For the first ten years or so of parenting, my husband and I, despite conflicting research on television being bad for children under the age of two, were quite liberal in terms of the amount we let our kids watch.
After all, for the most part, their days were filled with activities, playdates and afternoon naps. The amount of television they watched was minimal and there was very little time for Rogers on Demand.
Several years ago, all of this changed. And I cannot recall a particular incident which sparked it. Suddenly, screens were everything and in high demand in our house. Whether is was the computer, YouTube or watching cartoons on the iPad, we suddenly found ourselves fighting with our children to get the most basic, mundane chores completed as they were so preoccupied with watching the end of their show.
Like many households, we never allowed any watching on any device on school mornings. It would be way too tempting and too distracting. We would be asking for trouble and my children would most definitely be late for school.
But the minute they came home, they would drop their jackets and bags and water bottles in the hallway, and bolt to the television…..Um……”Hello. How was your day? Can you hang up your jacket please? Who did you play with? What homework do you have?”…I would ask. Getting answers during the commercials was not cutting it. And their behaviour became more and more rude.
Sometimes they would stop responding to being called down for dinner because their show was not finished….or my younger daughter would complain that she was getting less time for television because she showered at night, whereas her older sister showered in the morning when screens were not permitted….
Everything became a negotiation. And the stress level in our house was climbing exponentially.
So we took television away. From Monday mornings through Fridays after school, screens are only permitted to complete homework assignments and to text friends. At the end of the evening, iPads and phones are plugged in to their chargers in the hallway to guarantee that there is no late night texting or Snap-Chatting.
Limiting weekday screen time only partially solved our problems. Weekends then became the stressful days of the week.
On Fridays after school, without exception, my children would bolt to the television as soon as they got home.
Honestly, I am ok with that. Their school hours are long, and I do not mind that they flake out for a while. But the next day, and the day after that, it is like pulling teeth to get them to get up and dressed. We struggle with this every weekend. Getting out of the house is extremely time consuming. Often accompanied by many casual pleases to get moving, followed by yelling after the third please is ignored.
It’s not realistic to have no screens at all….So what’s a frustrated parent supposed to do?
Intellectually all these tips are useful, but I admit that I am often pretty negligent in implementing all of them with my own children.
Tip #1 – Practice what you preach
Parents need to practice what they preach. If we do not want our kids lured by screens, we need to do the same. Although I generally do not turn the television on while my kids are still awake, I am guilty of checking work emails in their presence or keeping my phone by my side for quick checks every now and then.
Tip #2 – Get outside
As much as possible, encourage your kids to get outdoors, especially at this time of year. In our home, in general, when they get home from school, the kids are instructed to come inside and get their homework done. As the weather warms up, I let them stay outside and shoot some hoops before they come in and get too lazy to leave again.
Tip #3 – No screens at the table
This is one rule we definitely follow in our home. Children need to feel listened to and heard by their parents. And vice versa. It drives me crazy when I am trying to have a conversation with someone and they are constantly distracted by the ping of their phones. We do not allow electronics at our table. We are not shy to gently suggest this rule to our houseguests either.
Tip #4 – Keep screens out of kids’ bedrooms
Although it is ideal to keep computers and televisions out of their bedrooms so that we can monitor what they watch, it gets increasingly complex with laptops, iPads and cell phones.
In our house, our children do their homework in their bedrooms because there are fewer distractions. We also do not need to listen to their constant bickering if they are sitting together at the kitchen table. So how can we implement no screens in their rooms and then expect them to complete their assignments independently? I have not yet found a solution and am open to suggestions.
Tip #5 – Don’t give in
As hard as it might be to put in action, don’t allow yourself to be persuaded by the kids….Often my children will tell us that their friends are allowed this, or they are allowed that, and they expect to have the same rules apply to them….As parents, we must continue to stick to our guns and not let our children sway us to bend the rules just because they don’t agree with them.
The truth is, our children do not have to agree with us. We are not their friends, nor are we their peers. We are their parents. And we usually know what is best for them even if they don’t see it. And as parents, we spend our entire lives trying to find the perfect balance between doing what is right and trying to be fair, even when it comes to technology.
I welcome your thoughts.