Every morning, sometimes even before anyone says hello to each other, one of our children asks, “Is it screen time yet?”. I am tired and worn out from home educating and feeling like I’m always falling short. I want to yell at my husband for bringing these devices into our home in the first place. If it were up to me PlayStations and iPads would be mysterious and elusive toys that belonged only in friends’ houses. However, I know that Will isn’t to blame. We live in a busy, connected world and in the same way I tried to keep my kids away from sugar and fast food, the bubble eventually bursts.
As a natural chef in my life before children, I understand that it’s not fair to change someone’s diet dramatically by removing everything they love. That won’t lead to lasting change. It leads to hunger and resentment. Instead, the key is to add in new foods for them to enjoy, filling their plates with so much good stuff that the bad naturally gets squeezed out of the equation. Do this bit by bit and eventually you have a plate full of nutrient-dense goodness. I decided to do the same with my kids and our screen time dilemma. My plan was to overwhelm them with fun.
SETTING OUR INTENTIONS
I didn’t feel that I could really lead our family in the right direction without knowing exactly where we both stand as parents. How much screen time is okay? What kind of content do we want our kids to engage with? How do we want their day to be spent? For me, one of my main values and intentions for my family is that there is time for creative play and thinking. Can my kids think creatively and play on screens? Sure, there are creative games like Minecraft or they can play around with coding games as well. But what about watching a YouTube star play Minecraft for hours on end? That doesn’t sit right with me and my values because it has removed any opportunity for creativity.
I like to revisit my values every so often (usually spurred on when struggling with an issue) and I use this value setting as a way to get closer to my partner. We brainstorm together and work to really listen to one another. I like to dominate the conversation with brilliant ideas(!) so we set a timer for five minutes to allow my husband to talk, uninterrupted. We finish by drawing up a list of what is important and then work to actively live out those values daily with our children.
“To solve the screen time dilemma; my plan was to overwhelm them with fun”
I used to hate art projects. But I’ve recently taken the pressure off and realised it’s as simple as having art supplies readily available and an easy-to-follow routine for setting up and clearing away. We now have a mat in our home education space next to three art bins. Each bin holds supplies such as tissue paper, rocks, paint, beads, string, watercolours, crayons, googley eyes, etc. It is all eye level for my kids, and they can easily pull out the mat, lay it out on the table and begin a project. When they are done, clearing away is a breeze! They put all of the supplies back into the designated bin and I wipe down the mat and fold it up. Often I will pull out the art supplies and leave them on the table as an invitation. I am surprised by how often my kids gravitate toward the paintbrushes over their iPads when it is out and visible. A perfect example of adding in the good to squish out the not-so-desirable.
Part of the reason we were finding ourselves in a serious screen time slump is because it’s the tail end of winter; wet, cold and muddy. On the days when it isn’t raining, the ground is still too wet to roll around on and the air chills little fingers and toes to the bone. It is much more desirable to stay inside under a fluffy blanket. But then we decided to bring nature inside. We hunted for a snail to bring inside and observe. Now Martin is living the good life inside of a small plastic fish container munching on lettuce and cucumbers while my girls watch him with fascination. A real life snail was much more enticing than YouTube this morning and we learned a lot about habitats, kindness, taking care of a snail and that when we scoop up some dirt for our snail we might also accidentally scoop up a small slug and end up with two friends to observe. (His name is Bob.)
We also work with timers and other boundaries around our screen time. We retire our electronics to the same spot at 6pm. But I hope that what is helpful about what I am sharing with you is that it isn’t so much about structure and following bullet points from a parenting guru or even the studies on what is safe or “right” when it comes to screens for our kids. When it comes down to it, we are all learning to navigate a whole new world of parenting, and if what you want in your day is more connection and fun and less mind-numbing screen time, then you can start by adding in more connection, more play, more creativity, rather than taking things away. The more you engage with your kids in meaningful ways, the less hours there will be in the day for them to fall into the screen trap.
Jasmine is a homeschooling mother of two, a childbirth educator and a doula. She lives and teaches her children in Eugene, Oregon after surviving cancer in 2018. She is supported immensely by her loving and very understanding husband, Will.
VISIT Jasmine’s website at jasminerosedoula.com
EXPLORE Ideas for alternatives to screens in 101 Things For Kids To Do Outside by Dawn Issac
READ Remotely Controlled: How Television is Damaging Our Lives - and What We Can Do About it by Aric Sigman