“Mom, can I watch a show?” were the first words my three-year-old uttered in the morning when he woke up. No “Good morning mommy” or even “What’s for breakfast”– instead, “I wonder what is on Disney Jr. today?” His obsession with watching morning cartoons began as a convenience for ME to distract him in exchange for a moment of solitude and peace while I got ready and cleaned up the house. Although I was careful about this not becoming excessive, I noticed his cravings for more screen time began to generalize to the ipad, phone, and computer- pretty much anything with a screen. Soon, I also began to notice his over-stimulated mind seemed unsatisfied with our mundane yet three-dimensional world. But what was even more alarming to me as a parent and as a child counselor was his decrease in desire for creative play sessions.
He seemed distracted.
But is he to blame?
I was the person who fed this habit in the first place… perhaps he was watching me? Perhaps I was the one who had the problem?
Case in point:
But I realized I wasn’t alone. Did you know that on average there are more screens in a home than members of the family? Definitely true in our home. Sadly, I counted 16 screens of some sort! Studies are showing that the average young person will have had more screen time than they will have had hours in the classroom by the time they graduate!
Don’t get me wrong- technology is brilliant! We can hop on and instantly learn anything we want with just a swipe of a screen or click of a button.
But with a world surrounded by screens and stimulation- should I be worried for my young child whose brain is forming and developing at such a rapid pace?
According to American Academy of Pediatrics, an excessive amount of TV, movies, video and/or computer games can be linked to obesity, disruption in sleep, behavioral problems, impaired academic performance, violence, and less time for creative play. Studies are also showing that children under the age of 3 who engage in several hours a day of fast paced programs will have shorter attention spans throughout their life. In short, media appetites begin early on and can have a direct impact on their ability to maintain attention throughout their life.
With all the good that our technology can provide for our children- how do I create a healthy balanced media diet that enriches and enhances my child’s life instead of replacing or distracting it?
Something had to change…and fast. We needed an intervention for every member in our family (myself included) and I was willing to try out a little experiment. After a week of preparation, discussion, and planning- we all unplugged.
This sign was placed on all the screens in our home.
I knew that I couldn’t ask my family to do something that I wasn’t willing to do myself- so, I too unplugged. Obviously, I knew that my husband and I needed to be available to take phone calls and check emails for work throughout the day, so we came up with a limit for the evenings when the phone was to be off for a duration of time.
We called it the “Media Jail.”
I purchased a clear plastic container large enough to fit whatever item we wanted to lock up. It could be anything such as gameboys, controllers, phones, etc.
Then we cut paper and adhered it with two-sided tape to the container- and it is as simple as that. Out of sight- out of mind. We ate dinner and spent time together without any distractions or temptations- what a beautiful thing.
The hard part was coming up with a limit that worked in our home. We decided that from the time dad walked in the door for dinner to 9:30- the phone and computer should remain off. That gave us over an hour of time as a couple to spend together after kids were asleep.
WHAT I LEARNED:
I was nervous at first on how I would manage with deadlines and tasks I had to get done. How would I shower? But planning ahead and rearranging my schedule to create more time for picnicis in park and trips to the zoo somehow seemed to free up more time to get those things done. I felt like we accomplished a lot more. Yes, there were tears and protests from my three-year-old. But after a day or two he seemed to forget about it. I noticed a change in his mood. He was happier. His attention span increased. He was capable of entertaining himself! I learned that it was me who assumed he couldn’t do those things without the aid of an electronic device. And do you want to know the best part… NO MELTDOWNS!! I am not sure if it was because of all the extra attention and outdoor time he was getting but- our home was so peaceful.
I found that the real key was to REPLACE his old habit with a new one like… house work! Why was I doing all the house chores myself while he watched TV? What was I teaching him? Instead we now begin our mornings working side by side. Check out this post here where I talk about encouraging your child to work and our new chore method.
Even after the experiment was over- I noticed he no longer asked for TV or an ipad. In fact, we drove a total of 10 hours in a car and he never made mention of wanting to play a game or watch a movie…I am not kidding. 10 hours!! I was in shock…I don’t think I even went that long without checking in on my email! I had them ready for when he asked but to my surprise, he talked to us, sang songs, and noticed the world outside of his window. I always wondered how we did it as kids…and then realized that when you don’t have it- you don’t need it!
My favorite part of this experiment was the impact it had on our daily connections. We were experiencing being present and the moment with one another…with out distractions.
Okay, so realistically we are in the 21st century. I know- I get it. And I do really want my child to learn how to self-regulate himself and have a healthy balance that can enrich his life. So, after several weeks- I knew it was time to introduce some media back into the family. The good kind. So, after a month of replacing morning cartoons with doing household jobs without any external reward- (note: he is three and still LOVES to help!) I decided to introduce a limited amount of approved games back into the house.
Growing up, my dad used to say: “You have to pay to play” and as much as I hated hearing those words as a teenager, I decided to create a system similar to an arcade where in order to play a a game (parent approved) on the computer one must complete his or her jobs and daily responsibilities first. That way I knew that for 30 minutes of games there was an hour of work that had to occur first. I also set a limit on how many coins could be used on a daily basis. So far, we have been good with one- but I am still playing with that one.
So to make our “Media Money” and banks we bought wooden circles and cardboard boxes.
Then we both painted them.
and on the boxes.
With our guidelines in place- we began this system.
So, far it has worked out real well- it’s a win-win! I actually am happy about the things he is learning on the computer and he really enjoys his time.