarming that it is the only thing that will keep both of them occupied without prodding and poking each other (usually). It’s very hard to find the balance. Keep us updated as to whether you (and they) manage to stick to your new rules!

    • Yes, I remember cooking dinner with toddlers in the house. What is it about that time of day that makes all small children turn into little cranky, ill-behaved balls of crazy? Or maybe that was just mine.

  2. The comments from “Annoying Mom’s” made me laugh. I can see myself saying similar things I think. I got rid of our TV too, although I did not throw it down the stairs. I didn’t take a family vote on it though. I told my husband I wanted to get rid of it, told him my reasons and he agreed and so we got rid of it. Now it is quite easy I think to get along without a TV; we have a laptop and could certainly watch a lot of stuff on it if we wanted too. I have to be very mindful of how much time we spend on it. I do like that the big TV (we never had a flatscreen) that is now gone has made for lots more room in our home. And our time. We are all forced to be more creative with what we do…my kids play outside a lot more, read more, play together a lot, fight and get into arguments and then make up. We converse without the background noise….I like not having all the commercial advertisements and my children are pretty clueless when it comes to pop culture or any of the latest shows…

  3. Impressive, Kerry! I like this policy. Are you finding it gives the weekends a “let’s binge watch” atmosphere?

    I have to tell you, I’m excited to pull out The Simple Year to ponder things in a new light when I start a family. These days, though, there are still good lessons and reminders that make me reflect on my daily habits. Thanks for that. 🙂 ~s

    • Hi Sarah- Thanks for the nice compliments. Don’t be too impressed we are only three weeks in 🙂 So far we have been OK on the weekends (although, I was a bit worried the first week when Kelsey was acting like a bit of a crack addict). I think it helps that we have quite a few planned activities and things to do already. And, the weather is getting nicer, so yesterday the kids were able to play outside. Take Care

  4. This is great!!! Hysterical, and so very true. I struggle with this too. The funniest part is that before I had kids, there was a laundry list of rules, regulations and prohibitions (including all types of electronic entertainment), and now that I have a 2.5 yo and an 11 month old, I can only laugh at my former deluded self. I was a tad embarrassed when we were at the library the other day and my toddler was screaming “IPAD IPAD IPAD” at the top of his lungs…Books? what are those??? you have to flip the page manually? no thanks mom. (sigh).

  5. Well done! We tried to do screen free Sundays late last year. It lasted a month and then we kind of forgot. Little Fearse sometimes (like right now while both BP and I are on our laptops) goes to extremes (climbing things / screaming / clawing our legs) to get our attention. This is not the world I wanted my kids to grow up in. Good on you for making a stand and giving the rest of us courage! (No Survivor until FRIDAY? How would I survive the week? Hehe.)

  6. i didn’t have a TV for about 5 years but succumbed as the children got older but by then they weren’t too bad with it. When i wanted a TV free week we would turn it into a fish tank. Okay not a literal fish tank but we would make colourful fish and hang them from strings down the front of the TV. It was fun and it worked. Not sure how old your youngest is but it might help.
    I am also surprised that it is only 7 and a half hours, add computer time and i am sure that figure could double.

  7. Love the post. You’ve totally got mom’s pegged when it comes to what we tell our friends during playgroup brag-time and what actually goes on at home. 🙂

  8. Love the reference to “Dog With a Blog”! My kids like that show too! We don’t watch too much TV…but the IPad…oh my goodness, do I have to be careful of that! And not just with regards to the kids. I think I am more addicted to it than they are!

  9. My barely-5 year old nephew had become addicted to my Kindle Fire (and the free games I downloaded for him) to where when he saw me one of the first things he asked was “Kindle?” After he became obsessed with a new game and one last meltdown when we took it away, I decided the Kindle was gone for him for at least the next 2 months. The change has been amazing, and I’m so glad I took it away. Since learning even more about the changes that these games can make in a child’s brain, I am even happier we broke the habit. My nephew has a Leap Pad that he can play when he’s in the car, but it doesn’t seem to have the same addicting qualities thankfully, and at least there seems to be some redeeming educational lessons on many of those games. Plus he chooses sometimes to now work on his reading skills instead of begging for electronics! If he does get to use my Kindle again, I’ll be wiping off any type of games that tend to ‘suck you in’ to their pretend world.

  10. Laughed out lound to the snarky mom oneupmanship and kid’s indentured servitude comments. Exactly what I have witnessed. Frankly, I keep the TV so I have something good to take away the momment I don’t get cooperation. Back pocket blackmail. Best month of my life post childbearing probably the month the TV got unplugged as a consequence for ignoring their duties. When TV watching wasn’t even a possibility the lack of arguing and pressure to negotiate viewing was such a relief. However, in an age of two-income households and/or one parent (household) trying to get something accomplished without the availability of extended family, older kids to watch, or a safe outdoor environment to send them the electronic babysitter is virtually necessary. You can go without but you’d better have a good plan for all the squabbling and be ready to not get any time to yourself or get anything completely done until after the kids are sound asleep.

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