No You Can't Watch 1 MORE Show!!!
Is there a perfect solution to this problem we first-world parents face, nope. Should we limit the amount of screen time our children have, yep. Is it a problem for pretty much every parent I know, yes. Are we trying the best we can to control it, sometimes yes and sometimes no. Could I do better, of course!
My husband and I try to do most of our parenting with moderation in mind. Screen time is no different. When the girls were younger and I was juggling breastfeeding, trying not to have my kid draw on the wall and making dinner; the TV was on a ton!
I remember breastfeeding my second daughter while Margot, our first, would watch "shows." Almost every feeding she was plopped in front of the TV, that's a lot of screen time. I was convinced I was turning Margot's brain into mush. Honestly, at the time, I was trying to survive. She is 11 now, is in the top of her class and reads a ton.
Our rules on screen time have changed over the years and they will continue to change as the girls grow. So what is working now in 2019 with an 11, 9, 6 and 5 year old will most likely be different in two years?
The breastfeeding situation aside, I do believe that the groundwork we did when the girls were younger set the expectations they now hold for their devices and TV.
0 to 5 years. We set limitations. We limited the girls to about an hour to two hours of TV a day. Usually, it was two shows in the morning while I made breakfast and got my act together and then one or two shows in the afternoon or evening so I could cook dinner or calm down before bed.
5 to 11 years. The timing however changed as the girls went to school and school work and after school sports crept in. The girls were asking for shows all the time - like all the time! Honestly, we were to the point that it was all they cared about and the only motivating factor. That is when we pulled the plug.
For the past two or so years, we have a no TV or devices policy during the week. Margot and Sarah Catherine can use the computer to do school work but that's it. The first few weeks of this were hell. But now several years in it is the norm and no one is fighting it. Side note: Margot will get to play a game or watch a show, IF she has done everything needed and there is still time before bed time. This happens maybe once a week. Additionally, there will be an occasion where we watch TV during the week (Sporting Events Mostly) but for the most part, it is a no.
Weekend mornings are freer. The older girls can work the remote. (We taught that around 6-ish.) So they will head downstairs to watch TV or get on their devices and because they have been deprived all week, they are engaged and that will allow us to sleep in a little. The TV does turn off after breakfast and then usually at night before bed they will get a few shows or we will have a movie.
I am a firm believer that children need boundaries (more on setting boundaries in another post). Screen time is one area to set up some rules and stick to them. We all know too much screen time is bad for our kids. The research is remarkable. But there has to be a happy medium. It comes down to parenting and figuring how to make it work in your family's schedule and life. What works for your situation? Are the mornings ok and you could get away with holding their screen time till later in the day when your patience has worn thin? Of course they are going to want to watch more TV or play the game just a little bit longer. Have you ever heard a kid say "No, I'm good. I don't want to watch the end of this show."? You have to be the adult; you have to be the one to make the rules and then stick to them. It can be hard, sometimes really hard.
We don't have Xbox, Nintendo or any real "gaming" in the house. But we also don't have boys, so that is not a hard one for us. But I do have many friends that do have boys. I asked around and did my mom research. Many have set boundaries from the start or have been forced into setting boundaries because it was getting so out of hand. After a few weeks of stinking to the rules things are better, but again it's hard work.
Exceptions: We do not set any limits on screen time when they are sick, airplanes or long car rides (one hour or more). But I don't put it on in the car while we are driving around town and they don't get it at the dinner table, church, sporting events, etc.
One tip that has worked well for us is to tell them how many shows they can have before we start. Do you need an hour or two? We all know the shows are about 20-30 minutes long, so plan it out and forewarn them of when you are going to pull the plug. And then pull the plug.
One other way we approach it is to explain that the devices are "ours" not "theirs." We bought them, we are paying for the Netflix subscription, we monitor the content, and they are fortunate enough to get to use them. It's not a right, it's a privilege. I think that mindset is essential in many ways.
There are many apps out there that parents use like Ourpact, Zift, Screen Time, unGlue. We have not used them. However, I am not saying we wouldn't down the road. I believe we have structured the girls to respect and understand the rules around devices. It has allowed us not to need a 3rd party app to control the amount of screen time our kids have, yet!
Regardless of how you go about handling screen time, it is a struggle for parents. It is a work in progress that will shift with time and maturity. Being conscientious of the situation, being willing to recognize there is a problem and then being strong enough to set the rules in place to fix the problem. You can do it... now get off your phone.... they are watching you!
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