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?
This week is evidence that the whole 21-days-to-make-a-habit thing is bunk. On Monday, I played tennis outside with Caleb, but forgot to take a picture. I went for a walk with my daughter using her new doll stroller (and for some reason got a blurry picture) on Tuesday. That was it!
I was indoors all day Wednesday through Saturday helping with a speech tournament and spent Sunday indoors recovering. I am glad for blogging my challenge, though, as it is reminding me that it’s important. Next week isn’t going to be much better though. Lots of all-day, indoor obligations! I’ll make up for it when we go on our family beach vacation.
Did anyone else get outside with their kids this week?
I’ve been flying through life this week and don’t plan to land until May! I can honestly say that I forgot to spend 15 minutes outside a couple of times this week. Since I refuse to be a perfectionist with this, I will continue on.
This large flying disk I bought at Walgreens has been a hit with the kids. We tried to create a game with it that involved lots of players (you have to pick a spot and can only move one leg to try to catch it).
I used to be a jump rope fanatic as a kid. It’s still a great form of exercise, even if my mother’s bladder doesn’t think so. I bought myself a new jump rope at TJ Maxx and went at it with my daughter. She got a new jump rope for Easter, which is great because mine is too big for her.
We’ve been sticking around home a lot for our 15 minutes, so it was nice to travel this week. We enjoyed seeing cars practice at the Indy 500 track and the Creation Museum so much. I highly recommend it if you haven’t been!
Easter was a wonderful day to be outside.
I finally got to enjoy my favorite outdoor activity with the kids: hiking! My husband’s brother and sister-in-law invited us to hike and it was the perfect way to end a beautiful holiday. Hope you had a blessed Easter and got outside, too! You should be seeing the kids’ Easter goodies in use next week.
Have you been outside with the kids this week?
It’s been an easy fun week this week as we’ve been experiencing summer in early spring. The kids introduced me to the hilarious games of Crocodile and Toilet Bowl on the trampoline. In Crocodile, you have to close your eyes and grap at people. If you grab someone and identify them, that person is it. I did very poorly at this game, but it did make me laugh. Toilet Bowl means avoiding being pulled into and touching the center markings of the trampoline.
Tuesday was very easy on me. I got to play tennis with the kids on the new courts, replaced after the tornado last year.
I went to the store this week and got the kids all kinds of fun, inexpensive gear to get them playing outside. I expected to get the kids going, but not the other homeschool moms at P.E.! We had a blast. I ordered a heavier hoop for myself because I was having a hard time with this one!
What a treat! We got to eat and do art outside with no bugs!
If anything can get my kids outside, it’s water balloons. What a blessing those automatic balloon tie-ers are!
What a blessing that we got to do co-op outside. With so many boys cooped up indoors, it’s real incentive for me get outdoors! We are studying Australia and had fun playing the game, Kai. It’s kind of like balloon toss where you keep it off the ground by attempting to hit it according to all the letters of the alphabet (no one twice in a row). We got to W! The kids have also been having fun playing with their boomerangs.
I’m sorry to say that we didn’t get out on Saturday. We were indoors for the church’s Easter egg hunt and then had thunderstorms. I could have gone under the drive-through, but sheesh. I’ll take a mulligan. Sunday was a wonderful day to relax in the hammock and let the kids show me what they could do with the trampoline, soccer ball, hula hoop, and boomerang.
It’s been a wonderful week outside!
My husband and I recently admitted that screens were once again taking up too much of our family’s time. As I looked for substitute activities, I found the book, 15 Minutes Outside. One of the weird things about me, having grown up camping, gardening, and working on a farm, is that 15 minutes outside seems like a long time. I’m not a fan of getting dirty, I can’t stand mosquitos (though they love me) and I absolutely, positively hate being cold. Couple that with the fact that almost all of my responsibilities take place inside and it’s a wonder I even sampled the book. But I did. Even though my husband is amazing about getting our kids outside to play, I have felt guilty about my indoor ways. First, I know that the sun and fresh air are good for my health (and my kids’). Second, I love the idea of using nature to teach kids. I have the Handbook of Nature Study and I’ve looked longingly at the great blog that inspires homeschoolers to use it. I did the first outing that was recommended in our neighborhood and it was a terrific time! But sadly, the first outing was the last. Finally, I have been wanting to spend more time just playing with my kids and enjoying them. I tend to teach and train and then I’m often too tired for more.
For those reasons and to entice the kids away from the screens, I announced that I was going to spend fifteen minutes outside with the kids every day. The kids were excited and started thinking of all the fun places we could go. Pathetically, they reminded me of our one and only nature outing. At lunch, we shared the news with Dad, who thought it was a great idea. As my son played with our dog (pictured bottom right), I kept thinking of how I was going to endure 15 minutes on the coldest, wettest days. My husband said, “It’s torture for her.” I nodded, surprised that my husband knew what I was feeling. Then I realized that he was telling my son not to let the dog get so close to the food on the table. Right after lunch, I donned my jacket and headed out for a game of basketball P-I-G. (The kids reminded me of my commitment–already.) I was shocked that even my homework-addicted teen joined the fun. Not only did he join, but he thanked me later for the invitation. I have to admit that I planned on setting my iPhone timer for 15 minutes. The kids would have none of that, though, and we ended up playing for half an hour. We had a little bit of a nature study in that we tried to identify where the woodpecker pecking sound was coming from. But mostly, it was just good, refreshing fun. To make it less torture for me, I plan to photograph, blog, and scrapbook our 15-minute outdoor adventures this year here on my personal blog. I’ll be indoors for most of that! It isn’t realistic for me to blog daily, so my goal is a weekly roundup post. I’m also not promising to get outside when there’s a tornado warning, it’s -50F, or I’m really sick. But I’m willing to get out of my comfort zone. Here are some links with more on the challenge:
P.S. I’d love to have some company! Care to join me?