killing the babysitter: shutting down the screens

Disclaimer:  I know I have a 13 year old. I live with him, and I remember being a parent back when movies were still black and white. Still, because of his “wonky brain” (medical diagnosis) (not really) I only give myself parenting credits for about the last 6 years, which is how long I have parented a normal typical child with a non-injured brain.

So I often look down loftily from my perch of 6 years and think, “I got this” about one aspect of parenting or another. In what I am starting to suspect is a recurring cycle, I am learning that I don’t know much. But that’s parenting, that’s so much of it, just winging it and using your parental instinct, and safety laws and advice from your mother-in-law. “We don’t eat oatmeal with our fingers,” you say.  “We don’t drink the bathwater, we don’t call grownups by their first name unless they’re in our house 6 days a week. We don’t take toys in the restaurant.” Stuff like that, or, as a young parent, you decide or are convinced that your sleeping strategy is the only one that will keep your precious child out of a cold penitentiary some day. A guy goes nuts and drives his car into the Dairy Queen, and you take a small measure of comfort reading in the paper that he was not breastfed. 
All this to say, I did something wrong and I need to try to fix it. I have invented techno geeks and now I have to try to un-geek them somehow. I introduced Toby to computer games, back when he was just a 2 or 3 year old genius, because I wanted him to have something to do besides asking me impossible questions or attempting science experiments in his room. And it was great for a while. He taught himself to read, Brynn taught herself to read, largely thanks to starfall.com, and they got super environmentally conscious, and to this day will cast a scornful eye on me for discarding a plastic container instead of recycling it or running the water whilst brushing my teeth. 
But somewhere along the way, I started leaning too heavily on my electronic babysitter, and that, combined with the slightly addictive personalities of my little people, has started giving us boring bored children, who have a difficult time breaking out of video-game world to be present, much less creative. I put time limits, but still, too much time, too much focus. And my little geniuses have just been drying up a little. I love computers, we use them for our living, for family connection, for education, so many valuable resources. But somehow we need to get back to using them as a limited tool and not as a cure-all. 
So, I’m making a change. My plan right now is to shut their computer access down during the week, except for the couple of educational apps I use for supplementing their school day, and then having a few hours available on the weekend. It’s not going to be easy. Yesterday, as the MOG and I were just discussing some minor cutbacks, Toby started panicking and trying to throw out some serious negotiations. And it won’t be easy for me, at first, because they don’t know what to do without screens, so they just climb on me and fight each other when we unplug them. But these kids are little, and they’re bright, so it will work. I know that. 
If I could go back and do something differently, I think I would wait to introduce screens in general, and I would severely limit their use and importance once introduced. That’s assuming that TimeTravel Me is smarter than Past or Present Me. 
Also I want to start some kind of incentive program, where they can “earn” small blocks of computer time for chores or excellent behavior, something like that. 
Do your kids do screen time? How much and how do you limit it? Any success with incentive/point reward systems? Help a sister out. 
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5 thoughts on “killing the babysitter: shutting down the screens

  1. Michelle says:

    I know a mom who traded "time for time" with screens. e.g. 30 minutes of reading your book equals 30 minutes of screen time. We haven't introduced our kids (3, 2 and 11 months) to screen time yet, but I am curious- what age would you recommend it? Both Kyle and I grew up in front of computers and we are theoretically ok but I don't want my kids to be as glued to it as we were/are. But is there no avoiding it in this day and age?

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  2. PP Admin says:

    Huh!? And I was just complaining that our pre-k class doesn't have a computer lab. Go figure!

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  3. Mommy Gray says:

    I'd say if they're reading more total time than on-screen and doing some imaginative play in equal time, you're probably good. Set times of day, even for earned time, might help keep limitations in check as screen time is earned.

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  4. angela says:

    We do 30 minutes screen time a day…computer, wii, or videos. Then we allow for a full-length movie once over the weekend. My older ones also get email time that doesn't count unless they hang there too long. The only time I used incentives was if they did very good at homeschool with their attitudes and hard work, they could earn extra screen time (usually 10-15 min increments.) Has worked well for us from 2-12 and I don't feel bad if I need them to be occupied a little extra here or there. Praying for a smooth transition!

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  5. Becky D. says:

    We don't set any partiucular limits. Our 5 yr old was especially bad earlier this summer. We adopted a preemie with little notice then I had surgery that turned into a 6 week recovery so the new ipad kept her too occupied. Anyways the only thing I've found that helps is to keep her busy. She doesn't notice if we're at the park, I'm willing to push her on the swings or throw a frisbee 2000 times, play uncle wiggly or bake cookies and let her play with lots of water and mud outside. She likes to take walks and go to museums. But she must be kept occupied or else she gets bored/into trouble/whiny and the TV/computer/ipad becomes an easy way to occupy her. Now that we're trying to homeschool Kindergarten we're trying to limit electronics to after 3pm besides stuff like Letter School that is really educational. So my advice is try to find ways to fill the time they typically spend on electronics with preferred activities.

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