An Update On Our Screen Time Experiment


Photo by theloushe, via Flickr

A while back, I posted about my new policy toward kids and screen time. Since we’ve been at it for about six weeks, I thought I’d take a minute to share how it’s going.

1. I’m using screen time less as a babysitter. It used to be that we had frequent fights over who got the iPad and when for “educational” games. The kids knew they could wring extra screen time out of me in order to read on MyOn or do Park Math. Apps as educational tools is a real thing, but it’s really easy to abuse, and it ended up being more a stress and source of conflict than it was a help to my children.

I haven’t figured out how to approach this in a new way yet, because I don’t think lumping educational apps into screen time is a sustainable path. But for now, we’re just not doing it.

2. We don’t have to drag the electronics on short-ish trips, either. Yesterday we went to Kansas City for the day; lately we’ve been letting the kids use the iPad on the highway, and it was another invitation for them to whine if I didn’t. But yesterday we brought an audio book for the trip out and listened to music on the way back, and nobody even asked about the iPad. Score.

3. Aside from Julianna, who doesn’t really process big-picture things like this, the kids aren’t asking me about movies at all hours of the day anymore. They’re playing with their (ridiculous amounts of) toys a lot more than they ever have. And it’s forcing them to interact with each other more. They’re reading more, too. Alex has always been a big reader, but Nicholas, insecure in his ability and let’s face it, a little lazy, has been really resistant to reading on his own. With screen time out of the way, and a couple LEGO books from the library, he’s really embraced reading, which makes me breathe a sigh of relief; I was afraid we were going to have one who wasn’t a bookworm, and I wouldn’t know what to do.

4. I have had slightly less pushback about chores. Whether that is directly tied to less screen time, or whether it’s about “okay, Mom’s proved she’s serious, may as well get it over with,” I can’t say for sure.

5. They’re having shorter screen times, not just less frequent. Now, I can tell them to turn it off after an hour, and they will.

6. A few days ago, Alex said, in response to something Nicholas said, “You know, I think it’s better when we’re having less screen time. We’re doing more other stuff.”


I’d call that a win!

The great god, “Screen Time”


Photo by Thomas Hawk, via Flickr

My kids are such jerks after they’ve had screen time. It’s so weird. They get up from that favorite time and they’re whiny, uncooperative, quarrelsome, and generally not fun to be around.

I told my mom about this, and she said, “That’s why I stopped letting you girls watch Saturday morning cartoons, you know.”

I did not know.

In fact, in light of what we went through last week in our house, that nugget of information illuminated a great deal about how my sisters and I behaved growing up.

Raise your hand if you identify with me on this: I’ve always tried to avoid screen time as a consequence of bad behavior, because I think it’s more of a punishment for me than for the kids. Because when they’re staring at a screen, they take care of themselves.

But last week, I’d had enough. I took away the kids’ screen time for a week.

On Day One, I held my breath, but a single reminder of their transgressions made them subside. Even Julianna and Michael.

By Day Three, they were playing with kites, Legos, and a deck of cards.

By Day Five, I was thinking this was the best thing I’d ever done.

By Day Seven, I was trying to figure out how to make it permanent without being a jerk.

The behavior in our house is by no means ideal. There’s still a crazy amount of ear-piercing shrieks, tug-of-wars over dollies and balloons, and tattling-while-ignoring-my-own-duties. My three-year-old’s legs still fold themselves to the floor in the most dramatic collapse you’ve ever seen; Alex still growls through his teeth and shakes his brother; Julianna still wails when crossed; and I still shout, “WHATDIDIJUSTTELLYOUTODOANDWHYAREYOUNOTDOINGIT??????”


Photo by debaird™, via Flickr

For one week, I didn’t have to arbitrate who gets the Wii and who gets the iPad. For one week, they actually did the cleaning instead of asking repeatedly, “When I’m done can I have a movie?”

Until this week, I hadn’t realized that somehow, our life has become structured around screen time. I can make two dozen rules about what happens before a child gets his or her movie. But the fact is, it’s still the structural foundation of everything. We have to figure out how to plan the day to make sure there’s time for the great god Screen Time—even if half a dozen other things are done poorly or not at all as a result.

And I’ve felt guilty if they don’t get their screen time. Like I’m somehow depriving them.

This has been a very illuminating week for me. And my children are not going to like the result. But I think I’m going to like it very much.

There’s a very important series of guidelines in our natural family planning classes. They’re called the Phase I guidelines, to help couples plan their intimate activities. I won’t go into detail beyond this: these guidelines are designed to help you be confident that any signs you’re observing are related to fertility and not to sexual intercourse. The Phase I are:

  1. Evenings Only.
  2. Not on consecutive days.
  3. If “dry”.*

I am instituting Phase One guidelines for screen time in our house. In order to get screen time, kids will have to be fighting-free from rising to bedtime for one full day. If they continue to get along the second day, they can have screen time after school. And the next morning begins another day of abstinence, while we make sure we’re still fighting-free.

We’ll see how this goes. I have high hopes.

*Disclaimer: If you try to practice natural family planning using these three rules without instruction, you deserve to get pregnant. And don’t blame NFP.*