Like most parents, I’ve struggled with how much screen time my kids watch in any given day and felt like I was being held hostage to their habit. My boys are great kids, get good grades at school, and participate in activities like Boy Scouts, but I must admit, technology was turning them into little teen Zombies. Fearing that the negative signs of entitlement, depression, and anger were surfacing for our boys due to unlimited amounts of screen time, Rae and I decided to take action and implemented some new house-rules. Instead of the old, “get on whenever you like”, screen time needed to be earned by completing the following each day: 1. stay calm and show kindness to everyone in the family; 2. complete a minimum of two chores; 3. eat a healthy meal with the family at the dinner table; and, 4. finish all homework. When these four requirements are completed, the boys earn one hour of screen time per night. Screen time includes any device, so texting is included.
As you might expect, both of our older boys responded with objection that we were ruining their lives. Going from unlimited screen time, to only one hour, seemed like an impossible feat to them at the time. But to everyone’s surprise, it actually didn’t take long to make the switch. After only a couple days, the whole family was much more engaged and happier. Wesley has returned to playing outside on his scooter and skateboard, building skate ramps and a mini-skatepark in our backyard. He asks to go to the Skate Park at least once a day or to the new pump track his grandparents discovered near UCSB. Wil is practicing music again on his trumpet, has started writing his own music, and experiments making candy in the kitchen. And although it’s never perfect, both boys are helping with Oliver more often, playing, and reading to him.
Only one hour per night may seem a bit rigid to some people, especially when there’s such an emphasis on teens keeping up with social media and our tech-crazed world. But as Rae and I see it, we are thrilled to see creativity blossom in our kids again. We’ll take the mess of board games and puzzles in the living room over device Zombies any day.