Friday, October 24, 2014

New Tactic

So it's been a while since we took our break, and I have to admit, the kids are back using screens, but it's a much more manageable amount of time. I'm ok with this. I think there's some value to down time by playing some mindless game once in a while.  It's actually become a good source of family bonding between Dad and kids too, as they all work together playing Castleville. They keep trying to convince me to play too, but honestly, I'm not that interested, but sometimes I think, for the sake of family camaraderie, maybe I should play (if only I had the time!) 

Anyway, after a recent incident of my frustrations with prolonged screen usage (the point at which I say "OK, you've been on long enough, you need to get off", and which they usually do respond to now), I realized that part of the reason they are on for extended times is they flit from one game to the next. I guess it's the equivalent of channel surfing on TV before the internet came along-you're not really actively watching anything, yet hours and hours get wasted sitting in front of the TV as you find one thing after another to watch, and sometimes you walk away thinking, hm, well, none of that was really worth watching.  That gave me my idea for a new tactic-allowing screen time, but restricting it to one game at a time. When they are done with that one game, they need to do a non-screen activity first, before they can get back on (and not a 10 second non-screen activity...something of significant length of time). This seems to be a good balance, and sometimes, when they get caught up in that non-screen activity, they end up not going back to the screen entertainment at all!  I haven't been restricting use by total time used or days on/off or anything lately, and this seems to be working in my quest to keep them from being on screens excessively! 

Hopefully this will be a long term solution. It's not foolproof though, as I know they can easily spend HOURS straight playing Minecraft, but lately, they haven't been playing it much. I've dodged that bullet for now. But when they start up on Minecraft again, I think I might be OK with it as a once in a while treat. We'll see what happens if they start wanting to be on Minecraft every day though.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Ban on Handheld Devices?

Here's another interesting article I came across:
10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should be Banned

While I agree that the reasons she gives are valid, I think calling for a ban is a bit too much overkill. Maybe she was just using hyperbole to make a point. I don't know if she truly believes we need a LAW about this (as people in the comments are assuming), but I agree that all the reasons she mentioned are reasons we need to be wary of too much electronics usage, especially in kids, who haven't yet mastered self-regulation. It's definitely a worthwhile article to read.  I think parents need to be aware that it's worth fighting against, to not to give in to the constant begging to be on a screen because 'Well, what can I do about it?' or 'All kids these days are stuck on a screen', or 'Ok, fine, it gives me some peace and quiet.' It's well worth the effort to try to curb electronic usage in kids, for all the reasons she mentions in the article (rapid brain growth, delayed development, epidemic obesity, sleep deprivation, mental illness, aggression, digital dementia (attention deficit), addictions, radiation emission, unsustainability). Some of these reasons, I hadn't even thought of before, but I think they are valid points.

The Real Reason I Want to Limit Screens

So after our initial hiatus from screens, I slowly let up and let the kids play, probably more than half the days a week, some days maybe an hour or so at a time, some days less, but a lot more limited than before, but no 'set rules'.  But recently, I've found that the old problem of relying solely on electronics for entertainment and begging to have more time have crept back into our lives, and I've been contemplating incorporating rules back in...maybe 3 days a week? or 20 minutes per day? or only weekend mornings? The limits I propose are often met with negotiation attempts, and thus far, we haven't yet come up with a plan going forward. I'm tempted to restart my detox from all electronics again.

I've read numerous articles about the drawbacks of so much screen time (here's an example on the effect of video games on dopamine production of the brain) , and as much as I cite these reasons, I feel I'm talking to a wall. I tried to examine my own reasonings, and it boiled down to wanting my kids to experience real life, and wanting to share this precious time with my kids, because they will be grown before long. I want to explore the world with them, grow a garden with them, read with them, cook with them, talk with them, build projects with them...I want to BE together, and given the short amount of time we have together each day (after school work, activities, events, etc.), there's very limited time left to do those other things that I really want them to experience. And during those times when I can't be spending time directly with them, I want them to use their imaginations to fill their time, play with the plethora of toys and games that go untouched in our basement, or maybe explore deeper some personal interest.  Maybe it's selfish of me to want to direct their time in this manner, but I think in the long run, it will be more rewarding for them, as they look back on a childhood filled with memories of DOING things, not hours of video gaming.

I saw this posted in Facebook, and it really captured my thoughts and feelings about why I want to limit screen time - Letter to boys - The Real Reason I Say No to Electronics . She says is so much more eloquently than I could, and I'm going to read this to my kids.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Killing Time?

Time is precious, wouldn't we all agree? Something I read a long time ago was that we can tell what is important to us, by the number of hours we spend on it. Is God important? Do we spend time with him? Are our children important? How much time do we spend with them? Is work #1? How many hours are spent at the office? Is Facebook important? If we add up all the little blurbs of time we spend 'just checking', how many hours is that? Often we think there are things we'd like to do, but feel like we don't have time. But I said that once to someone, as the reason why I don't change my oil in my car often enough, but she said, "Everyone has time. It's just a matter of how you prioritize it. So if something is truly important do you, you'd make the time for it." I've thought about that a lot as I complain about 'not having time for something.'

Of course, quantity of time isn't everything, but it does say a lot about what our priorities are.  In the past, when we had some down time, the kids' first thought was, "Let's use the iPad!" or "Let's play Minecraft!".  I agree we all need down time, and sometimes, something mind-numbing is just the thing to relax after a busy day. But when screens became the first and only thing that came to time, that's when things felt out-of-whack.  It starts out as "Oh, I just want to check something on my game". Then it becomes, "Let me finish this level." Then it becomes, "Just one more." Before you know it, it was 2 hours! Are the games THAT important in our lives that we need to spend hours on it? How much time was killed in that process? Time that could have been spent outdoors, or reading a book, or conversing, or doing a project together, spending time together as a family or one-on-one, rather than by themselves immersed in an virtual world.

With our break from screens (it's been almost 1.5 months, I think), the kids have re-discovered forts, Legos, stuffed animals, books, board games, hula hooping, and dancing around the house. I do let them play on weekend mornings, while we catch up on some sleep, so they're not 'deprived' (but honestly, I see almost an immediate change in attitude afterwards- they are short-tempered, and oppositional when they get off the screens after we wake up). But during the week, they've had minimal screen time, so they have to fill their time with other things. The begging for screens has stopped. Instead, they'll say, "Mom, read! Read another chapter!" or "Can we go to the park?" I love this!

Of course, this does mean we as parents, are spending more time with the kids, and that's not a bad thing. Given that we are so busy much of the week, it's nice to be able to spend more time with them, building memories. But yes, we do need to get something done once in a while without the kids underfoot, and screens used to be my go-to plan for keeping them busy while I cooked dinner or did some work.  But there ARE other options-reading, hands-on toys, listening to music, writing stories, and drawing. The kids have gotten pretty good at going to those now. It does mean a few interruptions when they start fighting about the game their playing, or needing my help in finding supplies, or maybe they're just on each other's nerves that day and bicker about everything, and it's really tempting to just put on a video, or give them separate devices and have them go to their room and play separate games, but I'm really trying to avoid that. So rather than just killing time while I'm busy, I want them to be actively engaged in doing something.

This is still a work in progress, so yes, sometimes, I will let them play a round of Minion Rush mid-week, and yes, sometimes I need to be on a conference call, and I just don't have the time to negotiate a battle so I let them watch an episode of something, but I always set a limit now, whether by time, or by level, or by episode. And we do watch movies together sometimes, and I think it would be fun to play a multi-player game all together too sometimes! So no, we're not anti-technology, just anti-technology-addiction.

With the spring weather coming, I'm looking forward to talking walks outside, drawing with sidewalk chalk, jump roping, and gardening and other ways to fill our down time.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Distracting TVs in Restaurants

We went out to a local chain restaurant and I have to say, I was really annoyed by the prevalence of TV screens ALL over! Well, I'm not so annoyed that they have the screens, I think people go there to watch sporting events so it makes sense to have them, but just annoyed at the fact that it really intruded upon family time. You'd think that if you went out to dinner together, you'd spend time talking together, but instead, the kids were glued to whichever TV faced their direction, and could barely take their eyes off the TV(couldn't hear what was being said on the TV though). No matter what way you sat, there was always a screen facing that direction.  Oh well, we let them watch a bit.

Friday, February 14, 2014


So it's been almost 2 weeks of this break from electronics, and I think we've made a lot of progress.  By the beginning of this week, T had come to accept that he wasn't going to be playing his games, so he found other things to do, and didn't ask for it. E continued to ask for it a few times, but was a lot less persistent than last week. One day, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they started a game of Battleship together after school! Another day, T spent hours working on an Erector Set, which previously, he couldn't spend more than 20-30 minutes on, before he got impatient and lost interest. They had a couple playdates, and I loved that they went out and played in the snow, and built with Lincoln Logs, and just generally played together. There was one playdate that T really wanted to play a certain game with his friend, and I was going to allow it, as a "special occasion", but then turns out the friend had been grounded from electronics for a week anyway! I did allow T to show his friend something on a game briefly, since T was looking forward to some game time with his friend so much, but they also did plenty of "real world" play.

They spent a lot of time this past week reading, both on their own and with us reading to them aloud.  We've always loved reading to them, and now we're getting into longer and longer books. We have so many books we want to read with them, many which are classics, that we never read ourselves (like The Jungle Book, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Treasure Island). This past week, we read Mysteries According to Humphrey, Tales of the Restoration, Owls in the Family, and a little bit of Little Britches. I feel like I'm discovering a whole new world of books that I never read! We also had 2 snow days, so they spent a lot of time playing out in the snow, building forts, shoveling, throwing snowballs, and sledding.

T said to me, "I think my addiction is broken. I'm doing things that I didn't do before and I'm enjoying them." I think we've made a lot of progress, and I think we've made our point pretty clear to them, but whether or not they will continue to be OK with choosing something else over electronics, when there isn't a ban on them, remains to be seen.

100 Things to Do

We finally finished our list of 100 ideas of things to do close by the house that don't require electronics. I had to limit it to things close by, since we don't always have the time to go out someplace.

1.       Read a book
2.       Play in the snow
3.       Play outside
4.       Draw a picture
5.       Make a fabric craft
6.       Build a fort
7.       Practice piano/guitar
8.       Talk a walk
9.       Play with bunnies
10.   Have a playdate
11.   Clean up a room
12.   Sort/organize something
13.   Write a story or poem
14.   Play with stuffed animals
15.   Build an outdoor fort with sticks
16.   Sweep the floor/vacuum
17.   Learn something new
18.   Eat snacks
19.   Bake something
20.   Juggle
21.   Legos
22.   Plan an event
23.   Make a play
24.   Play board games
25.   Sing a song
26.   Look for wildlife
27.   Look through photo album
28.   Make shadow puppets
29.   Invent something
30.   Do a puzzle
31.   Make a card
32.   Write a letter
33.   Paint
34.   Exercise
35.   Play tag
36.   Hide and seek
37.   Look at the sky
38.   Talk to someone
39.   Pray
40.   Hug someone
41.   Do an experiment
42.   Practice math skills
43.   Do homework
44.   Knit
45.   Play with Calico Critters or Action Figures
46.   Do a project
47.   Memorize something
48.   Practice your aim
49.   Fix your bed
50.   Swing set
51.   Scooter
52.   Bike
53.   Take a nap
54.   Play card games
55.   Make a restaurant
56.   Cook something
57.   Decorate something
58.   Take a bath
59.   Count your blessings
60.   Plant/tend a garden
61.   Paper airplanes
62.   Erector set
63.   Marble tracks
64.   Dominos
65.   Build a castle
66.   Play in a tent
67.   Practice Tae Kwon Do
68.   Color
69.   Draw a maze
70.   Make a word search
71.   Work on flag book
72.   Where’s Waldo?
73.   Scavenger Hunt
74.   Make up a game
75.   Play with Star Wars characters
76.   Water play
77.   Blow bubbles
78.   Sidewalk chalk
79.   Read the Bible
80.   Do something nice for someone else
81.   Play Sudoku
82.   Make bracelets
83.   Rainbow Loom
84.   Think
85.   Plan a surprise
86.   Jump rope
87.   Wash dishes
88.   Pack up recycling
89.   Listen to music
90.   Dress up in costumes
91.   Sword/lightsaber fight
92.   Practice cartwheels
93.   Have a picnic
94.   Play 20 questions
95.   Start a collection
96.   Dust
97.   Wrestle
98.   Sew
99.   Go to the park/playground
100. Make a list