Breaking Up with Screens

Screen time. Other than perhaps sleep training, I don’t know that there are two words that can cause more rifts between parents. It seems to be one of those things that parents are either all for (because screens are the future, we are raising digital “natives”, and they need to progress with the times) or totally against (because it stunts social skill development, can cause emotional disconnect, and overstimulates brains). I refuse to believe this is a black-and-white, all-or-nothing issue.

I grew up in the 80’s. Cable was just becoming a “thing”, and I loved cartoons. I watched Looney Tunes every day after school, and suffered zero side effects of this. (Minus my uncanny ability to paint trompe l’oeil tunnels, of course. I kid, I kid…) However, I clearly remember the horror of the cartoon “hour” ending, and the evening news/Dateline/60-Minutes starting up. There was no 24/7 menu option; you watched them for the short window they were on, then…that’s all, folks!//

We ditched cable recently at my house, but the media options are still omnipresent. My four year old knows how to turn on the television, start up the Roku menu, and stream endless episodes of Spiderman and His Amazing Friends with almost alarming speed and accuracy for someone who does not yet read. Both kids can pick up a smartphone and navigate to games and movies with no trouble. They are generally really respectful of when we say “no” to screen time, but I started noticing a link between my kids zoning out, not doing what we asked them to do, and fighting amongst themselves more after a screen binge. I started limiting it sharply, which lead to constant pleading and negotiation for just one more episode of Wild Kratts…puh-leaaaase! I had heard about parenting using ticket systems for media (i.e., do chores for tickets for blocks of screen time) but a) That seemed like a pain for me, and b) I didn’t like the idea of elevating screen time to some pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, after all the “real life” stuff was out of the way.

So, we ended it. Done. At least while the weather is nice, screen time is over. We do a family movie night on Friday evenings, and maybe a cartoon in the early morning hours on the weekend (because I refuse to parent at 6:30 am when we have nowhere to be!), but gone are the days of after school cartoons and post-dinner Netflix binges.

What have I noticed in the months since we did this?

Less fighting. My kids are fighting with each other less. Maybe they’re just in a different phase and it would have decreased anyway, or maybe forcing them to interact more with each other has helped. I have no clue, but I’ll take it.

-Less arguing about chores. I had just about had it with the “I’ll put the toys away after Curious George is over!” They do as asked more readily.

-More creativity. Necessity is the mother of invention, right? With no one to entertain them on television, there has been more creative play and invented games around here. Totally unprompted, both boys made up a wildlife rescue game in the yard last Friday afternoon for two glorious hours without any input from me.

-No arguing about who controls the screens. No more pleading with me for screen time; no more screaming at each other about who gets to choose the next show. Of course they still do fight sometimes, but at least it’s not the same fight over and over!

So that’s where we are right now. Will the ban continue forever? Heck no. Will we still watch a movie on a rainy afternoon? Yup. I honestly don’t think binge-watching MMCH (that’s Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, for the uninitiated) will cause any long-term harm, but I don’t think stopping cold-turkey will, either. For us, right now, however, this is working.

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