For a few months now, ever since the kids returned to school from winter break, we've changed our screen habits during the week. And only now, after having been in the routine for some time can I actually gather my thoughts on it.
Like most things, our routine changed as the kids got older. We started out not allowing any television for our kids, and then quickly they discovered Sesame Street and Wonder Pets and all those PBS shows. Then it turned into a cap of 2 hours a day max, that meant one movie, or a few shows. When I was home with 3 kids, 2 hours goes by really quickly let me tell you! Some days it would be 7:30am and the 2 hours were already done! FOR THE WHOLE DAY! Oh, those days! Long indeed.
Once the kids started school television or Wii could only happen once their homework was finished. Once they were done, they were capped at 30 minutes a day.
Then I noticed that kids were racing through their homework just to get to their game time. Or kids that weren't done were being distracted by what another kid was watching in another room.
Different kids finished their work at different paces, and distractions would slow it down even more so. Then I came up with the rule that no one could turn on an electronic until ALL kids were done with homework. Well, that didn't fly. Kids would get upset if one kid was having a particularly large amount of work or a project needed to be worked on.
I thought long and hard this winter over screen time. In this house anything with a screen counted. TV, Nintendo DS, my iPhone, an iPod Touch, Wii, iPad, computer. The kids are allowed to decide how and what they want to use their screen time on, my dilemma was the amount of time we wasted on these screens.
I also am anticipating a huge shift in work load for Gunnar as he starts middle school this fall and I wanted to be ahead of the game. We decided we needed to be more drastic with our house rules and screen time.
So once January rolled around we had a family meeting to discuss this. We talked with the kids about what they thought about the current rules of 30 minutes a day, how we could make it better. And our new rule was decided that Monday through Thursday we weren't going to have any screen time at all. The only possibility of screen time on those days is if you are fed, dressed, shoes on, and backpack packed by the door, then you could spend a few minutes on an electronic device before school. Let me just tell you this doesn't happen too often. But on the days the kids really want to check on their Tree World or play a little Minecraft, they have the option to wake up early and be responsible for getting ready.
On Sundays at 6pm, I collect all iphones, ipods, and turn the TV off. Friday-Sunday we allow them what I think is a generous amount of screen time. But I don't time it, I don't stress about the clock. And not stressing about their time on it feels so good. I let them indulge in a Sunday morning movie, or an extended Wii game on a Saturday afternoon. The kids know that they are not allowed to vegetate for hours, but they are happy with this arrangement.
It was not all rainbows and butterflies in the beginning. They were miserable at first. Which tells me just how dependent these kids were on screens. But through the last few months they've really adjusted and now it doesn't even come up in conversation. They don't have to ask me or beg to go on something. They know the rules. And if there's a show they really want to watch, we tape it and they know Friday afternoon or evening they are more than welcome to watch.
For now this is our routine, but it most likely will evolve as my kids get older and they eventually are allowed cell phones, or they become teens that are into music. I am holding off on a cell phone for Gunnar for as long as I possibly can. I figured maybe in middle school, but guess what, they aren't allowed cell phones in middle school! So we are good for at least a few more years.
We spend more time outside. We read. We play. We create. And we are very happy for this.