This post is sponsored by Dot Complicated.
My kid spends too much time in front of a screen.
He's 14. His main interest is video games. When he's not doing stuff he has to do (homework, chores, family stuff), he's either in front of his computer, texting with friends or scrolling through Instagram on his iPod.
It takes prodding to get him to go outside. He's sometimes reluctant to commit to a big project because he fears losing his "free time," which is code for "screen time." He spends more time than I think is wise with his butt parked in a chair.
Like many parents, I'm concerned about his attachment to electronics. What's it doing to his brain, his health, his social skills, his motivation to try new things? We wrestle with these questions every week.
But we're choosing not to clamp down too hard with limits. Sure, he has to get his homework and chores done first, and we reserve most evenings for family time. But other than that he can use his "free time" as he will.
That usually means video games.
Why not more stringent limits, then? When he was younger, we were much more strict about the boundaries. Lots of rules and timers and scolding. Screen time limits — monitoring them, discussing them, enforcing them — were a constant source of argument and discord.
And what did he learn from the experience? Self control? Balance? Nope. He learned that his parents were the problem; the thing to rail against. He was so busy fighting us that he had no reason or opportunity to examine his own behavior.
As he got older, we chose to loosen the restrictions. He's now responsible for balancing the time spent gaming with time spent on his responsibilities and offline interests. He often overshoots his time but now, instead of fighting, we can just talk about it.
He's learning about time management, fitness, and balance. Without the distraction of an adversary (our strict limits), he's becoming accountable for his choices.
Here are just a few of the topics we've discussed as we've navigated the screen time maze:
- Making smart buying decisions.
- "Voting with your wallet" when it comes to games containing extreme violence or sexist messages.
- What you miss friendship-wise when you regularly prioritize solo time in front of the computer over time hanging out with pals.
- The importance of movement and activity.
He's even branching out interest-wise; he's making noises about learning guitar and joining a track team. Not having to protect every minute of game time appears to be freeing up some willingness to explore beyond the computer.
These conversations are a function of maturity, to be sure. We couldn't have talked this way when he was younger. But I also believe he's willing to talk with us because he no longer has to fight. He can hear our concerns and observations whereas before everything was drowned out by his defensiveness.
He still plays more video games that I would like. But he's learning about himself and his limits in the process. And we're finding our way together.
I'd love to hear about how your "screen time dance" is evolving as your kids get older. What's working for your family? What isn't?
Photo credit: Kellyv/Flickr CC
Thank you to the sponsor of this post: the launch team for Randi Zuckerberg's new book, Dot Complicated, which is part memoir, part conversation about online/offline balance, and part guide to modern social media manners.
When I saw the title I was immediately intrigued because "dot complicated" certainly describes my relationship to screens and social media.