Thursday, January 18, 2018

Scream Time

For the longest time, we did an excellent job minimizing our kids' screen time. Then the grandparents came and fucked it up.

Until this fall, our kids basically had the privilege of a movie on Sundays. If they really did not behave well during the weekend, we would take it away. It was a nice chance for us to get stuff done and/or get a break for about 90 minutes. We've been having these "Sunday afternoon movies" for years. We started with the 90 minute Disney/Pixar films we owned, and then transitioned to 3-4 episodes of shows they liked on Netflix. 

A couple of years ago we first got an iPad, and we then started occasionally letting them have 15-20 minutes of games on the weekend. More recently I had tied the iPad time to chores. When they put their laundry away, they could have the iPad. They had to take turns, and when the timer went off, the time was up, no negotiations. 

Sure they asked for more. They were always asking for our phones, tried to wheedle us into more iPad time or to have a movie on Saturday AND Sunday, or to watch one more show. But the rules were set. There was never TV or games on weekdays and they never even asked.

We don't have a television set, and movies/shows. are generally watched in the basement on our screen, or on a laptop or iPad upstairs. 

Then my parents bought the boys Kindle Fires. They bought them a couple years ago for my sister's kids but I told them we didn't want them. Then B & L realized that their cousins had them, and started their attack on grandma and grandpa. Finally I relented.  Now they got 1 hour of kindle time on each weekend day when/if they finished chores and nothing else was planned. They could play games, read books, or listen to music.

In preparation for our trip, I changed the settings to allow them to access videos to download for the flight. And I turned off the time restrictions. And for 3 weeks they basically had unlimited screen time every single day. Even when they went back to school, MIL gave them the kindles as soon as they came home & finished homework and they played until we got home and made them put it away. On the 2 snow days, they  probably were on those damn things for 13 hours straight. 

Additionally, since our basement is being fixed, we had the laptop set up hooked up to speakers in the living room and MIL would frequently watch her shows on it when the kids were awake so they would crowd around to watch, and then demand their own shows which she always gave in to. 

I took the Kindles away on Monday and told them they were not getting them back until January, and then only if they showed some improvement in behavior between now and then. I also made G put the speakers and laptop away.

I don't in any way think the screen time caused the bad behavior, because it started well before. But I do know that it is impossible to connect with them when they are absorbed in their screens, and I am coming around to the "Peaceful Parenting" mantra that connection is necessary for teaching and modeling good behavior and values. 

Of course, it goes both ways. I have my own obsession with my Kindle (or more accurately, the app on my phone) and I know that putting my phone and books away is also part of this solution. I know my kids behave better when I give them my full attention. Its just a vicious cycle---they act badly, I retreat to my phone, they act worse...Then I lose my shit and let them watch a show so that I can have a break. 

Screen time was our biggest bribing tactic...but it also didn't really work. I just kept giving them second and third chances to "earn" the time back because I needed them glued to their screens so I didn't have to deal with their behavior and wants and needs for a while. 

We may still do family movie night on Friday, because I think sitting together and watching the same thing is a whole different situation then each kid watching their own thing on their own device, and even the two kids watching together and G and I using the time to talk is somewhat better. 

The rest of the weekend will be challenging. We have no set plans and its winter. I know they will ask a million times, and I will have to say "no" each time. We will have to be engaged and creative in keeping them occupied. I am going to make G sit down to plan the weekend at least loosely tonight so that we don't lose our shit and cave. Library, indoor swimming, baking something, board games, books, legos. We will have to find a way to get through the days...and thankfully there is always wine.


  1. Good luck! We can't do screen time on weekdays (other than what is required for homework) because my oldest "forgets" to do his homework and chores. On weekends we're more relaxed about it but lately he's had so much homework and so many activities that he doesn't really have time on weekends, which makes DH feel bad because he feels like weekly computer games should be a right (DH has a set computer game playdate with a couple long-distance family members on Sunday mornings).

    DC2 has hit a "movies give me nightmares" stage right now. That's cut down our consumption of family (minus me-- I can't sit still for 2 hours anymore) movie time.

  2. That's just it, though. The screen time gives you peace so you can retreat and do your own thing. If we got rid of it, I worry that I'd be the only one in our household coming up with alternative activities. And, given that I'm already horribly overstretched, I just don't see how I can do that. I know you know what I'm talking about.

    Looking forward to seeing how this goes for you, and what they fill their time with instead! I would love to dispose of the TV, I'm just scared!

  3. My kids are, like, 100% more intolerable in the winter. I'm really looking forward to warmer weather/ spring sports/ being able to toss them outside with a tube of sunscreen when they're fighting and then tell them "go to the park!!"

    1. We survived MLK day just fine. Then Tuesday was an unexpected snow day. It was awful.

    2. Srsly. We've had at least major schedule change per week unplanned (not including) MLK day since we've been back from Xmas holiday.

    3. Jenny F. ScientistJanuary 20, 2018 at 1:09 PM

      Our surprise snow day was Wednesday, and it was ALSO awful.

  4. I am sooooo curious to see how this goes for you. I really hope that it turns the corner to positive quickly, because I know how hard detoxing can be.

    My husband was just lamenting at the fact that our 4yo has a meltdown every morning when he turns off the TV. I told him that we could find a way to get rid of at least that expectation of screen time, but when it was mentioned that my husband would probably have to get up when I do and shower, instead of stay in bed that extra thirty minutes, it suddenly was "impossible."

    I was thinking about taking out afternoon TV time (they each get 1 22min show after we get home) but I can't figure out how I'd get them dinner and unpack my daughter's backpack and do all that other shit without those 45 minutes. They are at each other CONSTANTLY in the afternoons right now, and I know they'd be fighting the entire time. Even if I made them stay in their own rooms, the 4yo couldn't manage it.

    I think maybe this summer I'll start some new rules. Maybe no TV in the summer when there is no school? Might make them like the school year a bit more... ;) Also they'd be stoked for plane rides because of the screen time.

    Writing all this makes me realize I have a post to put up about this. I'll stop now and hopefully you'll hear more about this from me on my blog...