Me: ‘When I was your age, we didn’t have tablets or mobile phones and children’s TV was only on for an hour each day!’
K (rolling her eyes): ‘Yea, yea, and you couldn’t pause or rewind and the world was black and white, we know!’
Me (under my breath): ‘Cheeky moo…………’
This is not a post boasting about how my kids don’t watch television or play continuously on their tablets. I’m not claiming to be some sort of martyr where I regularly battle through life, refusing screen time because it is the root of all-evil, the easy way out and the epitome of bad parenting- or so we are led to believe! The truth is, my kids (6, 8 & 11), like most, enjoy a bit of screen time and us parents, like most, enjoy the quiet time it brings. However, we recently got to a point where I realised that, even with some restrictions in place, they were doing little else in their free time than watching a screen (tablet/ TV/ gaming). When I found gifts from Christmas, still unopened in their boxes, I decided that enough was enough! They are children and they need guidance, they will thank me for it later!
From quite early on we’ve had a ‘no TV before school’ rule. This was mainly due to the military operation needed to get all three of them out of the house in the morning, on time. My children are immediately hypnotized by a screen and become, what I can only describe as ‘deaf zombies’ causing an inability to do anything (including eat) while the television is on. This was later extended to ‘no TV on school nights’ (Mon-Thurs) as we have activities after school most days, sometimes in multiple locations, with clubs, dyslexia tutors and sports, meaning that we are rarely home before 6.30pm. Homework then has to be fitted in before bedtime (which we find works best after dinner) as well as food and ‘calm-down time’, reading and cuddles. With all of that, bedtime is usually around 8pm, there is just no time for TV, plus the fact that apparently TV is stimulating and therefore, not good for children (or adults!) right before bed. Following our recent struggles with K’s prepubescent hormones and difficulty sleeping, I really don’t need added stimulants at bedtime!
So, in short, our screen rules so far have been mainly for reasons other than ‘they have too much screen time’, though keeping that time to weekends and holidays did also seem like a fair compromise! Then, there is the added bonus of using it as a bit of a bribe or treat during the week and suddenly, they think I’m the best mum in the world!! Win, win!!
All that said, I began to notice, over time, their weekends (around a couple of sports clubs) were becoming screen dominated. They were waking earlier than during the week, knowing that they could play on tablets or switch on the TV before breakfast. Lego (that The Boy would paddy over leaving during the week) lay idle and untouched on the bedroom floor, the art kits (that K had asked for her birthday and Christmas) sat, unopened in their boxes and the cartwheeling, monkey bar swinging gymnast in the family, sat glued to some American teen series with her headphones on! Of course for a while, we enjoyed the piece and ability to get on with stuff around the house. The calm that came with screen time was addictive for us too and after all, they work hard at school in the week, they are active kids with varied interests, why not let them sit on a tablet all weekend, if that’s what they choose? But, the fact is, it is addictive. All things considered, it is a mindless activity that is designed to draw them into that world and therefore take them out of this one, an activity that does have a place but does not take the place of play. My children weren’t playing any more. They weren’t interacting in their fabulous role-play games where they were a family of lions or group of orphans whose parents had died tragically or something where The Boy is the dog (he’s usually the dog!). Listening to their wild imaginations, varying accents/ voices and storylines was lovely and often hilarious! They weren’t dressing up as Spiderman, fighting over the ownership of a large cardboard box or running around, being children anymore. So, in came a new rule! Weekend and holiday screen time is now only allowed between before breakfast in the morning (after 7am) and when it’s dark (or after dinner in the summer) in the evening. We did consider the idea of earning screen time, a bit like earning pocket money but to be honest, that just seems like too much hard work right now!
I have to admit, it was a bit of a struggle at first with the expected ‘there’s nothing to do’ and ‘I’m bored’ but it was worth persevering as it didn’t take long for them to get creative again. They do sometimes need a shove in the right direction; I might get out the art box and spread it out over the kitchen table with the contents of the cardboard recycling box or set up a mini Ninja Warrior style fitness circuit around the garden! Generally though, their imaginations are fully intact and they are perfectly capable of playing, creating and competing with each other without our interference or screens being involved! Despite their initial reluctance, I know I’ve done the right thing when I hear them laughing uncontrollably, watch them proudly unveil a piece of artwork or taste a biscuit they’ve made.
‘I know they are happier ‘doing’, rather than watching someone else doing something!’
As I mentioned before, we haven’t carved these screen rules in stone, they get broken every now and again, but they have helped us find a healthy balance between screen and play time, a balance that they couldn’t find themselves. Like all parents, we still occasionally use screen time to get some piece, make an important phone call or finish a job, it has it’s place and it has saved my sanity on more than one occasion! Now that K has a phone, though she doesn’t use it much yet, I’m sure that will change once she moves up to high school in September- I can feel more rules coming on!!
What are your screen time rules? Is it something you needed to tackle or have you children found their own balance?