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Screen Time and Family Screen Policy

I just watched a New York Times mini-documentary on China's Web Junkies, and it simply shocked me.

I don't spend much time fearing things, but internet addiction in kids/teens really scares me. Ever since I read a research-based article connecting the Thurston High School shooter to heavy usage of violent video games, I've made a commitment to never allowing violent games in our home. "Using" the internet has all the makings for a serious addiction: easy access, mindless pleasure and a way to fill the void inside. As the video clearly shows, loneliness is both the root and the outcome of craving connection through the internet. If we're honest, many of us parents are already addicted. I know I am on some level. Email and the worldwide web were emerging as I began my career, and I've never worked without the company of a computer. Now I can/need to view my three email accounts from my phone and research anything that pops into my mind. Facebook can be all too tempting, as it does serve as a social medium for staying connected with my friends in town and across the globe. There can be pure joy found in heartwarming messages that come at just the right moment. But, in my opinion, connecting socially online shouldn't happen while your kids are craving your attention.

As busy parents, I don't expect anyone to go offline, but its important to become aware of our usage in the presence of our kids. We are settling the cultural norm by demonstrating our values. If we don't give our kids the deep and genuine attention they crave now, it's all too likely that they will turn to the internet or other addictions when they grow up. If you're following my new blog, you'll know that my family recently drafted our first Family Screen Policy.

Despite his friends getting vastly more screen time, our does son seem very satisfied with earning a limited amount through reading. Our kids are still way more interested in sports, making art and getting outside, but at least now we both have some guidance about when it's allowed. I've also found that I'm walking my talk more now and fighting the impulse to check-in online when the kids are around. Does your family have a screen policy? Have you witnessed or felt addicted to the internet? How important (or challenging) is it for you to unplug?

This is guest post by Darcy Cronin, a mother of three, blogger, and small business adventurer. Darcy became certified as a Simplicity Parenting Coach to help busy families create paths toward meaningful values and more sustainable lifestyles. Follow her blog and sign up for workshops at Darcy's Utopia.


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Didn't we just talk about this?

Our screen policy: kids earn screen time by practicing their instruments. Generally about 30 minutes per day. They use it to play Minecraft. (They are 14 and 11).

We have one desktop computer. We don't own smart phones, laptops, tablets, or any other devices except an emergency flip cellphone. Neither do the kids. They have email accounts, but no FB or other social media. We also turn the computer off Friday sunset to Saturday sunset for Shabbat.

Our kids consider us draconian Luddites, but they deal.

And yes, as someone who spends a lot of time at the computer writing, I fully grasp the delectably addictive nature of the internet.

Big topic in our house! We Have three kids in 1st and 3rd grades. We have a no screen time during the school week rule, unless it is for the purpose of homework. We have a chore chart - each day the kids have listed their homework, as well as one small household chore to complete something that would take 5 minutes to complete. If they complete all of their homework and chores throughout the week, they earn their weekly allowance, plus 2 hours of screen time each on Saturday and Sunday.

Screen time for us = videos (we don't have cable, so no broadcast TV), Wii or Xbox (typically just dance, karaoke or Minecraft), or time on a computer/i-pad, which they use generally for games.

The kids whine and complain about it, as they believe they should be able to play Minecraft and watch videos all hours of every day, but their behavior in general is much better with the above limits.

I have thought a lot about how this will change as they grow. At our school, all kids in 5th grade and up tend to have smart phones, which leads to a whole new world of social issues (pressure to keep up with the Jones', new ways of bullying, social pressures, access to inappropriate content). Sigh... Surely we will change our rules as the kids grow, but for now, this works for us.

No arbitrary limits here. Our children will live in a world dependent increasingly on technology, I want my kids to embrace that not fear it. We do not have any violent video games, but that is because they haven't shown an interest (6 and 9). I guess I'll have to cross that bridge when we get there. Mostly they are interested in MineCraft (which they play together over the LAN) and words with friends. We do tell the kids to put away the laptops/tablets if there is something they need to do (chores/meals/family activities). Because there is no artificial limit I don't think there is the same level of obsession I see with some kids. My kids know they can leave it and come back to it as they wish. Just because they are different toys/games/entertainment than what we had growing up doesn't mean it is bad. You wouldn't think to limit the amount of time you child could play with legos, or read books. Why should I dictate their leisure time activities ( I do supervise and stay aware of what they are up to)

Limits are not necessarily arbitary or artificial... they should be carefully thought out and understood/agreed by all. In our house, if there is not a set amount of time for screens vs. other things, things do not go so well for anyone. Other kids may be better able to self-regulate their use time and balance activities but we are not the only ones we know for whom this does not come naturally. It wasn't working for us to have it be a free for all, so we needed to change it and mutually set up a fair limit that allowed time for screen uses and also time set aside to focus on other things. I guess we just do better with things spelled out. Not that we are not flexible at times, but the set amount of time gives us a place to start from where we know how much does well for us all.

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