"I don't know any family that doesn't struggle over screen time."
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
Me: We are visiting your grandparents, for crap's sake. Get off the screen.
Son: NO WAY!!! Nooooo!
Me: YES way. Yeeeesssss.
Son: (gripping the iPad like Gollum holding the One Ring) THE iPAD IS LIFE! (direct quote, guys.)
Me: (Panicked. Embarrassed. Don't want to get into a full-blown power struggle at my in-laws. Whisper-hissing--) When we get home, we are doing full-on enforcement of some new Screen Time Rules.*
Son: (rolls eyes, already tapping the screen) Sure sure yeah now leave me alone.
Great googly wooglies. How did we get to this?
I'll tell you how we got to this.
And then I'll tell you what we did about it.
And I'm here to tell you: IT WORKED.
Here's what I'ma share with you:
- A Brief History of Our Family's Screen-Time Rules (Or: How We Got to This)
- Back to the in-laws' house, and The Three Things that Happened.
- Things that I, You, We All Need to Know about Screen Time.
- The Hard Reset of Screen-Time Rules -- The Rules, enumerated.
BE KIND, REWIND.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF OUR FAMILY'S SCREEN-TIME RULES (OR: HOW WE GOT TO NOW)
0-2 yrs old: No screen time at all. (Not even Baby Einstein, not even in the background.)
3 yrs old: 30 mins a day, A.K.A. The Year Of "Bob The Builder."
A friend suggested "Bob The Builder" for us kid-show virgins. - Me: "Is it... bad?" Her: "Well... Bob builds a yurt?"
A YURT?! YOU HAD ME AT HELLO.
Child got hooked on Bob. Huz and I did some quick back-of-the-napkin calculations and decided to limit him to five Bob STORIES a day. Not five episodes - five little STORIES. So that's between 20-30 minutes a day. And the struggle, she begins.
I hung a magnet board by the TV and divided it into "Bob Stories Watched Today" and "Bob Stories I Can Still Watch" sections and made five little Bob-The-Builder magnets and helped Child use it to log his daily stories because you know, self-management and choices and taking ownership and responsibility and teachable moments and all that.
Yes, I believe in that stuff. Yes, I made magnets. Hey, I've got a Master's Degree in Education from Harvard, y'all.
4 yrs old: We are approaching 45 mins a day. This was The Year of The Scholastic Storybook Collection. 100 classic stories, like "Where The Wild Things Are" and "Make Way for Ducklings," animated (just a little bit) with the pictures from the books. As far as screen time goes, this felt benign. (Benign-ish?)
5 yrs old: The Year of "Star Wars." I mean, Star Wars! Have you met me? Oh, Child, you want to watch "A New Hope"? First half today, and we'll finish watching it tomorrow.
6-7 yrs old: Holding more or less steady at about an hour. Thank you, PBS Kids.
8-11 yrs old: YouTube came into its own. An hour morphed into 90 minutes. The struggle, the daily "How much screen time have you had?" convo, she is A Big Part Of Our Day.
And then, thanks to a system of behavioral reward points that granted more screen time (NOT my idea), 90 minutes somehow became TWO HOURS A DAY. And that did not include texting or homework or "educational apps." Not because we intended that much screen time but because ... how to roll back? The Stampy Cats were out of the barn.
THAT BRINGS US BACK TO NOW.
AND THE THREE IMPORTANT THINGS THAT HAPPENED:
(If you're now humming "The Room Where it Happened" -- Hamilton forever!)
I'm at my in-laws FREAKING OUT about Child being an anti-social screen junky and I'm talking with my in-laws and husband about it and they are supportive and the huz is Right There With Me, and then three things happen:
I had a one of those 3 a.m. EUREKA! moments, except instead of the usual "wouldn't it be cool if dogs could climb trees and chase squirrels onto telephone wires" middle-of-the-night ideas, this one was PURE GENIUS.
You'll have to read the rules to find out what it was. Ooh! Suspense!
I was doing some reading and saw a book called
Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids -- And How to Break the Trance by Nicholas Kardaras.
And I was like, I AM READY FOR THIS BOOK. LET ME GET MY HANDS ON THIS BOOK.
So I bought the book and gave it to my husband for his birthday. (And then read it and then gave it back to him)
I mean, also it wasn't his ONLY present, guys.
Anyway, everyone should read this book. Seriously.
What are you waiting for? Go read it and come back here and we'll discuss.
Sure, the book's not perfect: it's a tad alarmist, relies on a lot of anecdotes, and there are parts in which homeslice author toots his own horn a little much. But even with those issues, this is an important book.
So let's take a moment to talk about screen time. Why IS it so bad, exactly?
THINGS I, YOU, WE ALL NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SCREEN TIME:
Why is too much screen time so bad?
--- Personally, because it was turning into power struggles and making it feel like my son was antisocial and because my gut told me This Is Not Good. And now I have some research and other smert people backing me up.
We're talking about a landslide of studies and evidence, as well as my (and probably your) own experience, education, observation, and intuition. Your parental intuition is important. Don't let anyone, including me, tell you otherwise.
--- Video games, apps, and social media are intentionally "game-ified" using a variable schedule of rewards, which makes rats and people crazy compulsive.
I mean we're going back to B.F. Skinner here, friends. Mice that get a reward randomly when they press a lever get more hooked than mice on a regular reward schedule.
Variable reward schedules raise cortisol levels and blood pressure and trigger dopamine. I don't know I'm not a scientist. But it's bad. And addicting. For real.
And I'm not just talking about slot machines and immersive video games. Ask your kid what happens in Minecraft when he digs for iron ore or redstone or whatever the f*ck. Is it found in a predictable pattern? Or is it scattered about randomly to keep you digging? I'll give you one guess.
--- Screens and tech in education? They tend to amplify what's already happening: they make bad things worse or good things only _slightly_ better, especially in primary grades. Generally, as Admiral Ackbar would say, "It's a trap!"
--- The younger the kid, the less screen time they should have. You know that The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for the littles, right?
--- Because go outside and play. Nature (a park, a yard, the woods) is super important for kids.
I know this can be very, very difficult for folks who live in the city and/or unsafe neighborhoods. But it's still a truism that we humans evolved in natural settings.
It seems pretty evident that humans require exposure to nature to function well.
--- Because let your kid be bored. Boredom is important, too. It's part of how we learn to be creative.
--- Social media and/or texting correlates to depression and anxiety.
You've probably experienced this yourself: the constant comparison of your real life to everyone else's idealized photos and posts. It's hard. And you're presumably a grown up.
Also, you know the addage "don't read the comments"? Because trolls and people being sh*tty online, especially when anonymous? Well, children and teens are particularly susceptible to perpetuating, bystanding, or being victimized by this kind of bullying.
The more "engaged" a child/teen is in social media, the more friends on Facebook, the more followers on Instagram, the more texts per day, the worse the outcome. Especially for girls. Because internet "friends" and followers, even in an ideal internet community, are not the same as genuine, face-to-face human connection. Which we need.
--- Kids need sleep. Kids and teens aren't getting enough sleep. Screens disrupt sleep.
--- There's some Very Disturbing stuff online.
I mean, come on, do I even need to insert a link to research verifying this fact? No, I don't.
Let's be honest: there's a lot of good stuff on the interwebs, and a lot of not-good-but-hella-entertaining stuff on the interwebs. (I give you... most of what I do online.) BUT there is also a LOT of Very Disturbing Stuff online. Snuff films, violent pornography, graphic violence and gore, Seriously, I'm no prude, but have you gone on Tumblr and typed "NSFW" in the search bar? Holy hentai, Batman.
It's very easy to find the disturbing stuff, either by accident or on purpose.
And kids cannot unsee what they've seen.
--- Preponderance of studies really do show that violent video games increase aggressive behaviors. The jury is still out on violent crimes and murders and stuff, but the evidence is in about "smaller" aggressions like biting, hitting, bullying.
The more "real" and immersive the violent simulation, the greater the potential problem.
Interesting side note: if a game shows blood, no matter how fake-looking, it seems to correlate to stronger aggression. So if there's a blood option, turn it off.
--- Screen time isn't just annoying or a bad habit, it is actually HURTING OUR KIDS.
--- Kids and teens don't need a lot of screen time in order to lay the groundwork for educational or professional successful in life. If you're a techie and you're freaking out because HOW WILL OUR KIDS BE PREPARED FOR THE FUTURE, settle down. Kids have time to learn to code. Later.
And know that a whole lot of tech geniuses and general smarty pantses limit their kids' screen time DRASTICALLY.
Steve Jobs sure did. And dude, Sasha and Malia get NO screen time in the White House during the week, unless it's for school. NONE.
So that brings us to---
OUR SCREEN-TIME RULES (HARD RESET EDITION).
Shared because we were struggling and this would have been helpful for me.
Also: PARENTAL SOLIDARITY FOREVER. The stricter you are with your kid, the less mean my husband and I look in comparison.
But seriously, and most importantly:
Screen time is hurting our kids. I certainly know how it affect/s/ed my own child.
So, our rules:
1. MAXIMUM 90 MINUTES daily screen time.
We considered 60 minutes and reserve the right to pare it back.
This still seems like a lot to me, but remember, it includes EVERYTHING: TV shows we watch together, playing Wii, tubing out on Netflix, perusing Youtube, playing Minecraft, emailing, texting.
It includes anything and everything on a screen, except when explicitly required for school.
2. Child is responsible for tracking screen time with the parent's-dream-come-true Moment app. He can check his time as needed, and plan accordingly.
We check on his use in Moment daily.
3. If Moment is "accidentally" turned off, the time it is turned off counts as screen time, no matter what.
Moment keeps track of the time it is turned off or otherwise tampered with, unless you completely delete it from your device.
Lest you think we're eeeevil, know that Moment will beep to let you know if you've turned it off, so if it's truly an accident, Child can turn it right back on.
4. Transparency! As Child learns appropriate texting and internet behavior, we have access to all his interactions, search/watch history, passwords, and accounts.
5. If Child exceeds 90 minutes of screen time, either accidentally or intentionally, DOUBLE that amount of time is deducted from tomorrow's time.
E.g. If Child uses 95 minutes of screen time Tuesday, Wednesday's limit will be 80 minutes -- because he went five minutes over, and ten is double those five minutes.
6. Certainly no social media accounts until 13 or otherwise specified by Snapchat or Insta or whatever.
We will not condone breaking those age requirements. We will let them help us!
Thanks, Facebook! Thanks, Instagram!
When he's "of age," then... we'll see. Still maybe not.
7. Sundays are "Screen-Free Sunday, Family Fun Day." We ALL unplug and go outside.
It's not just Child and kids and teens and Youth of Today who are screen-addicted. We're working on it, too.
8. NO screens for Child after 7 p.m.
TVs, computer, iPads, laptops DO NOT LIVE in Child's bedroom.
All devices are accounted for in the hallway every evening. Like us, they recharge together.
9. When we decide to get Child a phone, it will be a basic flip-phone.
I'd been waffling on giving him a hand-me-down iPhone. But after filling my noggin with all this screen-time information, that is not happening.
No, Child is Not Happy about this. Because Pokemon Go.
10. No first-person shooter games, period.
I don't care how awesome you think Grand Theft Auto is. It's bad for your soul. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
11. Our one "old" Wii is enough, we don't also need an Xbox or Playstation, so don't even ask.
And now, ready for that EUREKA genius moment I mentioned above?
12. EACH AND EVERY COMPLAINT ABOUT SCREEN TIME GETS TEN MINUTES DEDUCTED FROM TOMORROW'S SCREEN TIME.
I know, right? I'm a GENIUS.
Complaints are determined by Mom and Dad, and the general rule is, "If it sounds like a complaint, or just basically annoys us, say goodbye to ten minutes."
Want another ten gone? Give us a reason.
If you think this is a bridge too far, (1) you're wrong, and (2) complaining is a snow-balling cognitive habit that makes you more likely to complain again, so really we are helping him create good mental habits.
This is also why I think it's Really A Very Bad Idea to gripe about your spouse, but I suppose that's another blog post entirely.
13. Audiobooks and music do not count as screen time.
In fact, Moment (the app) doesn't register "listening" as screen time if the screen is off.
CUE ANGEL CHOIR, since music and audiobooks are great for kids.
14. You follow the rules of the house you're a guest in.
His local-grandparents' screen rules just happen --COUGH-- to be the same as ours. What are the chances?
When kids come to our house on Sundays, they know not to bring devices.
But no, these rules don't apply when Child is at a friend's house. We talk a lot about not using friends for screen time (!), and we trust his friends' parents to kick them out the door when they've had enough screen time.
And if that doesn't happen, well, c'est la vie.
15. We're not kicking Child off screens without offering alternatives.
Board games, family dinner time, reading out loud together, walks, and bike rides abound.
This is especially important in the beginning, while setting or rolling back limits.
Family fun notwithstanding, though, we parents are not put on this earth for Child's entertainment.
Be bored, kid.
Think of something good to do.
We love you.
AND GUESS WHAT YOU GUYS? IT WORKED.
It's only been a month, and of course it could all south at any moment. I mean, that's parenting, amiright?
But for now, our quality-of-family-life has improved DRAMATICALLY.
No more fighting about the iPad, no more lying about screen time. No more whining, no more agonizing.
And I feel like, if we need to, we can do another hard reset.
The biggest difference is that we know how to do it, we have evidence and research to share with Child about How Screens Affect Children's Brains, and ... we are in charge. For awhile there, it was starting to feel like the screens were in charge.
And in case you're wondering how Child feels about all this, I just asked him.
Me: How do you feel about the screen time rules?
Son: Am I allowed to say? Without getting a screen-time penalty if I complain?
Me: You can tell me just this once.
Son: I THINK IT SUCKS.
But you know what?
I think he secretly likes it.
Kids need limits, folks.
And, if nothing else, his dad and I are a lot less grumpy about screen time.
Hey, if you like this, share it.
Adopt or adapt this list for your own family.
The point is to be intentional, thoughtful, and kind, and make rules that
(1) are good for your kid/s, and
(2) work for your family.
Leave a comment, join the conversation. But first, please just do us both a favor and read the research, not just that one guy who says that video games do not make kids more criminally violent by citing one study over and over. And read the book. And download Moment and see how much YOU are addicted to your phone. Hoo doggy. You may be surprised.
j.j. johnson, author