When Your Kids Need Less Screen Time

August 20, 2011 at 1:26 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Yesterday I posted our household’s Electronics Use Policy.  I realized it might not be obvious to some parents why such a thing is a good idea.  Here are the indicators that led me to create this document, an artifact that smacks somewhat of fascism even to me.

How to know your kids have a problem with electronics:

  • You have to call them more than once to come to dinner
  • They spend more time with their headphones in than out
  • They fall asleep with their headphones in
  • They complain of back pain
  • You wake up in the middle of the night to find them online or gaming
  • Their grades have declined
  • They fight with their siblings over use of the computer, game system, or remote control
  • They have a problem with their weight
  • They go outdoors only when forced
  • They tune out during family gatherings or meals
  • They are rude
  • You have to fight them to make them do chores or homework
  • They have temper tantrums, raise their voices to you, or throw things
  • They are sleep-deprived and may “pass out” on the couch at odd times
Most of these things may seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with electronic devices.  I’ll go over them again with explanations of my reasoning.
  • You have to call them more than once to come to dinner (because they can’t hear you or they are too distracted to care).
  • They spend more time with their headphones in than out (and it’s been proven to cause permanent hearing damage, not to mention a few fatal accidents when listeners did not hear an approaching vehicle).
  • They fall asleep with their headphones in (and a cord near their throats).
  • They complain of back pain (because they are always hunched over the laptop and have no fitness plan.  A teenager or younger child should not be suffering adult levels of back pain!)
  • You wake up in the middle of the night to find them online or gaming (because it’s rude to you; they’re not getting enough sleep; and they’re running around unsupervised).
  • Their grades have declined (because they’re lying to you repeatedly when they claim to be doing homework; they’re not reading, exercising, or doing anything constructive with their spare time; and perhaps too much screen time is inducing artificial ADHD).
  • They fight with their siblings over use of the computer, game system, or remote control (meaning, in my book, that the machines have taken over your home and there is no adult in control there.  You don’t have to live that way).
  • They have a problem with their weight (because they sit or lie down all day and all night; also because they aren’t sleeping enough and it leads to weight gain).
  • They go outdoors only when forced (because they can’t perceive anything of interest in the natural world; they’d rather be interacting with a device than any other activity).
  • They tune out during family gatherings or meals (because they have headphones in or are playing an electronic game.  Hopefully not because they’ve been too distracted to learn normal human interaction during this vital phase of their development!).
  • They are rude (and it’s your job to teach them not to be.  Use their addiction to electronic gadgets as what may be the only leverage you have to force them to be civil).
  • You have to fight them to make them do chores or homework (because they have decided that interacting with one machine or another takes priority over those things, and you’ve tacitly agreed with them).
  • They have temper tantrums, raise their voices to you, or throw things (all completely socially unacceptable behaviors that I think are caused by sleep deprivation and abetted by weak parenting).
  • They are sleep-deprived and may “pass out” on the couch at odd times (because they can’t force themselves to turn off the computer and go to bed, and that’s why they need you to set a firm bedtime and help them keep to it).
Some kids are more mature than others.  Some are tough at certain ages and easier at others.  What works for one family may not work for another.  Those things being said, I think there is nothing to be gained from allowing a kid to tune out during family time, set his or her own maladaptive household rules, or indulge negative behaviors.
When my husband got a DVR, my stepdaughter’s grades took a noticeable dip.  She had always been a straight A student, and he couldn’t understand what happened.  He got rid of it, and the grades went back up, where they have remained.  Coincidence?
Her mother (with whom we share half custody) has bought her a GameBoy, an iPhone, and some kind of game system – an X-Box maybe?  I noticed that playing with the GameBoy seemed to act like a radioactive personality disrupter, resulting in a nasty attitude and constant power struggles over chores and homework.  I convinced my husband there was a problem when we banned it from our house and caught her playing it rather than talk to her grandmother, who had just been diagnosed with cancer a second time.  My MIL is the sort of person it’s impossible not to like.
Custody changes on Monday mornings.  Almost every Monday, our kid comes home in a foul mood and then winds up falling soundly asleep for 2-3 hours.  Questioning reveals she routinely stays up until midnight or later playing the X-Box (or whatever it is).  It’s remarkable how by Tuesday morning she’s back to her usual sweet self.  If your teen is a bitter pill some days, come up with an experiment and see if sleep deprivation is behind it.
Since I put our electronics use policy into effect, our kid has gotten in better physical condition, taken a sudden interest in studying for the SAT and planning for college, and started following current events.  She even seems to like her stepmother more.  It works for us and I hope it will work for you.

1 Comment »

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  1. I really do think sleep deprivation (and lack of physical exercise) is a huge problem with adults, as well as kids and teens. This list was an eye opener for me as an adult. 🙂 My habits could definitely be better in this arena.


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