Friday, May 8, 2015

Screen time drama

As I sit here at my computer, I'm listening to my favorite kind of background noise. My son is in the living room playing with his Ninja Turtle legos with such intensity. "Pizza! Pizza! Sensei, we have to have our pizza!" He is so engrossed, and his world is so real that he hasn't even broached the subject of breakfast yet. Upstairs, I can hear my daughter playing in her bed caring for her "babies", singing "Do You Want to Build a Snowman," from Frozen, and creating her own imaginary world up in her room.

This is not a post about how perfect my kids are. It took me 20 minutes, some tears and a short tantrum to get here.

See, the moment he woke up, my son snuck over to my bed, pried my eyes open with his fingers and whispered, "Can I have the iPad? ...Play Minecraft? ...use your phone?" My daughter then piped in loudly from the other room, "If Tommy gets to use the iPad, can I use your phone?!?" (she is all about evening out the injustices of her world)

My answer, as always in the morning, was "no".

This is not because we are a family who doesn't have a TV, or is so disciplined that we just read books and only play imaginative games together.

I say no because I don't want them to be so reliant on a screen to entertain them. ...and I want them to learn to make their own stories instead of watching things with all the imagination filled in for them.

...and ...well. Truth?
I want to save screens for when I really need to get something done that requires quiet in the background such as work, a conference call, or the end of the day when I'm worn thin.

I'm not one of these parents that has no screen time in my house. In fact, I love my shows -- full disclosure, I still watch Grey's Anatomy. But in this age of iPhones, Gameboys, Xbox, and the literally unending amount of content to choose from, when does it naturally stop?

If you'll excuse me for a moment, I'd like to channel my inner 80-year-old grandma.
Okay, here goes:

--In my day, when I was a kid of school age, I came home from school to watch Brady Bunch. I think there were two episodes in a row. No question, I was riveted to the TV for that hour, but when that was over, I went outside to play. Why? Because I was a kid with impulse control and knew to make choices that were good for my body and my brain?


Because the news came on, or at least something that didn't interest me, and there were no other options. See, as some of you may remember, there were only 5 or 6 channels of note that were available, and you had to watch shows when they were on. ...and go to the bathroom or get a snack (you didn't have time for both) quickly during commercials.

When I tell my kids this, and they gasp as if I'm telling them about surviving Armegeddon.--

There, I feel much better.

Alen Lauzan Falcon
The truth is that if I had the choices that kids today had back then, I would have been like the kid from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory going from one show to another for hours on end, probably yelling to my mom to bring me my Salisbury Steak TV dinner to me.

When I had my first kid, I was all, "I'm not even going to have him in front of Baby Einstein."
Then he started moving around, and I changed my tune drastically, "When will a 30-minute show keep his attention for the full show?"
Now, I can't even get an answer about dinner unless I pause the TV in order to jolt him out of his trance.
The lesson: be careful what you wish for.

Stepping away from the TV is the other issue. One 30-min show isn't enough. It's, "One more? One more? Yes or no?" When the answer is no, there is a full breakdown, me threatening to give away all their toys if they aren't going to play with them, and a warning from me that if they only watch TV, their brains AND their muscles won't grow. (Drastic? Maybe, but they want to grow big and strong right now, so a mom's gotta do what a mom's gotta do.)

Seriously though, I want my kids to have creative brains. I want them to be able to create their own interesting worlds. I want them to be able to think their way out of a problem when they are able. I want them to make up dance shows, play soccer outside, write stories, build a fort, make inventions, and, in general, develop a mind that can add to the world down the line.

...and I want to use TV to my advantage when I need it. Did I mention that already?

I also don't think that our public schools, for all the good they do, give kids time to use their imagination. There are plans and how-to's and directed writing and learning, of course, but they've shortened individual play and outdoor recess, so I'm pretty sure it's up to me to help them develop into creative individuals. The pressure of parenting and not leaving it all up to the teachers! Sheesh.

On top of all this, I have to set a good example and turn the TV off myself. I like it as background noise while I cook or clean. Don't laugh. I do those things occasionally. I would continue being a hypocrite except the TV is like a bright bug light to my children, and the next thing I know, they are in the room with me riveted to HGTV or a cooking show... or something wholly inappropriate, and I have to switch it off quickly before they see something and I have to explain sex or violence... or what "bitch" means.

The invention of the Tivo, DVR, DVD, iPhone, ipad, etc. had me so excited when they first came out because the idea of watching anything, anytime was A.W.E.S.O.M.E. Until "screen time" became another thing I had to manage along with sugar and activities. Now I long for the channels to be limited to 5 choices.

At least until the kids go to bed. Then I want it all back for myself.

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