Visit The Phyl Campbell Website

Monday, March 9, 2015

How To Monday: How to BALANCE Screen Time for Young People

Children in middle school have a surprising amount of independence. They attend multiple classes with over a hundred different students. A parent does well to keep up with a small percentage of the ones the young adolescent talks about – and that is when, in the case of my son, the kid bothers to put names with events, or even learn the names of the people he sits by day after day. 

And I figured between being overly permissive with the XBOX and allowing friends over whenever they felt like coming would help me know my son’s friends better (Unlike some other platforms, XBOX allows players to play online with their friends, each from the comfort of his or her own home. And since those classmates did not feel my eyes upon them, I saw -- for good and bad -- what kind of players and people they really were. So did my son.).  Teamwork is such a vital part of so many jobs – as is technology – that my concerns over too much were competing with preparations for the real world. Even Mr. Rogers said that playing was an important part of a child’s education. Who am I to argue with Mr. Rogers? 

[See one parent's list of rules for Minecraft here.]

I don’t overschedule my son – in fact, the opposite may be true. The things that interest him now are, in no particular order, XBOX, XBOX, and XBOX. He tried a team sport last year, but did not have a good experience. He was stage crew in a play last semester, but didn’t have lines to study and wasn’t as invested as other actors or stage hands might have been. He tried a computer class, but he wasn’t learning what he wanted, and then the sport took place at the same time as the class, so he dropped it. When the sport was over, he had no interest in picking [the computer class] back up again. XBOX, like a beloved pet, ice cream, or cable TV, was always there for him.

His friends don’t care if he’s the best or the worst. He doesn’t care when they beat him (unless they cheat/grief him -- and I got upset before he did at the levels of griefing). This is good experience for teamwork and life in an office. XBOX rewards him and levels him up -- win or lose. Unlike real life, no matter how many targets he shoots or zombies he kills (or kill him) – XBOX is a magical land where nobody dies.

But, with the warmer weather approaching in the weeks to come, I have a plan to take back my living room and the scarce remnants of my sanity. I am limiting screen time. (Now, a limit for my house might be an expansion in yours. Our children are different and so are we.)

Starting Monday, XBOX can be run between the hours of 5(PM) and 7(PM). This allows everyone who take a little longer to get home from school to get home, and allows for family dinner after 7 (since my husband sometimes gets off at 5 and other times not until 6:30 or later). It gives boundaries. It returns XBOX control in my house to my house. No more “well, Aloisius* can only get on at 3:30” or “Beelzebub* can’t get on until after baseball practice.” No more “well, I’ve got to text Hezekiah* to see when he can get on.” 

Enforceability was one problem I had with imposing time limits. When I said “two hours a day,” it became an argument as to whether that two hours started from powering on the system, or two hours starting when everything and everyone was logged in. Two hours became three or four, and “if I don’t want to watch [show], can I keep playing with my friends?” Since part of me was already having a hard time justifying the educational or recreational difference between playing alone with Yu Gi Oh cards, Bakugan balls, or Legos in his room, I usually gave in. Why not?
This comment was not MY 11YO (spells about the same, though). I found it interesting. He thinks 3-5 years later it won't be interesting anymore. I know 9-29 year olds who are addicted, though I can't prove when the 3-5 years started and stopped, and figure there are some late starters. So it's interesting that this kid replied at all -- it was time away from actually playing.

It didn’t seem to matter at the beginning of the school year. When my child did his homework without complaint, he got time to unwind. It seemed only fair. What happened over time was that he stopped bringing homework home – clearly thinking that what Mom didn’t see didn’t cut into his XBOX time. He’s not a bad kid – and SOME homework still trickled home. Just enough that I wasn’t raising an eyebrow. And I know some schools and teachers are giving less homework because a lot of parents can’t help with it – and I agree that they shouldn’t have to, because forty hours in school is more than enough time to cover a middle schooler’s educational needs. Except that middle schoolers still haven’t learned how to study, and they need homework to reinforce the concepts that are presented to them in class. Not all students. Definitely mine. And he does not like hearing that. 

I’m not a heartless mother. We’re not replacing all his screen time with studying (as much as I might like to). The current time frame gives me the option to add more restrictions if grades continue to go down instead of up. At school, it allows him to say “these are the times I’m available to play XBOX” to his friends – one simple time frame five days a week regardless of THEIR myriad schedules. Then, it allows him to be a kid – separate from his phone – to play inside with his neglected toys or outside on the trampoline or just sit somewhere zoning out, creating stories, singing, or doing nothing.

I do have to add, given just a smidge of my research here, that my child's attitude has not changed toward me since bringing XBOX into the house. He does chores to earn the LIVE GOLD subscription. He is still respectful. He is still kind. When I tell him to turn it off, he does so with a lot less grief than I see from his classmates to their parents. Maybe because he knows how fast it would be gone without the respect. Maybe because he has no siblings to fight with over its use. His teachers aren't as concerned about his grades as I am, and he seems well liked by his peers. If there were a different case, I probably would have cut screen time a lot more and a lot sooner.

While being respectful of everyone’s different parenting styles, feel free to comment: how do you limit screen-time?  

 *I tried to use names that had no connection to people I knew. Any connection at this point is coincidental.