Shocking but true, our family is not Screen Free this week. This fact may seem counterintuitive coming from a blog written by a Mom who is encouraging her Boys to read more and X-box (You-Tube, Minecraft, etc.) less. You may think that I, as the Mom, am upset or ashamed of this fact, but I was an active participant in this decision and I whole-heartedly support it.
Screen Free Week is hosted by the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, a non-profit organization that seeks to "support parents' efforts to raise healthy families by limiting commercial access to children and ending the exploitative practice of child-targeted marketing."* To be clear, I agree with most of CCFC's ideals, and I work daily with my Boys to reduce their screen time.
I know that when they are watching mindless TV that they are bombarded by stimuli and view a relentless amount of marketing on a daily basis. They can get sucked in and lose track of time, and can become sloth-like, lounging loads on the couch. There are way too many ridiculous YouTube videos that are inappropriate for teens and loaded with ads. Video games can be very violent, and the blood and gore in some make me sick. I am fully aware of the effects of too much screen time. However, this is not something we work on for one week, and we do not go cold-turkey- are you nuts? If we are going to make a more permanent, mindful change, then we need to be SMART.
Set time limits.
This may seem pretty straightforward, but it is very important that kids know how much time they have per day of "screen time." Whether it is half an hour or an hour and a half, set the time limit and then stick to it. You may want to differentiate between TV time and game time, or you can lump it together and let your kids decide. But be firm. Set the limit and when it's done, it's done. You can even set a timer with an alarm if you need to. (We do.)
Make informed choices when watching TV or videos on the internet.
Yes, there is a lot of crap on the tube. But there is also a ton of quality programming that is educational and worthwhile, too. We seek interesting shows on channels like Discovery and National Geographic. We recently discovered Brain Games on NatGeo, and it is amazing! We watched the first two episodes, "Focus Pocus" and "It's About Time," and we were hooked. The Boys even learned some "tricks" that they could perform with their friends the next day at school. We make informed choices about what we watch, and make the most of our screen time with our good choices. Then we turn it off. The TV, computer, iPod, etc. itself is not evil. We can (and must) use its powers for good.
Activate bodies and minds.
We also make it a goal to be active and outside as much as we can. The Boys play baseball together in the back yard, spend time in the woods, and individually pursue their favorite activities of soccer and Tang Soo Do. We recently cleared an area of woods in our back yard that we have named the "Majestigrove" for the purpose of enjoying nature and family. My husband brings out his guitar or his wireless speakers and we play music, talk, read, and have picnics together. It is relaxing, and we look forward to spending time there every weekend in the fresh air and sunshine.
You didn't think I'd let that one go, did you? Set aside time each day to read (whatever medium- Kindle, or Nook, or iPad, or a "real-live" paper copy). Set reading goals, and stick to them. Be vigilant about finding books that your kids will enjoy, and always bring them along, wherever you go. Most important, always have "the next book" lined up and ready to go when your child finishes their current one faster than you expected. (:
Teach media literacy and digital citizenship.
Like it or not, screens are here to stay. Technology is evolving, and kids need to be able to access it and use it effectively. As adults, they will be doing jobs that haven't been invented yet, and they must have a foundation of digital knowledge from which to grow. Learning the right way to interact with others safely on the internet- and how to behave and "speak" as digital citizens is critical. We need to teach our children media literacy so that they are able to identify propaganda when they see it and determine reliable sources of information. These important lessons are not learned by just taking the screens away. Further, I think we are doing a disservice to children and their futures if we do not teach them these skills.
Being SMART about screen time is all about balance. Life cannot be all or nothing, and of course we are by no means perfect. We are not participating in Screen-Free week.
I'm ok with that.
So what do you do with your kids to promote healthy balance and a SMART life?
*"About CCFC." Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2013. <http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/about-ccfc>.