How much time our kids spend in front of a screen is something we have almost always been “strict" about in our household.
It wasn't until this past summer when I started working from home full time that I found myself stretching an hour to an hour and a half or allowing just one more episode of Pokemon so I could get in a few more emails quietly. (#MomGuilt)
I also realized that I wasn't counting when we passively had the news on in the background as TV time and that we weren't always setting a stellar example for our kids as we tended to use our phones during what should have been family time.
Even on the days when our children weren't directly watching TV, they were still exposed to some sort of screen—and I started to notice it in their behavior.
They both started to repeat some things that they likely heard on the news and in some of the (G-rated) shows that we thought were appropriate, but realized were not based on our family standards. And during the very few times that we did allow some kind of game playing on one of our devices, it was meltdown central as soon as their time was up.
Ultimately, screen time had somehow turned into an activity that got worked into our day simply because we allotted the time for it. It just became part of our daily schedule.
That's when I decided to go cold turkey.
No more TV. No more devices. No more screens.
Spoiler alert: It ended up making a tremendous difference for our entire family.
We live in a digitally-driven and media-focused society, and I'm finding it harder and harder to monitor what my children are consuming.
I can put as many limitations and restrictions as I want on what my children are being exposed to, but I found myself spending so much time doing so that I wondered, What's the point?
The funny thing is, almost 100% of the time, my kids would rather participate in an outdoor activity or use their creativity through indoor play than spend their time watching TV, anyway.
So my plan was to stop offering it up as an option and after the first week of implementing my strategy, I realized they didn't even notice. Rather than work it into the day, we just filled that old TV time with other activities.
This meant that sometimes the kids were “bored" and had to use their imaginations to make up a game. It also meant that I couldn't always count on TV time to get things done and I had to rearrange my schedule a bit.
It was amazing to see the immediate shift in their behavior—they became calmer and the defiant behavior significantly decreased. They were more creative with their time and energy, and watching them pick up a book instead of begging to watch a movie was a proud mom moment.
It was also obvious that my husband and I needed to take a look at our own media consumption and lead by example. We need to work, so we couldn't cut out all forms of screens, but we put some major restrictions on our digital use as well.
Instead of immediately grabbing our phones in the morning, we spent the first few moments of the day connecting with each other and being more present while we got the kids ready for school.
Instead of watching the news, we used that time to enjoy breakfast as a family and waited to turn on the TV or get our dose what's going on in the world until drop-off was complete.
We set guidelines around phone use in the evening and we made it a point to put our phones down when one of the kids asked a question or needed our undivided attention—especially during meals.
We had quiet time in the evening before bed and even found some family games to play. Once we realized that our son's nightmares were no longer a nightly occurrence, it wasn't hard to figure out why.
It has been several months since we made this change and while we do occasionally enjoy a movie night or spend a good chunk of a Sunday watching football, it is a rare these days that our kids are exposed to screens.
If they ask, we suggest a different option and typically have to put our agenda aside and engage with them for a bit of time. As soon as we do, they forget about that game on the iPad or show they were asking for five minutes ago, and we get an opportunity to tap into our childhood through play which we've really enjoyed.
The result of cutting screen time out of our lives has been getting to enjoy more quality time together. That they are far more important than anything that a screen has to offer and that we don't have to become overloaded with media, even in a media-driven culture. And I would even go as far as saying—it has saved our kids and our family.