The hut-tent-car, or why we limit screen time.

by threegirlpileup

The other morning, both the kids were a little squirmy.  Anna in particular.  It was a cold and rainy day, and I had my hands full doing some household chores.  Anna wanted to turn on the computer, but I said no, let’s look around for something else to do.  She wanted me to tell her what do to, but vehemently rejected the few suggestions I made.  She finally headed off to her room and I went back to filing the dishwasher.

Before long, I realized that there was a cold draft in the kitchen.  I looked over and saw that the door to the screen porch was open.  I looked out, and this is what I saw:


“Hi Mom,”  said Maggie.  “This is our hut-tent-car.”

“Yeah!” said Anna.  “We made it OURSELVES!”

And they went back to what they were doing, absorbed in the details of their imaginary adventure.

This is a perfect illustration of why I have found it best to limit screen time around here.  In some ways, a dreary Sunday morning seems like the perfect time to curl up with video.  And on some days, it might be. But we’d had more than a little screen time the day before, and my instinct was that the computer would suck them in and set the tone for the day. And while I’m sure the girls would have enjoyed whatever game they played, I know from experience that it would not have brought them to that joyful, connected groove that I encountered on the porch.

We’ll never be a screen-free family.  We enjoy our television and (obviously) our computers.  But it’s  never felt right to take the path of unlimited screen time, either.  While the theory is that kids will learn to self-regulate, it’s been my experience that an excess of screen time is really detrimental to our family life overall.

But what constitutes an excess of screen time?  Well, that question is certainly a work in progress around here.  I sometimes long desperately for the clarity of folks on the ends of the spectrum–to determine that TV is bad and that their kids will have none of it, or that electronic media are  just part of learning, and their kids can have as much as they want.  We certainly have no hard and fast rules about number of hours or set times for computer use.  In general, we try to stay away from computers and tv in the mornings, when they seems to have a knack for derailing our day.  Mainly, I just try to follow my gut instinct on what we’re all needing at a particular time, and try to guide rather than dictate.

I certainly don’t have this all figured out. I know that I really want to help my kids learn how to move through that place of squirmy boredom.  Electronic media can be so entirely compelling (at least for my kids) that it short-circuits that process.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “No, let’s not turn on the television now,” and then literally within minutes the girls are involved in some elaborate game.  And if I’d said yes, that game would never have happened.

The kids are incredibly good at being in the moment and reaching for the joy at hand.  Which is sometimes electronic in form.  Hopefully, my role can be to keep an ear on the overall pulse of our family, to help our little choices add up to a bigger picture that feels balanced and whole.