Balancing screen time

My kids’ birthdays are approaching and we have started preparation for their party! One wants a Minecraft cake, and the other wants a Digimon. I wouldn’t have known these characters, if it were not for my kids playing video games and watching television. I honestly would prefer the cakes with soccer ball, cars, truck, balloons and rainbows, but these cute themes are outdated just like the old television series. These are the times of gadgets -tablets and video game consoles, and these cake theme characters are straight out of them.

In my emotional and impulsive Mommy Avatar, I often fancy throwing the gadgets and video consoles out of the house, but I am also the one responsible to expose them to this world of virtual entertainment, and now there is no reversing it!

Reactions aside, in the real world I strive for balanced screen time approach for my kids in partnership with my hubby. We have partially succeeded in meeting our goal, but still have a long way to go as we experiment with different approaches to achieve the herculean. In this post I share our journey as parents (the goods and the lessons learnt), in managing the screen time of our children.

First and foremost we have come to terms with the fact that our kids learn the most by observing us, so my hubby and I are mindful of spending time with the gadgets. The rules apply fairly to both, us parents and our kids.

We do not entertain screen time while we eat. So breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner are gadget free zones and we love to maintain the sanctity of dinner table and relish the food. This also means that we do not allow tablets in the restaurants, and in doing so we have implicitly exposed ourselves to becoming a victim of several unkind glances from the neighborhood tables, if and when our kids throw a fit.

Well, it has not been difficult to implement the dinner table rule, as we have had this rule for years, and my kids do not know any better. The everyday challenge for me is to get the kids to switch off the gadgets, and come to the dinner table. I have to call and remind them multiple times, stand over them before they actually switch off. There are times when one of them experiences a meltdown, and then the dinner tranquility becomes a thing of past.

To get over this issue my hubby came up with a solution to give them 10 paper tickets each week, and each ticket gives the kids 30 minutes of screen time . So when the munchkins want to play video game or watch TV,  they give us a ticket. We put on a 30 minute timer and tada we are done! Practically, this has not been an easy task. The advantage is that we were able to better manage their time in front of the screen, but I found myself policing the kids when the timer went off. They would dawdle and then resist giving back the devices, until I institute my last resort to forcefully take it away. Then again the meltdown!

Last evening I had a heart-to-heart with my kids over the kitchen counter, to explain that every day after school, they have limited fixed amount of time before they go to bed. And in those valuable hours, they want to accomplish a lot of activities- video games, dinner, homework, bath, free playtime and also bed time reading. I understand that the prime spot is always taken by the video games, but then there is a trickle effect wherein they get less time or sometimes none to get to the other activities of their choice. I was leading this discussion to give an insight into their daily routine, and thus help them to create their own timetable. At the end of the talk, we were successful in creating a draft of the weekday calendar, which I would implement next week. I reckon that the kids would have more interest to follow the routine they have created, rather than the one forced upon them. I will put this theory to test next week, and the results would be conclusive.

In lieu of monitoring our kids media usage, we also let them select two days of their choice every week, which are screen free. There is a reason why I call them ‘get bored days’, for every two minutes I have one of my boys complaining, “I am getting bored!.” At that time I gently remind them the purpose of the day. These two days are challenging for the kids and for me too, as I have to make myself available to keep the boys entertained constructively. But after an initial hour or two of whining, the kids get engrossed into some imaginative self entertainment, such as pretend plays.

In conjunction with the screen time, it is significant to review the quality of the content the children view. My kids often come to me with requests to buy some apps on the iPad- either they heard about it from their older friends or while browsing app store. I make sure to review the ratings and user comments before purchasing it, and the kids also understand they will not get something which is rated 17+ for violence and language.

It is important for me to remain involved with my kids lives to offer them a balanced opportunity to appreciate the nature, remain physically active, explore their passion, and concurrently still be able to catchup with the ever evolving technology. For me, I enjoy playing ‘Super Mario’ on the console with them, as much as I have fun playing tag. So to each his own!

Photo credit: JuditK via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

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