Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Reflections on the First Week of our Screen Time Revolution

The first couple of days were hard, I cannot tell a lie. I almost caved and let them watch just a little TV so that I could have some peace and quiet and get some work done. But I didn't. This is why no screens is easier for me to adhere to than attempting to limit the time. Owen whined a lot, but wanted to get out of the house more because he as bored. This was one of the desired results. However, Emmett only wanted to stay home and build with LEGOs all day. Literally, ALL. DAY. So it was difficult to try and please them both. I finally got them to agree on swimming at the Y one day to get out of the house a while. All in all I can say we survived, barely. Best quote of the week goes to Owen: "Mommy, you know what's my favorite part of this whole no screen thing? Going to sleep at night."

Thursday evening we headed out of town to my parents' house in VA, 2 hours away. For the first time since I can remember, the boys made the trip without their DVD player. They played with toys some and we all listened to music. It went surprisingly well and I was glad I decided to hold out. Owen actually fell asleep for the last hour of the trip, which he rarely ever does when watching movies.

Friday morning we headed up to Pennsylvania, a 6 hour drive. The boys wanted to ride in my parents' car, and we had already decided previously that this trip would be the one exception to screen rule. The boys were allowed to watch DVDs the entire way in the car, and you would have thought it was Christmas morning. I consider this a win, not a failure. One of my goals is to turn screen time into the exception instead of the rule for our household. In the past, surprising them with pizza and movie night used to be lack luster when they had already been watching TV as much as they wanted all day.

Throughout the weekend in PA there were just a few other times we allowed them to watch TV because we were in a rental house where the options for things to do were limited. The reason for our trip was my cousin's wedding, which was absolutely beautiful and took place on a gorgeous farm out in the country. They also had their cousins to play with and spent many hours running all over creation together, which allowed us some much needed adult time with family. I could not have been happier watching them wear themselves out on a farm without thought or mention of devices.

It did seem that the more screen time they had, the more we noticed some of the old disturbing behaviors that we almost didn't realize were gone until they returned. Whining when asked to turn off the TV and some overall grumpiness and unwillingness to cooperate at times. I am not sure if the moodiness was more a result of the screen time or more from the fact that they were outside of their usual routine and comfort zone. This is something we will have to investigate further as this experiment continues.

Upon returning home, it seems moods have improved significantly. Today was a successful screen-free day complete with slip and slide fun. Both boys worked up good appetites and ate extremely well at dinner, devouring grilled chicken, green beans, and roasted red potatoes. Oh and let's not forget homemade pudding pops for dessert! Some days are just wins.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

How Did We Get Here?

If you read my first post about my kids' obsession with screens, you probably thought "How did you let it get so out of control in the first place?" Well...let me lay it out for you.

To truly understand how screens took hold in our household, you must first understand my eldest son, Emmett. The first time he walked, he ran. And never stopped. He was always on the go, always one step ahead of me, always looking to the next thing. Grocery shopping with him was a nightmare, as was any activity that required even one iota of patience from him. Sometime around the age of 2 he was introduced to his first iPhone and the game of Angry Birds. And just like that we found something that could keep his attention for significant periods of time. We began giving him a phone to play at restaurants so that we could actually go out to eat without losing our minds. I tried to keep his screen time to a minimum, only if we really needed it. He watched TV some as a toddler, but typically played with toys and paid minimal attention to whatever Nick Jr. or Disney show was on. The one exception was the Disney movie Cars, which he could watch in its entirety because it was the epitome of his one true love: vehicles. We thought we had it under control.

Enter: baby brother Owen. Oh how I loved my sweet, cuddly second baby boy...except that he was so clingy. He cried whenever I had to put him down to help Emmett with potty training or whatever else big brother, just under 3, needed at the time. I could not hold him enough for his taste. And so anything went for a while, just to keep the peace, and Emmett had screen time to his heart's desire. And Owen was born into a home where the TV was always on. And he quickly assimilated.

As time marched on more gaming devices were introduced from phones to game systems and more. Owen, even more so than Emmett, came to love video games. Now in our defense, we do and have done plenty of other things besides sitting inside our home on screens. We go to playgrounds, we bowl, attend local baseball and hockey games, go swimming, visit pumpkin patches, tractor shows, and any number of other events. But it seems that if we're at home, we're screening.

The funny thing about my idea to have our kids give up screens is that I am the least likely person to ever make a decision like this. If you had told me even two months ago that we would be doing this, I would have told you that you are certifiably crazy and to pass me the wine. Personally, I watch minimal TV and I spend some of my spare time on facebook, but otherwise I can honestly say, without a doubt, that I am not addicted to my phone. The boys did tell me that if they had to do it, I had to do it too. Frankly it's been easy. I only use my phone for necessary communication throughout the day. As for my husband, I'm allowing him to be as involved or uninvolved in this project as he wishes. It seems he is fully on board with this endeavor.

In the past I justified the amount of time my kids spent on screens in a variety of ways:
  • They're tired from a long day of school, they deserve time to unwind.
  • It's ok if they're learning something from it.
  • Being tech-savvy will prepare them for the future in a technological world.
  • They choose to do other things occasionally.
  • I can get more work done when they are occupied with screens.
  • I deserve time to relax and their screen time allows me that.
It's not that these aren't true. It's that they are excuses I made when I didn't want to admit that it had gone on too long. I even dreaded the fussing I was sure to hear if when I told them their screen time was over. So I just...didn't. 

Now here we are, in the nitty gritty of this experiment and I'm not going to say it isn't hard. I've been tempted to cave many times. But going cold turkey is easier for me than reducing their screen time. Even just 30 minutes is like a gateway drug. It's a full-blown addiction and the only way to kick it is to eliminate it. I fully intend to bring it back in reasonable moderation once we have proven that we can not only live without it, but that we are better off. Here's hoping we reach that conclusion sooner than later.