Wednesday October 12 2011 827 pm
You may recall that post I wrote back in July when nine-year-old “Jack” earned his way to a Nintendo DS. Do you remember how proud of him I was then?
Well, I’m still proud of him. But he doesn’t get to play with that DS during the week anymore. And with a few exceptions, neither child is allowed to watch television, play computer games or otherwise engage the screens in our house on weekdays, either.
I see that look of horror on your face. No, I haven’t turned into a Tiger Mom. Allow me to explain.
Approximately midway through the summer, I commented to my husband that Jack had turned rather grumpy lately. “I had hoped we still had a few years to go before that whole ‘adolescent moodiness’ thing kicked in, but I guess not.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” he replied. “Have you noticed that this change in his behavior started when he got the DS? I think he uses up all his patience playing games on that damn thing, and he doesn’t have any left when he has to interact with people.”
I hadn’t noticed, but when I thought about it, my husband was right. Jack’s behavioral funk began when he acquired the DS. He played for his allotted hour each day, and he’d played for hours during several family road trips over the summer when we’d lifted the usual time restrictions. Increasingly–and especially after the long road-trip sessions–Jack had transformed into a miserable human being.
So we decided to experiment. We told the kids that we were setting up special rules for our trip to Canada in August. For the big drives there and back, they could play DS or watch videos as much as they wanted. But once at our destination, we would have so much fun that screens would be unnecessary. Unnecessary, and also forbidden.
Now, I won’t lie to you and proclaim that our vacation produced two little angels. The kids fought plenty, and a few times, I desperately wanted to turn on a movie to shut them up. But I resisted, and we made it through the week.
And our experiment paid off; Jack’s behavior improved considerably. When he wasn’t fighting with his sister, he was once again pleasant company. His temper eased, his patience and sense of humor returned and he had an attention span for something that was more than three feet in front of his face again. He was a nicer person.
Armed with the results of this (albeit single) experiment, my husband and I set a new rule for the school year: no screens at home during the week. The kids can play or watch on weekends, and we do allow some exceptions: a special family show, homework or research on the computer, a day off from school, sick days, etc.
The kids protested the new rule, of course, but we held firm. And when Jack asked our rationale, I explained to him essentially what I’ve written here: that his father and I thought his screen time was affecting his behavior badly, and we didn’t think it was good for him, so we were minimizing it.
To Jack’s credit, he thought about my explanation, then replied, “Oh. Okay.”
Six-year-old “Emmie” was not so easily satisfied. “But I don’t behave any better when you take away screen time.”
(Touché, Emmie. Your behavior remains the same. But that’s a separate blog post.)
I don’t know if our ban on screens during the week will always be in place. I suspect that it won’t. But for now, it’s working, and it’s given us back our pleasant nine-year-old.
What about your family? What’s your policy on screen usage? Is it working, or do you need to make some adjustments?