Screen Time...d

The following post was sponsored by Kid-do, an activity timeline app now available on Android and iPad. 
I've been meaning to write the screen time post for months because I feel like it's necessary but haven't really had much of a story to tell until recently because somehow we've been able to dodge that bullet for the last several years. (Fable couldn't care less about games of any kind and while I'm sure Bo and Revi would LOVE to play iPad, we only have one and Hal takes it to work with him every day.)

Yes, there is TV. And yes we watch that thing on the daily. The little ones watch a couple shows in the morning as well as the late afternoon (Disney Jr, Sprout, PBS and Netflix) and we watch Idol (we are ten episodes behind, however) and COSMOS as a family. We have movie nights (Secret Life of Walter Mitty is on the docket for this weekend. Last weekend it was Napoleon Dynamite) and Frozen is on rotation at least once a week. (Revi calls Bo "my Elsa" and introduced a stranger to Bo by saying, "This is BoboMyElsa" which makes me want to cry because, hello.) We bust out the Wii once or twice a month to play Just Dance as a family and/or one of the Nintendoland games that came with the console. (We keep the system controls in the box out of reach of all hands when it isn't in use.)

The kids do not have iPads or iTouches or iAnythings and that will stay that way until they're old enough to convince us otherwise. This is extremely important to me and even more important to Hal who is the one person in our house to own an iPad. (He struggled HARDCORE with gaming addiction when we first met. Like, he would be up until 3am playing games when I was pregnant with Archer. This means he is SUPER aware of video games being potentially hazardous and addictive.)

The kids are allowed to play on it occasionally as a special treat... but super blue moon style. I don't have kid games on my phone so that's off the table, too. (BTW, and this is why I haven't posted about this, this is not a projection onto anyone else. Our anti-gamer thing is a personal choice and one that has a lot to do with what Hal and I were brought up with and how we feel comfortable raising our kids. You are awesome and amazing and we're all just doing what we do.)

That said, last year Archer started playing Minecraft at a friend's house. Pretty soon, whenever we planned playdates he insisted on going to said friend's house to play... because, well, DUH.

I was the same way growing up because my parents didn't let me watch television unless it was a nature show. (I know everything there is to know about marsupials and duck-billed

It is a dangerous thing to be black and white with one's children and while my parents kept me rather sheltered as a child, they also listened to me when I asked them to open their minds to compromise.

My parents, like me, would rather I did what I was going to do anyway under their supervision.

SO. For Hanukkah/Christmas, Hal bought Archer Sim City for the family computer (which lives in the hallway nook). Archer's love of city planning and building worlds was palpable and we thought, this would be a good compromise. Archer would be able to play SIMS when his homework was done on weekdays and on Sundays/downtime day.

Except. He became obsessed with Sim City. He rushed through his homework so that he could play. He talked about the game non-stop. He stopped reading. And sketching. And writing short stories. And philosophizing about life and space. He didn't want to go outside and play. He didn't want to be with us on family outings. He just wanted to stay inside and play SIMS.

And when he wasn't playing, he was asking when he could play.

Frustrated, Hal and I pulled the plug.

Cold Turkey.

No more. 

We told him he would have to take a month hiatus from the game. That we would revisit it down the line but that he needed a break. He was addicted to playing and even though it was a BUILDING game (which is how we justified it for the months he was playing) it was still a GAME. In a virtual world. With no redeeming qualities that extended beyond his own satisfaction.

He became a different person when he was playing the game and although he only played an hour at a time, it was enough to alter his moods, his posture, his ambition.

After explaining this to Archer he agreed with us and told us he understood what we were saying. Which is just so Archer. He didn't fight us at all. He agreed that he had become borderline obsessed with the game and that he didn't want it to become the problem Hal and I felt it was becoming.

That was a month ago.

Fast forward to last week, when after asking (daily) if he could play SIM CITY again and me being like, "DUDE! PLEASE STOP ASKING, AHHH!" Archer wrote me a letter.

He wrote me a letter explaining why he felt that he was ready to play Sim City again and it was convincing, eloquent and reminded me of being his age and doing THE EXACT SAME THING with my parents. All through childhood... adolescence... adulthood.

I thanked him for the letter, told him I respected that he wrote it and thought he brought up some really interesting and convincing points. And then, after sussing the situation with Hal, we decided that Archer could start playing again... on a trial basis, four days a week, thirty minutes a day.

"And from there, we'll see how we go..."

Archer was happy.

I was happy.

Hal was... well... skeptical. But smiling? Kind of? (We actually got in a huge argument about all of this because in many ways he is the tougher parent and I'm kind of, well, easy... ish. I mean...  If you write me a convincing and beautifully written letter, I will likely do whatever you say/give you my kidney. Hal takes a bit of elbow grease in the convincing department.)

..Our only ask what that the 30 minutes be pretty set in stone so it didn't turn into a battle every time the microwave timer went off.

This was our first week doing the 30 minute timed game situation and so far so good. We used the Kid-do app instead of the microwave timer three rooms away because this way Archer could monitor his own game time, and when time was up, it didn't come as a frustrating shock. (Like a youtube video, you can SEE how much time has passed and how much time is left.)

In Kid-do's words:

By illustrating the passage of time as horizontal (rather than as circular), the Kid-Do Activity Timeline... demystifies time, helping ease (kids) through transitions. As they visualize the progression of time, they can measure for themselves how much time remains before the next Event...  With Kid-Do you can create daily or weekly routines like "bedtime" or "getting ready for school," and break them up into shorter activities... The timer shows you the exact time remaining in a whole routine as well as the number of minutes left in the activity going on at that moment. The Kid-Do Activity Timeline gives kids a visual representation of how much time they have left in a particular activity.


Time will tell if this is the right solution for us and whether or not there will be new letters written and new meetings had, but for me, as important as it is for Archer to realize his potential as someone who can do SO MANY amazing things with his time besides video games, so is it important for him to feel like he can say his piece and be HEARD.

So, while this has been a bit of a conundrum in our home these last few months, it has also been incredibly humbling. For all of us.
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What about you guys? How if at all do you monitor screen time? Video games? iThings? Television? As always, would love to hear from you. 

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