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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Research shows that kids who spend 10 hours or more in front of screens each week have trouble sleeping and do worse in educational programs (like school or home school).
- Some research shows that too much screen time can make kids depressed.
- 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.
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