Considering a home screen detox

I know I’ve been absent a lot lately. Sorry about that. Turns out you shouldn’t look for a new school for your kid at the end of the year while looking for new clients and organizing spring cleaning (stress city). Still, just because I’ve been gone, doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about green family issues.

Lately, I’ve been contemplating screen issues, because screen use has gotten pretty out of hand at my house and I’m tired of it.

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Kids and excessive screen time

Screen time in the past:

My son Cedar was raised to regulate his own screen time. That worked pretty well for him up until about a year and a half ago. He’d watch some movies and play some video games, but he also did other stuff like play outside, read or look at books, build with Lego bricks, draw, etc. On his own, and with suggestions and encouragement from me and his dad, Cedar managed to keep his life well-rounded.

Screen time now:

Cedar’s screen self-regulation isn’t going that well right now at my house.

Cedar doesn’t have a cell phone, but he does want to play video games or watch TV during all of his spare time. He’s also on screens at school, in some cases working on projects, but in other cases, just messing around.  He’ll do screen-free activities if I suggest stuff, but reluctantly and never on his own lately. I have a feeling Cedar’s growing screen obsession is a combo of stuff, such as…

  • Peer pressure – my partner’s kids who live with us part-time and most of Cedar’s friends don’t have regulated screen time. As Cedar has befriended peers who use screens a lot, it’s encouraged him to use screens more.
  • His age – at 11 years, he could just be at an age where kids like screens more?
  • He’s competitive – he’s really into beating games. I think he becomes so invested in winning video games that doing other activities instead simply doesn’t occur to him.
  • We live in a neighborhood with more adults than kids, so natural play outside isn’t happening. On top of that, Cedar can be shy, so making friends with the kids who are around is tough.
  • Cedar may be stressed (he’s changing schools and busy) so screens could be a release for him.

It could be anything though. Research shows there’s a very real addiction issue at hand here. See the links below:

At this point:

Screens have taken center stage at my house. If people at my house aren’t playing a video game, they’re watching TV. If they’re not playing video games or watching TV, they’re on their handheld video game system, iPad, Kindle or texting or using the internet on their cell phone. I’m so sick of watching people watch screens.

does nature matter, eco kids, eco-friendly kids, family and nature, get outside, Green Family, green family blog, green kids, green living, green living blog, green parenting, green travel, greenfamily, kids and nature, less screen time, limit screen time, nature walk, nature-kids, screen addiction, cell phone addiction, computer addiction, internet addiction

Screen time all the time

Screens equal problems:

Screens are useful in some instances. However, this major up-flux in screen time does come with problems, include the following:

Zero creativity: In the past my son would actually make crafty projects, no prompting. This year, a few times I’ve set out art supplies in front of the kids, they all stare at me blankly with a, “What do you expect us to do with this stuff?” gaze. Kids who have pens, colored markers and paper at their disposal but who have to ask you what they should draw or make is 100% ridiculous.

Zero initiative: In the above situation, I noted that I got out the art supplies. Even though all the art supplies, puzzles, games and toys are 100% accessible to the kids, they’d never think to walk over and grab them on their own.

People ignore people: People at my house are more likely to look at screens than another person. If screens are around, humans get ignored. God forbid someone might miss a text or Facebook or video game update. When people are staring at screens, and can’t pull their eyes away long enough to have a normal conversation, or race through family meals to get back to their game, something is really wrong.

Less outside time and inability to be outside: The kids never think of going outside on their own anymore. They only go out when we specifically say, “We’re going outside.” My partner and I are outdoor advocates so we do plan hikes and walks and I make Cedar go out on his scooter but unless prompted by an adult, it’s rare that anyone voluntarily says they want to go out.

“Entertain me!” gets old: Kids obsessed with screens seem unable to entertain themselves if you take said screens away. Kids I know are a-ok if screens are available, but take those away and these same kids seem to expect that you (the adult or parent) will entertain them 24/7. The whole, “I can’t think of anything to do” mindset drives me insane. When I was a kid, my friends and I, or my siblings and I entertained ourselves, screen-free, all day long, often. I’m not saying kids should be ignored, but they also shouldn’t need adults to entertain them all day long either.

Cedar is active – so should I even complain? 

Cedar is fit for his age, fairly active and does get outside often. He does sport activities at school, plays soccer, goes on bike rides, hikes, walks and so on. He’s outside and active more often than many kids I know, which is good. However, many of these activities are not of his choosing which bothers me. Most of his outdoor active times are organized, not by him, but by a parent or staff at his school.

If my son doesn’t have a planned activity outside, he’d just as soon sit inside and stare at a screen. Over the last year I think Cedar has asked specifically, of his own accord, to go outside maybe a dozen times (usually to play basketball). Not that it’s just Cedar – other kids I know have to be forced outside or forced into physical activity as well.

does nature matter, eco kids, eco-friendly kids, family and nature, get outside, Green Family, green family blog, green kids, green living, green living blog, green parenting, green travel, greenfamily, kids and nature, less screen time, limit screen time, nature walk, nature-kids, screen addiction, cell phone addiction, computer addiction, internet addiction

TV outside... ?

Screens aren’t healthy how kids today use them: 

  • Surprisingly, screen time has never been linked to childhood obesity.  There are known links to childhood obesity and screen time, but no one has been able to prove that excess screen time causes obesity. However, research has linked excessive screen time with overeating and overeating is the biggest reason most kids are overweight, or so research says.
  • Even though the obesity link is unclear, it’s obvious that kids who only know how to sit in front of screens have problems with physical activity. They can’t walk normally, manage hikes and hurt themselves when they are forced to be physically active.
  • I’m sure you’ve heard the old, “if you don’t use your muscles you’ll lose them” theory. This is true. The Mayo Clinic notes that weak unused muscles are a leading cause of knee and other bodily injuries. Tons of medical research shows that a lack of regular physical activity causes muscles to become weak and flabby, joints to become stiff and makes lung, heart and blood circulation far less efficient.
  • Excessive screen time for kids has also been linked to violent behavior, mood swings, problems reading, over consumption of unhealthy foods, smoking and drinking later in life.
  • Also, I have zero proof, other than from watching the kids I know personally, but I’m sure too much screen time stifles critical thinking, independent thinking and creativity. I suppose one might argue that these aren’t health issues, but I’d argue a life void of creativity and critical thinking unless screen related is a sad life. People need more balance in their lives. A kid who can’t figure out how to live happily without screens for a few hours constitutes a huge problem in my book.

Why I’ve never banned screen before:

In a past post I wrote about getting kids off screens and outside, I noted that I’m not on board with screen bans. The main reason I’m not into screen bans is because bans, in my opinion, make things more attractive to kids. I’ve seen homes where candy, for example, is banned and the kids are usually hyper freaked about finding candy. Bans = cool for most kids. Other reasons I don’t like the idea of screen bans…

  • With few exceptions I think moderation is better than outright bans, especially when it comes to kids.
  • I think screens are useful in many ways. You can use screens for research, art, composing music, conducting science experiments and much more.
  • Screens have fun and relaxation benefits. Most of us have watched a movie to unwind. Family movie night can be super fun too. I even think video games are relaxing, in moderation. Plus, often we do play video games together around here, which is fun and social.
  • I think kids (and adults) should have access to the widest range of experiences possible, and eliminating screens goes against that belief.

Why I’m considering a screen-free detox:

In the past, a screen ban hasn’t been necessary. As noted, my son used to regulate his own screen time nicely. As also noted above though, things change.

I’m not jumping right to a ban

I actually have tried other stuff already. A while back my partner and I sat down with the kids and talked to them about limiting screen time. We both thought the kids were using screens way too much, had a discussion with the kids about it and everyone agreed to screen limits. Those screen limits lasted about a day then the kids morphed back into screens 24/7.

Beyond whole family discussions, I’ve had MANY screen issue talks lately just with Cedar. I’ve told Cedar that I don’t think so much screen time is healthy and that I’d like to see him interested in other fun activities. Usually he reluctantly agrees to a screen time limit, but then fails to follow through.

Self-regulation doesn’t work

Screen time limits at my house only work if adults police the kids. As an adult you have to stay 100% on top the kids screen time, watch the clock, then make the kid get off the screen when their time is up. I’m not interested in being the screen police. I don’t want to have to sit and watch the clock then demand kids get off the screen. That doesn’t sound like fun to me. Plus, everyone at my house is old enough to use a clock or timer on their own.

My options

I can only think of four options regarding screen time at my house…

Screen time all the time: Everyone can use screens as much as they like 24/7.  Everyone else in the house will be perfectly happy with this solution. The downside is that I will go slowly insane.

Screen limits via self regulation: Everyone limits their own screen time, keeping screen time to a reasonable healthy amount. As noted, this has been tried and failed many times.

Screen limits via adult regulation: Adults act as screen police and make sure kids are keeping screen time to a reasonably healthy amount. This was semi-tried a couple of times and failed, mainly because neither my partner or I are on board with playing screen police 24/7.

Screen detox: We cut screens out entirely for a while, detox and see what happens. I have a feeling I’m the only one who would be on board with this. Everyone else will freak out.

None of these options seem perfect. Still, at this point, this situation has been going on well over a year. Because everything else above has been tried, and has failed, I kind of feel like our only option is to try detoxing from screens for a while and see what happens. I’m going to look up some research on screen detox, and hopefully get some ideas abut how going screen-free works.

Has your household ever gone screen-free? How did it go? OR has your household been in screen mode too much and you figured out how to solve it? I’m open to ANY and all suggestions about this problem in the comments.

Images by Flickr Users GoodNCrazy; Tobyotter and daveynin

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Comments

  1. says

    I’ll admit that I probably have excessive screen issues, at least in part because I use the internet for everything. I use my computer to stay organized and make checklists as well as research and entertainment. It has become my link to much of the outside world as I am stuck at home with a newborn and a toddler. However, I recognize that this is not the healthiest behavior. I’ve begun letting my 3 year old watch more TV because it keeps her from destroying the house or injuring her brother when I have to do something else, like cook dinner. But she’s become a bit of a monster about it and some days I just have to tell her no, which invariable results in massive tantrums. Toddlers by nature need help with self-regulation because most of the time it’s all or nothing. But she really can’t self-regulate screen time, yet. Hopefully I can help her to do so as she gets older. Bottom line, we need way more outside time than we’ve been getting but it is a struggle with trying to keep our newborn out of the sun and I do fear having to chase a rebellious toddler down a busy street with a newborn in hand.

  2. Jennifer Chait says

    That’s a tough situation. I totally remember the toddler days and how easy it was to get a nap in or some chore if Cedar would chill and watch a movie. AND I didn’t even have a newborn at the same time to contend with. I think screens make it easy to get stuff done for adults at times, but it’s likely a bad habit to get into. When Cedar was four, he was able to play outside – in front of the house with other kids, which is when his self-regulation of screen time sort of kicked in. Mainly to encourage good self regulation in Cedar when he was little I made sure he had access to outside play and other stuff (books, toys, etc) that were as appealing as screens. It’s been hard as he’s gotten older though, because toys aren’t as fun for him (or so it seems).

    I’m better about screens than everyone else at my house, but likely ONLY because I’m so tired of seeing everyone on them. I use them for work (obviously) since I work online, but I try to stick to work sites only, not random browsing. I rarely do other screen stuff. I hate texting and don’t own a Kindle or iPad or anything. I’ll watch a show on Netflix at night to chill out though, when really I could read instead OR SLEEP! I especially should avoid screens when I’m not working because I’m online enough for clients as it is.

  3. says

    Our children still talk about the fact that they were allowed one hour of TV a WEEK (each) plus cartoons on Saturday mornings (I’m an early riser but I did try to stay in bed just to have some time to myself so cartoon watching was strictly for MY benefit.)

    This, without the cartoons, held until they left for college, LOL. Occasionally we watched something together or if I thought there was a show on they ought to see, but that was it.

    Did they watch every chance they got at others’ houses? Sure. But so what. They spent most time at home TV-less and that’s where it mattered.

    Admittedly now it’s much more difficult since there are so many more “screens.”

    On the other hand, kids are kids and adults are adults. I didn’t let our children drink soda even though (sorry to say) at the time I did. I’m the parent. I get to do stuff my kids don’t. So even if an adult is on the computer and doesn’t let her kids have access, I don’t see that as a bad thing. Eventually the kid will grow up and then he’ll have as much as he wants. Sometimes even though I hated being the bad guy I had to let my children know that although I respected and valued their opinions, I’m the parent and I believe this is what is best for them. When they have their kids they can do what they believe to be right. (BTW, I made LOTS of mistakes, but in spite of that, our kids turned out to be amazing human beings and are great with their own children.)

    I just don’t believe sitting in front of a screen for more than an hour a day is healthy on any level. But I also do think that we need to lead by example for the most part (though as I said above, there are exceptions). I don’t think having a TV on or allowing phone calls or screens of any kind during meals should be allowed. Families need to TALK and at least for us, meal time was pretty much it.
    Kids have always complained about being bored. That’s part of childhood. I didn’t care if the kids were bored. I preferred having them lying on the bed staring at the ceiling for hours on end (our oldest one’s preferred idea of “doing something”) to watching TV. (He turned out to be a teacher by the way.) They had plenty of games, toys and full exposure to a nice large yard, even for a number of years a swimming pool (we lived in Tucson). They still whined about having nothing to do, but as time went by they stopped saying it because they knew I’d just smile and say, “Good! Enjoy!” or “Oh, that’s great. There’e the lawn mower!”

    Honestly Jennifer, I think an 11-year-old is not going to self-regulate with this kind of thing. It’s like having junk food in the house. If it’s there, they’re going to want it. I believe in including kids in decisions, but sometimes we just have to lay down the law when we think it’s in their best interest (i.e. food, seat belts etc.).

    Of course, you also could set up a reward system of some kind if that’s your thing, or get a timer that automatically shuts the computer off after a certain amount of time or something less harsh than simply saying, “We’re limiting you to one hour of computer time a day.” But you’re right, you would have to follow up in some way. Interested to hear where this goes.

    Good luck!

  4. Jennifer Chait says

    @Lynn – I know you’re 100% right. At this point my 11 year old and not my partner’s 14 or 16 year old either are going to regulate themselves. We’ve tried and it has not worked.

    It sucks, because I’m used to self-regulation really working. I’ve never banned food or called food “junk” vs “good” and Cedar’s had access to it all. That worked (for us). He makes super smart food choices – but I’ve talked to him about it tons. Even though I also talk about the media issue, he just doesn’t seem to hear me. Maybe computers and video games are more alluring than food???

    I agree about being the parent though. I’m just so not interested in policing. But maybe that’s what’s going to end up happening. Honestly, I’d rather say, “Fine, you can’t regulate, now I’m calling the shots, and my shots are no screens for a while.” Of course, now I’m so tired of screens, that it makes sense I’d freak and go to zero screens.

    What I see happening is one, a screen detox week. Everyone around here has had screens in their lives so much that I think a decent detox is not out of bounds (I could be wrong, but that’s my opinion). Then after a detox go to moderated screen time – and if my son can’t be cool with me moderating his screen time, then I guess we’ll go back to none. I can’t have it be all screens, all the time around here anymore. It’s making me nuts.

    It’s very hard because I live with my partner and his two daughters and my partner is not the type to mod at all when it comes to screens. So living with another family makes this way more complicated. I’m looking up some stories of families who have gone screen-free for a while, after screen excess to see if that worked and helped them find a balance.

    I hope all this planning works, because of all my healthy kids goals this is the toughest. Outside time is easy for me. Food – easy. Green stuff – mostly easy. This screen issue has thrown me for a super big loop. It’s the first time I’ve felt totally out of control of my kid – not a good feeling.

  5. says

    Jennifer, I thought about this today for two reasons. One is I felt badly about my response after the fact. It sounded very bossy to me as though I don’t respect your situation. I just want you to know that if I came across that way I apologize. I just get typing and can’t stop sometimes. You are doing an amazing job with Cedar and to be honest with you, regardless of whether he’s on the screen too much or not, he’s going to be fine. I can say this with the hindsight of raising three kids and trying to do everything “right” (as I thought at the time). All of them are well-adjusted, great humans with their quirks and foibles despite the times I stumbled. It’s not as easy as we moms think to screw things up with them :)

    Whatever you end up doing is going to be OK. I like it that you include yourself in this in saying “Honestly, I’d rather say, “Fine, you can’t regulate, now I’m calling the shots, and my shots are no screens for a while.” Of course, now I’m so tired of screens, that it makes sense I’d freak and go to zero screens.” There is nothing wrong with freaking once in awhile in my opinion. Actually in my experience, it makes kids sit up and take notice!

    The other thing is that today I was at the lake and right in front of my eyes, a kid, about five years old, had a total meltdown because…he was BORED!!!! We’re at the beach. The water is right there. It’s a beautiful day. His mom wanted to read. He’d piddled around in the sand a bit and then went berserk. The mom was SO annoyed and kept giving him ideas none of which he liked because of course, what he wanted was her full attention.

    I’m glad all your other goals are working so well, and hope this one comes out as you hope as well. But I think you’re absolutely right that electronics addiction is probably right up there with smoking–terribly hard to break.

    L

  6. Jennifer Chait says

    @Lynn – I don’t think you sounded bossy. You sounded right. I’m always telling people, “HEY it’s your responsibility to discuss food and know about your kid’s BMI.” But I’m slacking on screen time – just like I tell others not to slack.

    It’s VERY hard living in a blended family though. If it was just Cedar and me, the screen thing would not be such a big deal (I think). In my case though, my partner is 100% into his phone and video games and his kids are just as into screens as Cedar AND he’s reluctant to minimize their use. If he won’t limit screens then it makes it near impossible for me to do so without moving Cedar and me out of the situation.

    Yesterday we had a long talk about it though and things are looking up somewhat. At the very least so far my partner says he’s on board with a screen detox then minimal use. But we’re working out details (I’ll post about it soon).

    On the kid at the lake – this is a major reason I’m so over screens. Kids should be able to entertain themselves sometimes, yet nowadays if you take away screens kids are at a total loss. I was looking for advice online, and ALL of it (minus one post) said, “If you’re going to limit screens, make sure you provide plenty of entertainment for the kids.” That’s not my idea of fun. Of course I want to hang out with Cedar, but not 24/7. It’s lame that all the advice says, “Hey, be your kid’s entertainment or else.”

    Even my partner said, “Well, we’d have to entertain them, because they’re so bored without screens.” WHAT! There has to be a balance for kids. I can’t see life being much fun if the only choices are sitting in front of a screen or total boredom. I’m worried everyone’s raising a bunch of super boring humans. I thought your advice was good though, so I wouldn’t worry. Sometimes reality is tough – but we gotta deal.

  7. says

    I totally understand the challenge. We no longer have kids at home, but my husband is VERY slow to come on board with most everything I leap into and he has a hard time avoiding saying what he says is teasing, but what feels like knife cuts about my choices.

    But I’m really glad your partner has come on board for the trial at least. And I agree 100%, it’s NOT up to parents to entertain the kids. A big part of this to me is to allow the children to discover for themselves that they DO have the power to entertain themselves or they can choose not to.

    Thinking back to my own childhood, when I was alone (which was most of the time–I had an older brother with whom I barely related), I read a lot. I sang and danced along with records, built elaborate doll houses, lay outside under a huge forsythia bush and read or daydreamed, climbed trees, jumped rope, made up stories about the neighbors, played with our dog etc. I’m sure there were many times I said I was bored, but I survived and other kids will too.

    Yes, suggesting family outings and games can be a part of it, but that’s might be around wanting to spend time together, not alleviating boredom.

    One other suggestion which the kids might think is lame, but maybe not. Sit down together and brainstorm ideas about things they might do alone and as a family. This can be the sky’s the limit kind of brainstorming where no one says, “That’s a dumb idea.” Once boredom sets in, they may try all sorts of things. Post the list (the longer the better).

    GOOD LUCK!

  8. says

    Forgot to say along with the fact I survived, I don’t think anyone who knows me would say I’m boring, LOL!

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