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.