In this day and age, kids love to be on screens. They love video games and always seem to want some sort of new system. For us it was a Wii U at first. My son and I sold $2500 worth of Cub Scouts popcorn to get a free Wii U system several years ago. (I think I would rather have just bought one for him!) Then it was the Nintendo 3DS. Then the Xbox. And most recently this year, it was an Oculus Quest VR system. It’s always something. I have even put a TV in the boys’ bedroom so that I can still watch HGTV at night and not have to share the TV. I think it’s safe to say I have been sucked into the tyranny of the screen.
Screens Are So Nice
It’s so nice, though, isn’t it? Put your kids in front of a screen and they are entertained for hours. There’s no fighting between siblings, no asking for endless snacks, no energy on my part to entertain them on my own. It’s lazy parenting at its finest.
Okay, Screens are Not So Nice
But if I step back I do think I’d like to see my kids more. If I let them, they’d do screens all day. And that takes away from my quality time with them. I get lots of time to myself, but then I’m just wasting the days I have with the kids.
Putting limits on screens inevitably produces many fights in my house. I get yelled at, called names, you name it. And I like to keep the peace, so I tend to shy away from anything that produces fights. At this point, I knew I had to do something. I wanted to spend more time with my almost-teenager son and I wanted my boys to be more well-rounded.
A System that Works
My pediatrician actually gave me the idea years ago, but he said I should have the kids earn their screen time. And I can award screen time for anything I want. I could award it for chores, for having the kids do activities other than screens, or for merely spending time with me. So, like I always do, I systematized the screen time plan.
I give my oldest son one hour for each of the following activities:
- Reading for one hour
- Playing outside for one hour
- Practicing saxophone
- Cooking and cleaning up dinner with me
- Animating or Coding for one hour (he loves this)
- Playing a family game
I chose things that the kids need to start doing more of. Drew naturally spends time with me throughout the day. He’s younger and still likes to be around Mom. So, his list might look a little different. Just pick things for each kid that they need to start doing more of and award them some screen time if they do them. You can make a chart and post it on the refrigerator to keep track of the time they earn. I typed up a chart and put it in a plastic sleeve so that I can write on it with a white board marker and reuse it each day.
At first, my kids weren’t so excited about having to do more things and not have as much free time. But, after a couple days, it all seemed to work really well. Owen started coding his own video games. He stopped complaining when I asked him to go hiking with me because he knew he’d earn screen time. He started helping me cook almost every night. And he practiced the saxophone more. I was able to spend more time with him and he became more well-rounded, which were my goals.
From Owen’s perspective, he says the system is fine, but he thinks he should be awarded more free screen time on the weekends (or if we’re quarantined, as we have been for the past month). He likes that he got into coding because of it. He also says he thinks he’ll be a more well-rounded person because he has to do other things now. Overall, these are all huge successes for me as a mom. There are no more fights about screens and screens no longer rule our life.