Trouble with TV
A decade ago, I was addicted to television. I didn’t watch it; my kids did. I used children’s programming and videos as a babysitter. Then I read The Plug-In Drug and was convicted that I needed to make a change. With minimal protest, I was able to limit my kids’ screen time.
Grief Over Games
When my boys were little, and given my experience with TV, I had no intention of ever getting a game system. I caved under the pressure of other parents, however, who told me I really should have one. It wasn’t long before video and computer games had become every bit the nanny that television had been. My husband and I put the games away and told the kids they could only play on their birthdays. Birthdays then became the obsession. I was asked every day how long it would be until the next birthday. It was as though the games had become even more desirable!
More boys joined our family and they developed more friendships with game-playing boys. When the Nintendo Wii became popular, my fitness-loving husband and I decided that an active game system was okay. Before long, however, non-fitness games were added to our collection as was another game system. The kids found free games on the Internet and began playing with their homeschool friends online.
My husband and I tried numerous approaches to containing the time. Kids were only allowed to play after school and before dinner. Often my husband proclaimed game-free weeks or simply insisted they stop playing to go outside. But the problem seemed more complex than our rules.
For instance, we noticed that the kids had very little interest in doing much of anything else but games. Board games and other toys stayed on the shelves. When shooed outside, they counted the minutes until they could come back inside. Creative play had diminished.
The other problem was enforcing limits. As soon as we would declare a gaming hiatus, a neighbor boy would come over with his new game and his puppy dog eyes. When time was up, there was just one more level to complete. Or worse, one or more of the kids would claim they hadn’t gotten to play “at all.” There would be tears and frustration all around.
Having read PlayStation Nation, I recognized these signs of gaming addiction and they worried me. I sat with one of my Homeschool Homies this summer to discuss the problem. As a mother of four boys, she shared my concern.
I began researching devices to control game time for both our families’ benefit. Before I determined that these devices would not work for our situation (we have too many devices, for one thing!), I was shocked by the behavior of children of reviewers of these products. Parents recounted that their kids had learned to drop the timer device to reset it. Others had disconnected or even cut the cables! You can read the reviews of two of these game timers here and here.
It doesn’t take a psychologist to realize that the kids tampering with video game timers have more troubles than just a gaming addiction. My friend and I agreed that our kids would obey whatever approach we used, but we had to determine what that would be. My friend had successfully limited gaming time to weekends in the past, but had found (as I did) that gaming became an obsession when it was allowed.
A New Approach
On the way home from my talk with my friend, I had yet another discussion about gaming with the kids. They already knew why my husband and I were concerned. We shared with them that gaming could become so addictive that young men would forego employment and even marriage because they would rather play. They knew how gaming could keep them from learning and building relationships with one another. I discussed the timing devices I had looked at with them and they agreed with me that they wouldn’t work.
After much discussion, the kids proposed the plan that we have been using and LOVING. Before I tell you what they came up with, let me tell you the results of limiting screen time in our home (I say screen time, because my daughter prefers to watch television):
- Listening to audio books again (in the middle of the day!)
- More creative play (the dress up closet is getting a workout)
- More physical activity (the kids are swimming and jumping and working out more)
- More time playing board games
- My daughter isn’t watching television at all
- More time spent with guests doing just about anything BUT games
- More arguing (yep, you read that right. This is the next problem to address!)
Here is the kids’ taming screen time plan and why I think it works:
- Free screen time on Thursday evenings
(when Mom and Dad have activities outside the home; everyone can play for an extended period and they look forward to a “free night.”
- Two hours of screen time per week
The kids put two circles representing two hours on our dry erase board in the kitchen. The circles are divided in halves, representing 30 minutes each. This is the part of the system I am most excited about. The kids have time to play during the week, but they are in control of it. When our children leave home, they will have to discipline themselves this way. This approach is the best training for adult life. The kids time themselves, mark the time themselves, and even police themselves. I’m still amazed.
- Before using time, the majority must agree to use the time and how they will use it
Our oldest isn’t into gaming, so if three of the five of the kids want to use some of their time, they can play. They must also agree before starting who is going to play what and for how long. Otherwise, you end up with the, “I didn’t get to play” situation. The kids choose how to spend time, knowing they must be prepared for any guests during the week as well. Their typical approach lately is to play an hour on Tuesday and an hour on Saturday. Had I dictated to them when they could play, I doubt the plan would have worked as well.
- The plan is communicated to friends
Most of their game-playing friends have been told about the new system and some of them have adopted a similar approach, which is great! Because I can’t control what happens in others’ houses, however, I don’t try to control game time elsewhere. It’s not a significant problem currently.
I know families who allow gaming only in the winter, only ten minutes a day (which makes it not fun), and families who don’t allow games at all. As a family who has them, we are thrilled with this approach that allows our kids to develop self-control.
What, if any, approach do you use to control screen time in your home?
If you read my guest post on over-commitment, you won’t be surprised that I’ve been overwhelmed lately. My vacation was restful, but I returned home to a number of tasks I had put off until I got back. Another problem was that while on vacation, I fantasized about all the things I wanted to accomplish this summer. As I considered all my options, I had no idea what to do first.
Options for Prioritizing When You’re Overwhelmed
I thought about using Mark Forster’s the Final Version or Smart Pad to work through my to-do’s, but my anxiety wouldn’t let me. I thought about using Covey’s Quadrants, too, but I still felt the number of tasks to complete would be too large. I Googled “how to prioritize when you’re overwhelmed.” Mostly what I found was the usual advice–make items with a deadline a top priority, delegate when possible, yadda yadda. Nothing clicked until I found a post from Just Ask Kim (note: some cursing here) who said that we don’t have to decide the priority of everything:
Don’t worry about the rest of the list, it’s not even worth your time to number them. All you care about at this moment is knocking out #1.
She goes on to say that when we’ve identified our number one task, we have to focus on it like a laser.
Just One Thing
Kim’s post reminded me of a well-known Bible account, but made me think about it in a whole new way.
40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40-42)
I had always thought the lesson here was that Jesus is what we ought to be focusing on. Rather than trying to get things done, we ought to be spending time in Bible reading and prayer. This interpretation is very hard on poor Martha who is understandably concerned with eating! The traditional interpretation cannot be the whole meaning of Jesus’ words, however. Scripture makes it clear that we are not to give up working and just wait on Jesus’ return. Of course, our number one priority is always to serve the Lord, but isn’t that what Martha was doing? So what was the problem?
Jesus tells Martha that she is worried and upset about many things. Boy, can I relate to that! How about you? I’ve been worried and upset about the many things that I need to get done, or even that I’d just like to get done, and it isn’t a pleasant feeling. Like Martha, I can get mighty crabby. So what’s the answer to Martha’s and my dilemma? Just pray more? You can never pray too much, but you’ve got to get to work, too! What struck me as similar between the Just Ask Kim’s comment and Jesus’ response to Martha is just one thing being needed. My aha moment was this:
When we focus on more than one thing at a time, our productivity, peace, and patience will be diminished.
My Experience With Just One Thing
A couple of years ago, I wrote about my decision to quit using a to-do list for all but the time-sensitive tasks or things that I would otherwise forget. I remember that time as one of the most productive and peaceful of my life. I started using a typical to-do list again because I was starting a new job (that I no longer have) and figured that I had so much to do that I had to use a to-do list. Looking back, I can see that I didn’t do myself any favors. When I wasn’t using a comprehensive to-do list, I focused on just one thing at a time. I didn’t worry about what I would do after I finished a load of laundry or get upset when my husband made a request that wasn’t on an arbitrary list. I just went about my day doing the one thing that was needed at the time.
I have been re-experiencing the benefits of focusing on just one thing and I can’t rave enough. My productivity, self-discipline, sense of well-being, and family relationships have improved dramatically. Before you decide to give it a try, you might want to consider the following:
- Focusing on Just One Thing doesn’t mean you ignore your calendar or time-sensitive to-do’s. Checking your calendar will be one of the “one things” you do.
- Focusing on Just One Thing doesn’t mean you chuck your routines or your schedule. In fact, I’ve been better able to stick to my routines as I’m not thinking about all the other stuff I have to do.
- Focusing on Just One Thing doesn’t mean you have to throw away your project lists if you need them.
- Focusing on Just One Thing doesn’t mean you can’t delegate. You may recognize one thing that needs to be done and can decide to assign it to your child as a chore or ask for personal or professional help in completing it.
- Focusing on Just One Thing doesn’t mean you can’t plan. Again, planning may be the one thing you are choosing to focus on.
- Focusing on Just One Thing doesn’t mean you don’t work on goals or projects with a future deadline. Again, it’s one of the “one things” you will focus on.
- Focusing on Just One Thing means that you do not worry about what you’re going to do after the one thing you’re doing. The only exception to that is if you’re planning. Otherwise, enjoy your meal, your conversation, your family, and even your work without the angst about what comes next.
- Focusing on Just One Thing means you do not have to prioritize your to-do’s. You don’t even have to write them all down! Just ask yourself what the “one thing” is and do it–even if that’s checking your list of tasks you would otherwise forget. It’s not necessarily doing the most important thing, because who knows what that is? Barak Rosenbloom blogged about this low-stress approach to using a calendar on Time Natives.
- Focusing on Just One Thing means that you’re open to something else taking over as the one thing: your child gets hurt, someone comes to the door, or your husband needs you.
- Focusing on Just One Thing means you are sensitive to the Lord’s leading. As I’ve been focusing on just one thing, I have heard the Lord saying, “This is the way. Walk in it.” What a blessing to know that I’m not too distracted to hear Him for a change!
Are You a Mary or a Martha?
I used to think Mary was the “spiritual” one and Martha was a control freak. Not anymore! Mary has learned the blessing of focusing on just one thing and Martha needed to learn it. Which one are you? Do you know any Mary’s?
If you give Just One Thing a try, I’d love to hear your experience!