A few people have asked me questions in the past few months about our rules about screen time in our family.
It’s a tricky subject and one that I’ve had to think about for awhile. It’s been hard for me to come up with a concrete, simple answer because we don’t have any hard and fast rules about how much computer or TV time the kids can have.
I will say upfront that each day is different. There are days when we are out a lot and don’t watch that much TV (When I mention TV, I almost always mean a DVD or something that we’ve downloaded from Netflix …we don’t have cable).
Then there are days when someone is sick, or it’s really rainy and cold, where we watch something or play on the computer for a large chunk of the day.
I would say that Alexa spends at least some time every day on the computer. She loves being on the computer. She has learned an incredible amount from her research on animals and the books and other things she reads there. Jared is now getting interested in playing some games on the computer, too.
Right now we’re super excited about watching the Little House on the Prairie seasons together as a family. So, most nights between 8:00 and 9:00 we watch one episode of that together as a family. I’m blown away at how much our kids have learned from our time together and all the great discussions it’s started.
So instead of strict rules, I ask myself these 5 questions when I’m deciding whether or not to say yes to the kids’ request to watch a show or play a computer game.
Is the TV or computer being used simply because they are tired?
My kids gave up daily naps when they were two years, three months old. I’ll always remember the day because I had just sat down to eat lunch when they came running out of their room laughing. I remember thinking, Oh, no. This can’t be happening. This is supposed to be the hour I get to eat lunch and read in silence!
But after trying to make them stay in their room for two days, and them emptying out all the dresser drawers and trashing the rest of the room, I finally learned my lesson.
But they still needed to rest on some days. I’d notice when their eyes were droopy, they’d want to sit and watch a lot of TV shows. I realized they were using TV as a way to relax.
Even today they will want to watch something right after lunch if we’re at home. I usually don’t have a problem with this. I like to watch some programs at nighttime to relax, too. But sometimes I notice it winds them up too much and prevents them from really resting when they need it….they same way it will do that to me at nighttime, too.
If I think this is happening, I’ll take out a pile of books or something else and suggest they read or play with something else quietly.
Is the TV or computer being used because the kids are “bored”?
I recently wrote a post about the Benefits of Boredom. By being bored, I don’t necessarily mean that kids will come right out and use those exact words. I mean more when you as a parent need to take care of other responsibilities or have some time for your own interests, and your kids want you do something with them and you can’t.
I love, love, love spending time playing and learning with my kids. It’s what I do for a large portion of the day. But I can’t do it every second of the day. Even if I play and do things with the kids for six hours straight, and need to do something for an hour after that, they will still beg and plead for me to keep doing things with them.
I suppose it’s a combination of my kids still being young and that they really like interacting with other people a lot (although once they start, they can play by themselves independently for quite some time), but it can be hard not to think that you’re neglecting your kids if you tell them that you need some time by yourself for awhile to get things done.
So, whenever I need some time to write, or clean or cook and they don’t want to help me, their first reaction is usually to watch TV. Now, they do get to watch a lot of programs and shows. It’s not my first reaction at all to say no to those requests. I’ve seen the incredible amounts of learning they’ve done by watching a wide variety of shows.
But if there is a day when I have a lot of things to take care of, and the kids continue to watch hour after hour of TV, I’ve come to see that’s it’s very, very unhealthy for them. I’ve tried the never ever restricting TV for a period of three or four months and those were the months they were the grumpiest, irritable, whiny, physically sick and miserable they’ve ever been.
So, that brings me to the next question I ask….
Has there been an adverse affect in their behavior because of too much screen time?
I think a lot of people get grumpy and grouchy if they’ve been sitting still for too long. It’s just not healthy, especially for children. Biologically children’s bodies are crying out for movement. Sometimes screens pull them in and hyper-stimulate them so they can’t listen to their natural body instincts anymore.
When I see that they are watching TV or on the computer for a long time and are starting to get short with other people or whiny, I know I need to step in and help them make a different choice about what to do.
Is screen time taking the place of responding to and interacting with other people?
When Steve can come home from work and say hello and the kids just sit there and stare at the screen and not even say hello back, then there’s a problem. When we go to a birthday party or family gathering, and I see kids sitting by themselves for hours locked into a screen (and not even playing video games with anyone else), then I see that as a problem, too.
I feel strongly that showing respect to others by acknowledging them when they walk into a room, or spending time with extended family when you see them is more important than interacting with a DVD or computer game (or reading a book for that matter). So, in these cases, I do ask my kids to stop playing.
We’ve talked in great length about why I feel it’s so important, and I think that’s the key.
Talking about why you feel strongly about something and giving your kids lots of different options is so much better than blurting out a “no” or “get off the TV.”
I find that if I present my kids with a lot of different options of things to do after they’ve spent quite some time on the TV or computer, they usually are glad to have me pull them away. I think they really need help doing that sometimes. I know I need help with that sometimes myself, too.
How do you approach screen time in your family?
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