As a family (and especially as parents), we have talked a lot about "screen time" which, in our house, includes TV, video games, hand-held games and the computer. This is a tough subject partly because our reference point is limited. Twenty years ago when my husband and I were in college, the world was on the beginning edge of personal computer use. As college students, we learned how to word process at hulking terminals in the cold basement of a building while time sharing on a mainframe. Commands for formatting had to be put in at the beginning of each paragraph. I think ".p" was the command required to start a new paragraph. It was basic!
After you were done typing, you sent your document into the print queue. You came back the next day to find it printed out on paper that still had the feed tape with holes on the sides. There was no spell check or grammer check. If you spotted an error on the printed page, it was a whole bunch of trouble to have your document retrieved for corrections.
When my husband and I were talking recently about the kid's use of electronic media, he started out with, "Well, when we were kids . . . ." Unfortunately this is like referring to the dinosaur age to make a modern-day decision. As kids, we had children's programming in the early morning and from 3-5 in the afternoon, weekend cartoons and the occasional family show in the evening like Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom and Hee Haw. (Ah, I date myself.)
We have not stopped electronic media from coming into our home, an impractical approach in my opinion. Electronic use for entertainment and work are a large part of our world. I do want my kids to learn to use it and learn to make their own judgements about how it fits into their lives. But I find that it also affects our life as a family. And thus comes the rub. Electronic entertainment is alluring, exciting. It's also easy as a default option as to how to spend one's time and that's what concerns me. I get uncomfortable when my kids roll out of bed and immediately head for the computer or hand-held video game day after day. I'm concerned that they've stopped making active decisions about how to spend their time and are on automatic.
I know that I have to be careful of the same draw to my own computer. I don't use it to play games, but it would be fair to say that checking my email holds huge appeal! If I'm feeling disconnected or bored, it's easy to sit in front of the screen instead of being more active in finding something to do or connecting with my kids. It's also a good way to avoid any dreaded chores!
We've recently decided to have one screen-free day a week. And I must say, I love it. The energy in the house is different, the kids are calmer and more peaceful and so am I. I see them using their creativity and imaginations in ways that just don't happen when they're plugged in. We had a screen-free day yesterday. It was the kind of day I love--rainy and cold and a good day to stay home in your pj's. We started the morning with reading several Magic School Bus stories at breakfast and then moved on to our Crayon Hearts project (see our previous post) which took most of the morning. After lunch the kids drifted away upstairs to their rooms. They called me up to look at what they'd made--each had forts in their bedrooms that they had built out of mattresses (yes, off the beds), blankets, pillows, books and toys baskets.
I later found them in Oliver's room surrounded by books, Levi sometimes reading to Oliver. They pulled out old toys--things as simple as balls and stuffed animals. The listened to music and poetry and stories on CD. These things simply don't happen on days when they stay connected to electronics.
There are lots of dire predictions about the effects of electronic media on children, the formation of their brains, and how it affects physical activity. In this new territory, it will take the passage of time to see if any of these fears are borne out. I certainly don't know the answer. But I do know what my intuition tells me and what I observe in my house. What it tells me is that searching for a balance between use of electronics and other activities is important. I don't want me or my kids to be reluctant to go more than 10 feet from an electrical outlet or out of range of a wireless connection!
Balance is one of the principles I try to parent by and it serves us well in deciding what foods to eat (how much junk vs. how much "good stuff"), how late to stay up, how much to play with friends and how much to stay home. It's the idea of everything in moderation. For now, moderation is the path we've chosen. We have limited screen time to 2 hours daily, 3 on the weekends. And we have talked about having our weekday screentime start after 3pm. This leaves us the daytime when we're fresh for learning activities, projects, time with friends.
These limitations are not without conflict even though we came up with them and agreed to them as a family. I don't like being the nag. I'm working with the kids to find ways that they can manage their own screen time withhout me in the middle.
There's a whole wide world out there to see and experience. My hope for each of us is that we'll keep our eyes open and not let one form of interacting with the world consume us. Electronics have value--they offer opportunities for learning, connection with others, and just plain old fun. But I also value learning that comes from a walk in the woods, a face-to-face conversation, or a hands-on experience.
I'll be logging off now to go play with the kids!
Jokes by Levi
What did the ice cream say when the banana asked when it could come over?
Only on a sundae!
What does a drama king wear to bed?
What do you call a swashbuckling rat?
What do you call a shoe that has a problem?
An is-shoe! (An issue)
What do you call a video game that you play with more than one person?
What do you call it when someone listens in on Christmas Eve?
And one contributed by a friend:
What's brown and sticky?
Levi called me into his room saying, "Oliver's a quarterback." Oliver was on the bed on his tummy with 4 quarters on his back.
What does a crocodile say when it wants to be a rooster?