Clara's Clearing

Clara's Clearing

Still struggling with screen time...

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Last spring, following a melt-down I had, I banished all electronic screens from my son’s life. We don’t have TV reception so the ban meant no computers, no Xbox, no iPhone, etc. Here is the blog about that.

There is no question that I was much happier without a screen always glowing in my son’s face. He didn’t do too badly either. But… even when in total desperation I put away all screens, I knew that it would not be forever. I have a strong suspicion that banishing all electronic screens may be winning a battle but it may very well be losing the war. I think the best way to foster obsession with something is to banish it. So at some point in the summer screens started making a comeback one at a time – slowly, slowly…

One of the things I keep writing in my blogs is how much I hate playing screen police, or any kind of police or patrol. I’m really really bad at it. And Jack knows it. He keeps pushing and sneaking and generally being very unpleasant to get his way because I just can’t stand having to enforce rules and regulations. He knows how much I hate being a disciplinarian and he has learned from experience that a lot of times I give in to his unpleasantness just to get away from it. I wish I were better able to stand up to him but I just am not. My bad.

So where does this leave us…? Back to lots and lots of screen time. Again, unless I materialize on the hour and end up in some kind of unpleasantness (push and whine and bargain on his side, get exasperated and yell and scream on mine) the damned screen never goes off. Games, YouTube, Facebook, and hours of mindless Skyping take over the air and sound space of our house, not to mention Jack’s semi-conscious consciousness. It just hurts to be part of this.

One of the accusations that I throw at him in my moments of frustration is that he has become addicted to the screen. I tell him that to keep doing something that you know is bad is called addiction. I yell that he has no control over himself and he shoots back that if I let him do it his way he will prove to me that he has self control. He spent his Christmas money on some kind of device that allows him to play Xbox games with others online. “Playing with others will be more fun and satisfying,” he said, “so I won’t spend as much time behind the screen.”

“Whatever,” I thought to myself. I didn’t really believe it.

But I do have to report one improvement. Jack is starting to feel that he needs to prove to me that he can have self control. I think calling him a screen addict did not sit very well with him! He does make some effort to prove me wrong. Hey… I take whatever I can get!

Nevertheless, there is still too much screen presence that I can take. I wrote about my “subjective” and less quantitative approach to limiting the time here. But here’s a more detailed version of how that is translating into our everyday routine:

I take away the computer at night before going to bed. When Jack wakes up in the morning (which is usually earlier than me) he has to read and do math homework. When I wake up and need my couple of hours to do some work I let him get on the computer. Then we do our lessons or reading together and have lunch. After lunch it’s outing time. Most days he likes to go to the skate park and meet up with his friends. Other days there are other activities: park day with homeschoolers, roller skating, or occasional classes. In the evening again he can have the computer for a couple of hours. Ten o’clock is electronic device curfew, which means that the cell phone and texting activities have to cease as well.

I think this is a reasonable schedule. It is still way more screen time than “experts” recommend but let’s get real. On the homepage of this site a little while ago I posted a survey by the parenting website Netmums that showed that many mothers lie about all kinds of things, from how much TV their children watch to what they cook them for dinner. So let’s be real indeed. My son still has too much screen time, and certainly way too much for me. But that’s where we are… Let’s see how successful we’ll be with this new regiment!


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