It takes a bit of trial and error to find what works for negotiating time limits on TV, devices and computers for kids. Because I see so many teens attached and addicted to their devices; I draw a line from my six and eight-year-olds’ incessant pleas to play more Temple Run to a total destruction of their quality time, creativity, potential intelligence, and just about everything good life has to offer. I know, I’m a little worked up about it.
For our generation of parenting, McDonald’s is a dirty word, Kindergarteners sing “I’m sexy and I know it…” and our kids’ animal avatars can crib a nap in a stranger’s den. No wonder we walk around commiserating about how to gain control of a culture delivering on our child’s every whim and increasingly out of our fearful grasps.
So, while I wean myself from media hysteria, I’m trying a few different approaches to give the kids enough screen time while I realize that it’s better to embrace reality and coax the best out of it for my kids rather than to run screaming for the hills at the mere mention of “Can I use your iPad to play….”
#1. Let them eat cake!
Well, not cake, or sure cake if you want. What I mean is – don’t worry about it! Let them play Temple Run, watch Victorious, tackle friends on Madden 13 or whatever their little hearts desire to their hearts’ content. Insist all homework, reading and chores are done first. Then go enjoy yourself while they’re engrossed in one screen or another.
#2. Let them eat cake - weekends only!
The same as above but only on the weekends. Weekdays are reserved for homework, reading, and educational computer games only. TV and video games are saved for the weekend.
#3. Over schedule them until they have no free time, ever
Do your kids have activities every day after school followed by homework, piano practice, a quick trip to Kumon, read (read, read!) and then lights out? This is the surest way to limit or eliminate screen time. But at what price? Read this funny and fantastic Vanity Fair article about our crazed mindset to make sure our kids succeed at all costs.
#4. Hide the iTouch and forget where you placed it
This can kill a good 2-4 weeks of your child’s app happiness.
#5. I’m techie and I know it
Get down and dirty in the details of limiting explicit content on every music service, You Tube, etc., set time limits to play, and KNOW MORE THAN YOUR CHILDREN EVER WILL ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY in a dim hope that you can beat the evil digital world seizing control of their minds. Yeah, forget it.
Kidding aside, a best practice here is to set safe searching parameters at google.com/preferences to protect them from what might pop up with a stray keystroke. If you have an iMac, set time limits for each user and web site safeguards under Settings/Parental Control. You can also download the Time Lock app for iTouches and iPhones though it’s a pain since you must log in and set the timer each time your child plays. Or, set restrictions on the iPad or iPhone for You Tube, surfing, etc.
#6 Promote the good, avoid the bad
The rational approach: Limit screen time (this covers all big and little screens) to one hour per day after homework, reading and chores are done. Spend the time to oversee it, clock it, safeguard it, listen to pleas for more and remind them that it’s one hour only. Read Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken or at least the crib sheet on her Amazon page about why playing games is good – especially when you play with people you know. And then get a good night’s sleep knowing that your kids are learning the necessary skills for their futures – which will be far different than your past.
#7. Take the Cursing Mommy approach
If you haven’t read Ian Frazier’s Cursing Mommy column in The New Yorker, then you’re in for a fall off your chair treat. My favorite is Easy Cocktails for the Cursing Mommy - which may give you some ideas about how expletives (used in private, of course) can relieve some of your media tension. Better yet, he just published a book, The Cursing Mommy Book of Days, which might provide handy 3 a.m. reading while you contemplate your kids’ device addictions.