As frequent Growing a Green Family readers may know, I’m fed up with screens and trying to get the family to cut back. This is complicated for a few reasons:
- I work at home, with screens. It’s a little hypocritical to ask other people to quit using them when I use them all day long for work – that said, I don’t use them excessively when I’m not working, plus, it’s not as if I can quit my job. Still, it’s an issue.
- The kids REALLY like screens - video games especially.
- The kids don’t moderate their own screen time, even though they’re all old enough to.
- My partner Dave really likes screens - his phone especially.
- As parents, Dave and I do well in other areas, but not so great with screen time. Personally, I’ve let the screen issue go for way too long. At this point I’m super upset about it, yet, because I’ve failed to put my foot down, everyone is very into screens and probably assumes I’m fine with it, but I’m not. Dave isn’t the best about cutting down on stuff the kids like either. He’d rather let the kids use screens then be the bad guy and say no.
- As parents in a mixed family, we don’t see entirely eye to eye about screens. Since two of the kids aren’t mine, if I say no to screens while the other half of the house uses them as much as they like, Cedar will get intensely angry and claim that life isn’t fair and it’s frustrating for me as well. Attacking major issues like screen time, while living as a mixed family, only works if both sides are on board. Since we’re not totally together on this, it can be complicated.
All this said, we did have our first family discussion about screen-time…
Last weekend, we sat everyone down and had a long talk about screen time. Everyone had mixed opinions, but overall it went pretty well. Here’s where we stood opinion-wise…
Me: Totally on board with a screen week detox – NO screens for a week to help get back on track. Then I want to see less screens (screens in moderation) at all times.
Dave: Seems willing to try a screen detox week, but also kind of reluctant as if it might upset everyone’s plans. He did seem on board with cutting back in general.
Two of the kids: Dave’s oldest daughter along with my son Cedar (the youngest in the house), didn’t say much with regards to the screen detox week, probably because they really LOVE video games. Both expressed being “ok” if forced to do a screen detox but would likely not want to give up screens if given a choice. These two also didn’t seem nuts about cutting back or coming up with ideas about activities to do besides screens.
The other kid: Dave’s other daughter (the middle child in the house) expressed some of the same concerns I’ve had. She watches a lot of TV but does not spend nearly as much time playing video games as the other two do. She noted that she’d like a screen detox week and she’d like to cut back because she feels like people ignore her due to screens. For example, she said, “Sometimes I’d like to do stuff with people, but everyone is playing video games.” She also felt it was unfair that the other two get first dibs on the screens to use them for video games. Both issues are a big deal. The other two tend to steal away the screens, not giving her a turn unless urged by a parent. Also, the other two are fine playing games on their own, while she’s left out for the most part and would like to be hanging out, doing something else.
On screen detox week:
So, two of us are really on board with having a screen-free week (me and kid #2). The other three are semi or reluctantly on board. Dave and I didn’t think it was fair to spring screen-free week on anyone, so we discussed other activities we could do and asked everyone to come up with some ideas and lists of screen-free activities.
Kid #2 came up with dozens of ideas while the other two came up with a few each, but it was a still good start. Dave and I also contributed some ideas about screen-free activities.
On cutting back in general:
Myself, Dave and kid #2 are on board with cutting back on screen time in general. The other two kids said they’d do it, but in my opinion, it felt more like like they’ll only do it because we’re making them (which frankly, works for me).
As for how much screen time people think we need, well, that really varied. Most people in the house felt that two hours a day was fair. I felt like two hours was a decent cut-back starting point, but also still a bit excessive. Mainly because everyone around here will often use screens together. For example if Dave plays a video game, one or more of us may watch him. The kids often watch the other kids play and people surf the Internet together, watch shows at the same time, and so on.
If you’ve got five people in the house, each with two hours worth of screen time to use, that still can add up to 10 hours of screen time per day, per person, depending on how much time you spend watching other people use screens. With this in mind, I doubt the “2 hour” deal will work, but we’re new to cutting back so we’re just going to see what happens and play it by ear. Beyond screen detox week, we don’t want to create any super strict rules to start with.
The money vs. free activities issue:
When we asked the kids to come up with screen-free ideas they did, but most were $-based ideas. For example, going shopping, going to concerts, going to the beach. This is a big problem. No one around here is rich for one thing, plus, from a purely creative mindset, there’s plenty to do that’s low-cost or free that doesn’t involve screens. The kids didn’t see it this way though. Almost zero of their ideas involved free activities.
That’s okay though, because $ ideas are better than none to start with. Plus, once we saw what was going on, Dave and I told the kids that obviously we won’t be doing 1000s of high-cost activities (unless they all get jobs) in place of screen time and that everyone needed to come up with free ideas too.
Due to the above, I’m planning on coming up with my own list of free screen-free activities here at GAGF (later on).
The entertain me issue:
Many of the ideas, most in fact, that the kids came up with revolved around us (parents) doing stuff with them. That’s fine of course, but I stated that part of my issue with too much screen time is that I feel like the kids can’t manage on their own, unless screens are involved. I also said I didn’t want to feel like I had to entertain half grown kids all the time. Dave and I pointed out that they one, have each other to hang out with. Two, have other friends (or could make more). Three, it won’t kill you to do stuff on your own sometimes.
What’s happening right now:
Honestly, Dave and I thought the screen-free/fewer screens talk went really well. No one freaked out. No one whined. Plus, as noted, kid number 2 really chimed in and had some great opinions and ideas.
As for now, we’re going to kick off a screen-free week later this summer, mainly because we think everyone should be here when we do it (right now we’ve got kids with wacky schedules) and we want everyone to be prepared. In the meantime, we’re focused on cutting back – everyone is going to 1-2 hours per day of personal screen time.
IF cutting back doesn’t work though, I’ve already told everyone that I want to go right to zero screens. I’m hoping this encourages folks to moderate their own screen time better. Right now all the kids are visiting their other parents, but as of the weekend, everyone will be in-house for a week, so we’ll see if people can limit their screen time.
I’ll update as it happens. It should be interesting.