10 June 2014

"Screen-Time"

Well thank goodness worrying about "screen-time" has become a thing.  I almost thought, for a few glorious seconds there, that we wouldn't be finding fresh ways to demonize parents.  Even ignoring how stupid this whole manufactured concern trolling truly is, I do struggle with how to balance the glowing box activities with other activities and...perhaps more importantly...real life.

My girls like to play computer. Generally Minecraft or related tutorials watched on YouTube. Obviously I don't want them doing this for a million hours a day, so we keep it to roughly an hour after school/in the evenings, at least during the week. (Weekends tend to run a little long on gaming time because that is their preferred downtime and Chris often plays with them so we tend to be a little more lenient when the whole family really needs that metal break. Not a perfect system, but it works for us.) Honestly, this is easy to do because by the time Charlie has school all day, the girls play outside with the neighbors after bus-stop, homework, dinner, baths, stories etc., there really isn't that much time left in our day.  It is also an easy way to balance consequences of bad behavior. I have a chart that tracks how much of your hour you get to play depending on "units" of time lost or gained for doing well (or poorly) with morning routine, chores and so on. It is a good system where I can teach them immediate and impacting consequences for actions (good and bad) while simultaneously keeping half an eye on how much goggle-box time they experience in a day. However, what a game changer it is when they lose that privilege.

So here is the dirty little secret of screen-time and real life: most parents build that screen time into the day in a manner that is mutually beneficial to the kids and themselves. In our case, the kids get to use their screen-time while I make dinner, pack the next day's lunches, handle paperwork from communication folders and all the other after school to pre-dinner crap that needs to get handled.   They get to have some Minecraft time and I get them out of my hair for the 30-45 minutes that I need to keep the evening chugging along.  This is a win-win in my book. After my long day of being Liz's mom/teacher/chauffeur/PA while simultaneously being the housekeeper/cook/CFO/general manager of the household, this system is borderline necessary to our survival.  I  know parents who use an afternoon movie to bridge the gap when kids phase out of napping.  I know a few colicky babies that would stop screaming for as long as 15 entire minutes when placed in proximity to an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba.  When my kids were younger, the "bribe" of watching a cartoon in my bed was enough to let me shower while I knew they were somewhere safe and sound.  You get the idea. We have all been here and if you haven't... well...you are either living in a magical parallel universe or a liar.

This really seems to exemplify the classic parenting conundrum: inevitably any consequences you enact on your kids hurts you 10x worse.  Sure they lost Minecraft time and have learned a valuable lesson about listening ears, but at what cost?  Well, a trashed living room and Liz actually lying face-down in my kitchen having a fit while I try to get a mac-n-cheese in the oven. So hooray for limiting screen-time, it was great!

I guess I just feel very strongly that this whole "kids should never watch TV, they should always be engaged in teachable activities that wring every educational drop out of every single day, what do you mean you have other things to beyond building a magical world of learning for your kids?" thing has passed into the sublime and ridiculous.  Ragging on parents about screen-time, like ragging on parents about oh so any things, exists in this mythical bubble completely devoid of people's real-life lived experiences as actual parents.

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