Screentime Rant

I have never been a big fan of my kids playing video games non stop.  I have spent years fighting the good fight and limiting the amount of time they spend in front of a TV or device.  I’ve always felt as though I was doing well with my anti-electronics campaign, at least until last summer when it all came crashing down.

Last summer was the summer we decided to move.  The last time I had moved I had only one child and he was only about a year and a half old.  All I remember about that move was that whenever we would get a call about a showing I’d have to quickly scramble to pick up all of Brendan’s toys and get them put away while he was following along behind me and getting them back out.  So the thought of trying to move with three children playing toys was much more daunting to me.  I knew it would be near impossible to keep the toys cleaned up all the time, even though my kids were much older and much more able to help me in that task.

So we made the decision to pack away every single one of the kids toys when we put our house on the market.  Matt worried about them having nothing to do over summer vacation but I assured him that between camps and video games that the kids would be more than entertained for the weeks or months that it took our house to sell.  And I was right, the kids had zero issue with filling all of their time with video games.  I, on the other hand, was driven absolutely insane by it.  My natural instinct was to holler and lecture about the amount of time they were spending in front of the screens, but I tried to let it go.  I knew there was nothing else to do inside the house and we were actually outside of the house quite frequently.

Reminding myself that this was only temporary I made it through the 4 months that we were selling our house and told the kids that once we got settled into the new place that the video game gravy train would come to an end.  Except that it didn’t.  Oh sure, their toys were back out and we now had school to take up their time during the day.  But no matter how hard I tried to go back to my old ways of limiting their screen time I had to admit that things were just going to be a little bit different going forward.

For starters Brendan was getting old enough that he just wasn’t that in to toys anymore so if I denied him video games as often as I had before he would be hard pressed to find something to occupy his time.  Because the other big thing missing from our new neighborhood was a park.  We’d lived only a few doors down from a playground pretty much for all of Brendan’s life and whenever I wouldn’t let him play video games he’d run off to the park.

The other two kids were just as hard to break of the habit.  At 4 and 7 I wouldn’t accept that they weren’t into toys, and the set up of the new house meant that their toys were actually stored in their bedrooms instead of in the basement play room.  I thought that this would actually increase the amount of time spent playing with their toys, but I was wrong.  It seemed that being separated from their toys for 4 months made them not want them anymore rather than making them have a new appreciation for what they hadn’t been able to play with for months.  So no matter how hard I tried to go back to my old ways it felt like the kids were getting more and more video game time every single night.

I knew we had to do something, but at first I had no good ideas.  Summer was fast approaching, a time when I knew the battle over video games would become that much more fierce.  Especially since we decided to cut back a little bit this summer and only enroll the kids into one camp instead of multiple.  The answer to my problems came to me one day as I scrolled through my facebook feed (and yes, I do see the irony in finding a solution to get my kids to spend less time online while being online myself)

The basic essence of the solution was to give the kids a list of things they needed to get done before they could have any screen time.  And screen time didn’t just mean playing video games it also meant watching TV, which I was glad to adopt because in the last few months of the school year Cameron had traded video game time for watching Minecraft videos on YouTube pretty exclusively.

So summer vacation began and I allowed my kids a few liberties during the first few days.  They got to sleep as late as they wanted to, and I allowed them to play video games and watch TV as much as they wanted.  Once that first half a week was over though things began to look very different around here.  They now have 5 things they must accomplish before I will allow them any time in front of a screen.  They have to shower and dress, complete all of their chores, play outside, do something creative (such as build with legos, paint a picture, or do some writing), and read at least one chapter in a book.

So far it’s been going fairly well.  The kids don’t seem to mind the list of things they need to get done and each of them has one thing that they seem to spend way more than the minimum required time working on which I am certainly not going to complain about.  They are required to spend no less than 30 minutes outside (which thanks to an idea from Matt’s sister now includes a 5 minute penalty added to their time for every time they come to the door an ask if they’re done yet).  Brendan has been spending no less than 2 hours outside every single day.  Kaylee is the same with creativity.  On Wednesday it was 4:00 before she finished her list and was able to play video games because she spent the entire morning drawing and creating a book.  The one that Cameron spends the most time on is reading.  He and I have been reading Charlotte’s Web together and he never wants to stop after just one chapter.

There’s just one task that I’m having a lot of fights about, and believe it or not it’s the shower.  Cameron and Kaylee both are resisting taking their shower every day.  Brendan doesn’t fight it too much, because his shower is the first thing he does every single day during the school year.  He is at the age where he pretty much never gets to skip it.  Kaylee still has the occasional skip day so she tries to wheedle her way out of it whenever she can.  My biggest arguer is by far Cameron.  The problem I have with him is that during the school year he takes his shower at night in order to both save us time and because he is the worlds most difficult child to get out of bed in the mornings.  He argues that he should be able to continue to take his shower at night during summer vacation, but the problem with that is that we are a lot of times so busy that it isn’t feasible to do it in the evenings.

Despite the hygienic set backs I am very happy with the amount of screen time that the kids are getting.  It’s a bit more than they used to get but at least I know they are getting a lot of other activities in during their days and not just a bunch of screen time.


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