Let’s face it. We’re all going blind and our brains are turning into strobe light garbage dumps.
Content! Images! Content! Images!
I used to be able to sit down and read an entire novel without moving. I have vivid memories of giddily reading John Clellon Holmes’ Go in a single sitting and devouring Ellison’s Invisible Man in just a few hours. I lament that we didn’t read more women writers in college, but I digress.
These days, my brain is like a Polaroid on crack (see above: digression).
When I closed my eyes last night, this is the kind of stuff that flashed before my eyes:
Violent Paris! Virulent Trump! Voracious Sex! Volatile mommyblogs! Venus herself a.k.a. naked Amy Schumer!
All of this, at once, replete with images and emotions that I don’t even have the time to process before I feel my heart rate tick up and my breathing get shallow. None of it means anything and little of it makes any sense, yet this is apparently the fuel this planet needs to keep spinning on its axis.
Seriously, tell me you talk about screen time all the time in your house! Tell me your kids whine about it every hour on the hour. Tell me you have to fold laundry and put on Dinosaur Train (again). Tell me you’re like us with bedside Kindles, an ipad in the kitchen, a huge TV, laptops on the coffee table, etc. Tell me you have tried to “model” appropriate screen time behavior and that you have failed miserably.
You’ve created charging stations. You’ve set charging hours. You’ve set rules time and time again only to find that little ferret of an iPad has broken free from its tether, climbed up your child’s leg and snuggled back into their lap to gleefully suck his little soul right out of his little body.
One of the single greatest takeaways from my all-time favorite parenting book Simplicity Parenting was routine, routine, routine. We tried it out. We started regularly serving the same dinners on the same nights. Huge improvement on dinner chaos within two weeks. So, about a year ago, we decided to try a new routine around your nemesis and mine: screen time. We call it “T-Days.”
Here’s how it works.
First thing’s first. We made the leap to get the TV off our main floor. Let’s just go ahead and get that screen temptation out of your face, shall we? In addition to that, we put the iPad charging station upstairs in our bedroom. Out of sight, out of mind and no one can “sneak” screen time with their iPad.
Then, we created a firm parameter for the kids. And, as I said before, rules are awesome because rules are the bad guys, not you.
The rule is this: If the day of the week has the letter T in it, you [kids] have access to screens. If not, no dice. Exceptions include: family movie night on Fridays and the occasional “here-play-with-my-phone-while-we’re-at-the-grocery-store” gambit.
On T-Days, we try to limit screen exposure to an hour and, within that, we only allow (carefully curated) iPad video games for a half hour. The rest of the time they can choose to watch something on Amazon, Netflix, etc. or, often, they sit side-by-side and enjoy a shared viewing experience. Here is what has changed since we instituted this new routine:
- They simply don’t ask, whine, or beg for screen time on the other days. They know it’s off limits so they willingly and excitedly seek out Legos, Hot Wheels tracks, bristle blocks, homework (WTF?!) and increasingly, we’re introducing board and card games.
- On T-Days, there is a hopeful anticipation of the “treat” of some screen time and we can leverage that as a privilege, not an expectation. If they don’t behave, guess what they lose? Screen time, damnit. On the other days, they race home from school with the same hopeful anticipation of diving into a big project with their toys or crayons.
- Calm. Yep, there I said it. Quiet play, calmer play. Even though we parents tend to use screen time as a calming activity, once I took a step back, I noticed that in doses too large it had the opposite effect. That polaroid-on-crack feeling we have so often? They get it too, but it’s worse because they can’t explain it so they just act it out with sound and motion. I am not hard-wired for sound and motion, people. (For more on this, check out the Paleo Parents site and the Paleo View podcast episodes in which Stacy talks very openly about how cutting screen time has proved to be one part of a drug-free alternative treatment approach to her son’s ADHD.)
- Because we’ve embraced some “allowable, guilt-free” screen time, we tend to sit around together, hanging out on our screens, sometimes with headphones, sometimes not. This is a tip I learned from Design Mom, Gabrielle Blair, on the Jess Lively Show among others (upstairs charging station, for one). She said that by creating open screen time, you are more apt to get a look at your kid’s games, pictures, etc. You get to share in their online experience. It’s true. We play Minecraft with them, they play Clash of Clans with daddy (God help us all), and they look over my shoulder at cool stuff on my instagram feed.This communal and convivial screen time is huge. I am already terrified of the closed-door-teenage-online world that awaits us in 2025. Why not bend over backwards to build a lasting foundation that will keep the Pandora’s Box of Screen Time wide open for years to come?
- And finally, you’re probably wondering how we adults fare on T-Days. Well, we are no angels (not.at.all.) and we’ve had to explain that sometimes mommies and daddies have things they have to do on computers or phones that are time-sensitive. But, by talking about it and setting boundaries, we have created a more mindful, open forum that allows the kids and ourselves, to check each other on “too much screen time.”
Over time, this little rule has created a huge shift in our household dynamic. Toys became toys again, boys became boys again, and screen time become something to look forward to. I feel happy about this because it is as close as we can get to our childhood experience of waiting for a certain program to air on a certain day at a certain time. I hope it helps you, too.