This weekend I travelled with our Trampoline and Tumbling team because my 2 boys compete. It was a great experience and I truly enjoyed spending time with the kids as well as the other team parents. I did notice that we all have the same problem. Screen time.
Every moment when the kids were not competing they were engrossed in their tablets playing games. My sons both found that being called up to be awarded for their efforts were merely an interruption to their games and that left me dumbfounded. After the meet, on the ride home I asked my usual questions: what did you learn that you can work on improving for next time? And was it fun? In response I got “Ian knows a way to switch from survival mode to creative mode without losing your world.” Of course I was thankful that Ian has that sacred knowledge and is willing to share with my sons to guarantee that the world goes on but it was still not a real consideration for my original questions.
Having so much time plastered to a screen can be detrimental to our kids. Add up the time they are in front of a screen at home, and at school; plus don’t forget the time they watch TV in the car while you run errands, and you get an average of 8 hours a day for an average 8-10 year old. O-M-G!! This new norm contributes to the rise in childhood obesity and all the fun health concerns that comes along with that. It has been shown to negatively affect sleep patterns needed for healthy growth. More screen time has been linked with increasing bully behavior and decreasing attention span. It is shown to drop academic performance. And maybe the factor that could reverse all the others… it takes away from a child’s active playtime.
To me, it’s a little like seeing a person smoking. I always think to myself “what else do you need to be shown to realize that this is a bad habit?” But people still do it. What else do we need to learn about the impact of letting the screen raise our children before we make some changes?
Here is my plan:
- Limiting Screens in the bedroom: It is difficult to limit screen time in the child’s bedroom because that is where they go to do homework and now much of the homework is online. But we have resolved to not allow our kids to have televisions in their rooms.
- Television will be off during meal time. This one is harder for me because I grew up as having meals with my family around the TV. Good or bad, that was my family. But to allow the kids more time away from the screen we have resolved that the screen is off until the meal is done for everyone and the kitchen is cleaned up. This includes for me eliminating texting, Facebooking or checking my phone during meals.
- We enforce consequences. My first rule when I gave my son his tablet (they both have tablets now) was that if ever I felt that he was checked out of the real world because of his tablet then he would lose the tablet for a time. (Yes, for the next few days my kids will be tablet free because they were not mentally and emotionally engaged at the competition this weekend.) Also if chores don’t get done tablet time is lost.
- Use time as a reward. Some parents have a credit system that involves chips or charts to allow kids to earn screen time, that’s way too much for me to deal with. I find it much easier to simply use an “If-Then” statement. “If you finish your homework then you may watch TV until 6:00. Or, “if you help with the lawn today then you can play Wii later.” Easy and no chart needed.
- I drive the TV. We DVR almost everything because we have a very abnormal schedule. That way we get to watch shows on our time. Also, I will watch shows with the kids and I am a very vocal critic. (Side note: kids TV shows embrace stupidity as humorous or normal and that just rubs me the wrong way.) If a show is inappropriate or in some other way unacceptable (like depicting stupid behavior as a way to get laughs) then I am the first to criticize it. My son asked me yesterday if Power Rangers was cool or lame.* He sought out my opinion because it is important to kids that they get our approval; this is an easy way to guide better decision-making.
- Be considerate. Let kids feel that they have a little say in their show choices and ability to control behavior. My wife is very good about telling kids “10 more minutes” or after this show it goes off.” That allows them fair notice and self-control.
Unfortunately more screen time will be a standard for the next generations and it is up to us to make sure that is doesn’t negatively affect the happy, healthy development of our own children. Now get your face away from this screen and go play with your kids.
* Power Rangers is cool because they always get the bad guys, but lame because it looks like superheroes that bought their suits from a retro-disco resale shop. Plus their martial arts is really poorly choreographed, but still better than Uncle Grandpa.
See also This article from the Scripps Health Website