When my children were young, it was really easy to limit their exposure to all things electronic. They could watch a show on PBS in the morning and maybe play a little Starfall or PBS Kids in the afternoon. Overall, they were satisfied with this. Movies were a special treat and happened when it was rainy, cold, or Mama was tired. I often patted myself on the back for what a great job I was doing at limiting their time. They all liked the same things, played the same games and what the oldest watched and did was always appropriate for his younger siblings to participate in.
Then, they got bigger and realized what they were missing. I now have an 8 year old, 6 year old, 4 year old, 2 year old and one on the way. I am also quickly realizing that all that patting on the back I did was VERY premature. I am realizing very quickly that limits have to bet set for my kids and electronics.
My 8 year old is obsessed with MineCraft, LEGO Harry Potter and LEGO Star Wars. Given the opportunity, he would spend all afternoon at these games. At Christmastime, I won an iPod touch, so we gave it to him for Christmas, knowing that there would be severe limits on it. My 6 year old also loves MineCraft, but still prefers watching PBS Kids with her younger sister and brother.
Everyday there was a battle. The kids would come home from school, have a snack, do their homework and chores and then want to “plug-in”. Living in Texas, the weather is almost always nice enough for them to go outside to play. That is what I want them doing, they want to sit and work their minds in a different way.
I understand that it is really important for kids to learn how to use electronic tools. This is their world. They are going to be online more than I can imagine, doing things with computers I can’t even comprehend and I want them to understand these things – but I also want so much more for them. I want them to know what it’s like to feel mud between their toes, the smell of spring rain, what it’s like to run in the sprinklers, catch a fly ball, kick a soccer ball and run until their lungs burn. In short, I had to find a way for all of us to be happy.
I knew we needed limits and guidelines, I just didn’t know what to do or how to go about it. While reading a friend’s Facebook page one day, I saw what she did for electronic time and I thought it was brilliant. No electronics until your room is clean. Seems pretty simple, right?
I quickly instituted this rule and, while there were some complaints, they cleaned their rooms quickly and would then think they could spend all day online or watching TV. So, I realized their limits needed to be much clearer.
They now get 1 hour a day to use as they wish. Thirty minutes can be fun and the other thirty must be educational. I don’t want them to veg out and not realize what they are doing.
There are days when they have zero electronic time because they come home, go to clean their rooms and start playing instead. I really love those days. They also can lose electronic time by fighting with each other or being disrespectful to their family members.
I know that this won’t work for everyone, and it probably won’t work for us for very long, but that is something I have learned about parenthood. Try something and if it works – DO IT. As soon as it stops working, tweak it until you find something that works again.