We normally allow 45 minutes of screen time a day, with a movie alternative once or twice a week. I'm not sure if that's a lot or a little; it seems like a lot to me, but relative to the national average it's peanuts.
We limit screen time for a number of reasons:
- I want my kids to grow up to be producers of value, not consumers of fluff. Creativity and innovation emerge out of empty blocks of time, not out of entertainment.
- It's easier to set boundaries with real kids than with TV characters. My standard for behavior is the same for media as for people: if you're rude, you can adjust your attitude or come back when you've learned better manners.
- I'm too lazy to screen everything. When my kids are busy coming up with shows and art projects and messes, I discover what's going on in their heads instead of having to sift what's going into their heads.
- Screen time is a parental slippery slope. It takes energy to be even a half-good mom, energy I don't always want to expend. If I don't set conscious limits on how often I pack my kids off to la-la land, I fall into bad habits.
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Since there's no ready reading supply at his place, and nothing else to do, Big Guy's Christmas gifts were almost entirely books. These ranged from the last in the Dune series to Michio Kako's Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century to the very good Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory. Some light stuff, some good reads, and one or two thick tomes to plow through. I would have loved to get him a robotics or electronics set, but his patience and self-confidence are insufficient to make that kind of activity fun right now.
Big Guy can now read instead of constantly hang around the TV room getting into arguments. However, he also came up with another activity: he recently bought himself a DSi, a gaming toy I know nothing about, and about which no one at his facility thought to ask my opinion. I'm not a mental health professional, but my parenting instinct tells me that shutting oneself in one's room to play games in isolation is not ideal for building social skills. But given the lack of guidance and supervision on healthy ways to interact, I suppose that removing yourself from the fray is a better option.
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With more forms of media in the house it's getting harder to hold the line on time limits, or even keep track of them. And since we had more free time than usual over the break, I've been admittedly lax about enforcing the rules. (There was also some disconnect between the adults on what's allowed; Andrew's far more likely to let the kids enter the hypnozone than I am.)
After our screen time gorge, though, an attitude of entitlement seemed to set in. I understand, at least intellectually: it's more work to entertain yourself than to let a computer chip do the work, and there's great reluctance to go back to the work of thinking up things to do. So to assist with the readjustment, yesterday I revamped our screen time approach.
We start with a small base of entitlement: 20 minutes. All screen time after that is earned. The work goes two ways: I have to dig myself out of the trap of taking away screen time for misbehavior, and figure out other ways to handle problems.
I expect we'll have a few days of misplaced expectations; my kids do occasionally fall into the misconception that boredom is something Mom's supposed to banish. I'll let you know how we do.