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Forty Days Unplugged

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The title is an exaggeration.  I can’t entirely unplug my computer.  I do need email, skype and everything else to stay connected me to family in the USA.  I did however cut out the tv, the ipad, facebook, and my internet surfing habits.  This social experiment involved not just myself but my children and occasionally my husband.

Let me be clear that this is my own experience.  The results my family achieved while we unplugged were dramatic and very rewarding but I can make no promises for other families.  I love TV.  I love the internet.  I become half zombie while staring at screens.  Thing 1 has the same affliction.  We become annoyed if disturbed while we are engrossed in our favorite screen.  After our move to Germany I experimented with allowing the children to enjoy their screen time without limits.  They were allowed to watch tv as much as they liked from morning to bedtime.  There was no set limit for time on the iPad either but it was unavailable occasionally since the adults in the house also liked to enjoy its glory.

The experiment did not go as well as I had liked.  I was hoping that the tv would become less important.  That Thing 1 would no longer obsess about it.  That he could wake up without asking for a movie or go to bed without requesting what movie he would like the next day.  The experiment did not curb the addiction.  We just ended up watching movies all day long for months on end.  Barely pausing to do anything else.  I stuck with it hoping he would get over the tv binge and move into a phase where screens were no big deal.  It never happened.  Six months later and he was just as in love with the iPad and movies as ever.  It was time for a new extreme.

I blame myself.  Its my genes.  As I said I love tv and I love the internet.  I can’t get enough.  I have to make rules for myself to stay away from screens or I will use them all day long.  I can easily self diagnose that I am addicted and Thing 1 is too.  Thankfully Thing 2 appears to have her father’s genes and can take it or leave it when it comes to screens.  She’s more interested in sword fighting and dolls but she is not entirely immune from getting sucked into her brother’s movies from time to time.

As Lent approached I decided I had the opportunity to change our lifestyle dramatically.  It was time for us to give up screens and find out what we had all been missing.  I unplugged the tv.  Moved the computer upstairs where it could only be used after the children went to bed.  The results were immediate.  I had patience again and a lot of it.  I no longer felt like someone was interrupting me which is how I felt even if the task at hand was as silly as making a facebook post.  Problems weren’t as severe because I could intervene earlier before they escalated.  I am a naturally calm person so yelling has never been a big problem for me but I found I wasn’t yelling at all anymore.  I am still not saintly enough to be interested in toddler games for 8 hours a day though.  I have to find other things to do like reading a book, cooking, baking or even coloring.  None of these tasks disengaged me like a computer did though.  I didn’t feel interrupted if the kids misbehaved (okay maybe a bit if I was cooking).

Life improved for Thing 1 as well.  He suddenly had more time in his day and started volunteering to help mom in the kitchen (for better or worse).  He played more with Thing 2.  Their games became creatively more complicated and were lasting significantly longer.  All of his activities were lasting longer.  He could build with his Legos or Magformers for a full hour and even remember to clean them up when he was done.

Thing 2 was unchanged.  No noticeable differences of any kind other than getting her big brother back.  Thing 2 is the reason that I know this experiment is not for every family.  There are children like Thing 2 who will never need limits on their screen time.  Who naturally want to get up and play after one Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  If only all kids could be as self regulated as Thing 2.

Easter has come and gone.  TV, movies and iPad are open for service again.  I need your help though Ladies (and gents).  If you have a screen addicted child what limits have you set to maintain the balance in your homes.

What should our new house policy be?

Comments

  1. Our #2 of 4 (soon to be 5) kids (4 yrs) is a screen addict from before he was a year old. He could sit through a full movie at 9 months while his older brother, 1.5, would drift in and out of the room looking for more.interesting things to do. Our other kids like TV too, but are content with it off just the same. We started a token system with them just a few months ago. Each child gets a token (30min screen time)/day. They are also.able to.earn one more token each day by doing various things (staying in bed all night, getting dressed an ready for.school without me nagging them.etc.). They are able to.turn in their tokens each day and if one chooses to jump in on anothers choice while they are watching they have to trun in their token as well (otherwise they would techinically be able.to watch up to 3 hrs if all of them turned in.both tokens each day) This system has worked great for us, we also are able to.deny their token use when it is still light outside and they should be out playing, it has ended up that they end up only watching 1-2 30min shows/day on the weekdays usually after bath time. Our 4 and 5 year old usually pick a show each, our 3 year old is still not totally “into” the whole system I monitor his TV watching during the day and our 1 yr old is completely uninterested in TV. We are more relaxed on the weekends but are usually busy oit of the house anyways, and we live on an island with outdoor activities available year round. While our screen addict still does ask.to..watch “something” regularly it isnt half as much as before and when we say no or this is your only time for.today, he accepts it without an issue. Such a nice change from before.

  2. Heidi M says:

    We allow a total of 2 shows per day. If unchecked, my son would definitely watch tv or play on the wii/computer/phone all day long. I never turn on the television unless specifically asked for a show. The shows are only 30 minutes long. If it is an hour long show, he gets one. Video games, I allow 15-30 minutes depending on what else we’ve done during the day. Most times when he asks to watch/play something, I suggest some other non-zombie activity. Most days it works very well. I find that the less plugged in he is, the better the behavior I get out of him. There are occasions where we allow more viewing/playing time. But these are definitely spread out. I never allow free reign for television or games. He must ask first before anything goes on. If it is turned on without asking, it is turned off again, and not allowed at all for the rest of the day. If whining ensues, he loses the. Ext day as well. This has really worked well for us, and our son has benefitted greatly from these rules. We rarely have outbursts when the rules are enforced.

  3. Margaret B says:

    Your post is so timely! I’ve been super short on patience recently with our 3 that are 3 and under. I think this diagnosis is just what I needed. I thought I was SUCH a good mama because I was limiting the girls TV time but I didn’t consider my screen time. Since I use online banking I’m not sure I can totally turn off the computer but I’m going to experiment with no screen time during the day…yikes! I’m nervous just thinking about it…I heard a pastor once say, if there’s an object or idol you can’t give up you probably should (this excludes chocolate of course…lol). Thank you again for your post…you sound like an amazing mommy, juggling the kiddos and being a millitary wife…keep up the great work!

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