Field trips aren’t always obviously enjoyable. Adventures in parenting fall in this category. I try to keep these adventures in perspective by not taking them too seriously. I shoot for less If I don’t somehow find a way to correct this behavior he’ll end up jobless and alone! and more I’ll give it a shot, but he’s a good kid and he’ll work it out. I’m not always successful, but I try. This month’s not-so-obviously-enjoyable parenting field trip? Screen time. Ugh.
As our son gets older, the siren song of the screen gets stronger. Whether we’re talking tablet, television, computer, or video game, its pull is nearly impossible for him to resist. Left moderately unsupervised he will sit in front of a screen of one type or another for 9 hours and 18 minutes. We know this because a few weeks ago that’s exactly what happened. We won’t go into why he was moderately unsupervised. Let’s just spin it and call it an “experiment”.
P is generally a good, honest kid. The pull, the attraction, nay, the screen addiction, is so strong he sometimes lies about how much time he’s used for the day. And he sneaks extra time. This bothers me, obviously, but what to do? Of course he was punished for lying and disobeying, but as you may know firsthand, parent-dealt consequences only go so far. I started thinking…
So there’s will power. WILL POWER. So hard, that one. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Again, explaining this to kids is challenging. If mom and dad aren’t paying attention you have the opportunity to get more screen time, but just because you can doesn’t mean it’s okay.
“But WHY, Mom?”
And then I’m speeding back in time to my childhood, reading Frog and Toad and identifying waaaay too much with Frog and Toad as they try to resist eating the whole plate of cookies. Raise your virtual hand if you can relate!
In Frog and Toad’s story, Cookies, the consequences were obvious; they would get sick from eating too many cookies, but the “why” (and there’s always a “why”) of too much screen time doesn’t make sense to kids. Imagine a child’s response to “Over time it changes how you read emotion in other people. It’s addicting. There are too many ads. It messes with your attention span and it contributes to obesity.” Wah, wah, wah….
Nevertheless we discussed will power. Ad nauseam. And then I started thinking about taking a different approach.
To address trust and dishonesty, my Parenting Long Game involves redirection, offering thoughtful consequences and being consistent. I’m adjusting my Parenting Short Game and attacking the smaller, but still enormously challenging, issue of boredom/entertaining oneself instead. If I can convince him he wants to do other things, maybe the lure of the screen will wear off and he’ll have developed a coat of armor against the siren song of the screen. Which brings us to intentional boredom.
My son loves ideas, being the first to think of something, and innovation. After the ‘Great 9 Hours and 18 Minutes of Screen Time’ incident, we talked about the importance of being bored. I tried to convey that it’s only when your mind isn’t distracted (say, by a screen) that great ideas and great thinking happen.
Me, deep in teaching moment mode: “Where do you think the most common places are for coming up with great idea? Where do people go to think great things?”
P, earnestly: “School?”
Me: “Yes, but think about the places where you’re not in front of a screen. Like the bathroom.”
P, delighted: “ON the toilet!”
We talked about showers and yes, sitting on the toilet, riding in cars with the radio off, sitting outside, lying in bed. Silence in general. He seemed open to the concept of intentional boredom. We’ll see how that plays out in real life.
Now, when I cut him off from his screen supply, I say “Go be bored!” and remind him of the importance of being bored. We’ve had some success with this so far, but I also wanted him to be aware of just how much time he is spending in front of a screen each day.
Keeping Things Honest
I wanted him to be honest with us, and with himself, about how much time he’s actually in front of a screen. On the way to school a few days after the “Screen Time Incident”, it occurred to me that a visual would help him to see where his time is going. Seeing how much he does something has worked in the past. Last year he filled a bucket with rocks that represented time spent reading. It made a real difference in his reading, but I didn’t want to use rocks again.
I told him I’d design a screen time log. It wasn’t a punishment. I just wanted him to honestly log what he was doing on the screen and for how long he was doing it. And then at the end of the day to graph the time he spent in front of the screen versus what he was supposed to keep it under. If he logs more than the daily limit, it’s okay. The log isn’t about retribution, it’s about paying attention to his habits.
Does it work? Yes. Kind of. Sort of. He doesn’t fight me when I make sure he’s noting his start and end times. He’s definitely seeing how much time he’s choosing to spend in front of a screen. Does it directly change his screen habits? No. But this is part of my Parenting Long Game.
Truth, Lies, and Trust
These aren’t my favorite field trips, but I try my best to stay in the moment and learn while I muddle my way through challenging parent moments. The siren song of the screen gives us the opportunity to look at and discuss the larger issues of disobeying, lying, trust, and will power as well as important things like boredom, creativity, and inspiration. We’ll see if the my Parenting Long Game pays off, but I’ll have to settle in for awhile; the results aren’t due back for another 10-15 years.