There are usually mixed responses when parents talk about how much screen time they allow their children on a weekly basis. We are a family who like our electronics. I try to keep the mindset that if grades aren’t dropping and bad attitudes aren’t flowing let them play. Everything in moderation, of course. Each family has to decide what the right balance is for them.
During the month of June, I’d been down with an illness and had allowed more screen time than usual for both my kids. When I felt as though my head was going to explode, I didn’t mind the silence that came along with the excessive Kindle or iPad usage. Headphones were a blessing. But when I came out of my sickness stupor, I realized I’d allowed my children hours of uninterrupted game or video watching time, and as I tried to get them engaged in activities that didn’t revolve around a touchscreen, I was met with serious resistance.
Now, I could’ve been a hard-ass mom and pulled their privileges, but I didn’t want to take that route. I preferred to try more of a reset on our usage, not just the kids’, but my usage as well. There was seldom a morning when I woke up and didn’t instantly turn on my laptop. (We all know that if you don’t answer emails right away, the person on the other end might explode, right?)
Lucky for me, the kids and I had a beach trip planned for the middle of July. Two weeks before backing out of the driveway, I began preparing my kidlets for a full week of no electronics. Or as my daughter liked to call it “punishment.” Except, it wasn’t a punishment, because we were going on vacation, I reminded her more than once. Electronics weren’t going away forever, just for a small amount of time when we really didn’t need them to entertain us anyway.
To make the trip seem less like a prison sentence, I gathered a road trip survival pack. Not all items had to be purchased, since many could be pulled from around the house. As you can see from the picture, I had more than enough to keep all of us busy during our downtime:
- Books and magazines – These should probably be a must for most trips anyway.
- A journal for the older kiddo – As you will see below, it was used against me.
- Markers and more markers – The washable kind, and you can never have to many, plus something to marker on so they don’t decorate the car upholstery.
- Music the children enjoy – It’s okay to let the little ones be in charge of the CD player, and I am big on kid friendly lyrics, so I don’t have to hear my son sing about booty-popping.
- Disposable cameras – I’ll get to why you may just want to save your money on this one; I’ll know better next time.
Next came the rules:
- No DVD player in the car.
- No handheld electronics other than my cell phone, and the cell phone was to be used for texting and phone calls only. No email, no games, no pictures, and no Internet.
- Television would be limited to evening right before bed.
We were all set to reset.
The travel time to our destination was four hours. The journal writing for my oldest lasted about two minutes. The coloring lasted about twenty, and then the kids were bored. The music helped, but I quickly found myself in need of a serious distraction to keep the “how much longer?” questions at bay. Pulling from my childhood traveling experiences, I introduced my kids to the license plate game. Simple and unbelievably effective. For my oldest who can read, finding license plates from different states became a mission to find just one from California. For my youngest, finding different pictures on the license plates met his need to be involved. If I’d thought more ahead on this game, I’d have printed out a map where they could color in all the state license plates found. Lesson learned for next time.
I patted myself on the back, because let’s face it, some of us moms enjoy a little self-appreciation when we think we’ve gotten a one-up on the universe. I’d made it through the first four hours without turning to electronics and only a small amount of whining.
Then I got lost. Although I had a printed map and directions, I couldn’t find our destination. With anxiety climbing, I broke my no Internet rule and used my phone’s mapping service. I didn’t tell the kids I used the Internet, but I decided to not feel overly guilty for the infraction.
We arrived close to bedtime and made it through the first day mostly electronics free. Little did I know, the driving would be the easiest part.
We were not vacationing on our own. We met up with another family who was not electronics free. In fact, the mom laughed at my explanation of why I thought it was necessary to give ourselves a reset. And that’s where you’ll find varying degrees of philosophies on screen time from parent to parent. The other mom (who I love like a sister) handed my daughter her phone at dinner when all the other kids had electronics to play. I didn’t argue, because she honestly reacted out of love, but it made me further realize that we don’t parent inside a bubble. My pat on the back for thinking I’d one-upped the universe was long gone ,and in its place came the self-doubt. Why was I doing this again?
Small bouts of misery shortly followed the second infraction. I’d chosen disposable cameras, because our digital cameras have tempting game apps included on the devices. Yet, my oldest refused to use the camera, because she couldn’t see the picture immediately on the screen. My youngest kiddo used up all twenty-seven exposures on a fuzzy caterpillar within fifteen minutes. This was a hard lesson learned. Next time, I’d go with the digital cameras to save money and aggravation.
The books and magazines went unread. I’m usually not too interested in a lot of television before bedtime, but I found myself watching reality dramas anyway just because it was the only screen time I’d allowed.
I missed my laptop. The kids missed their video games. When we weren’t busy, we all complained at least once to someone (over the phone to my husband in my case) about our lack of entertainment.
Other than the few infractions, we made it through the week without our electronics, but mostly because we’d left them at home. I’d wanted to come out on the other side of the vacation with a wise, all-knowing “look how evolved we are” attitude, and instead we came home and went right back to most of our old habits. This is tragic, and not the outcome I anticipated. I’m not sure what it says about me and my parenting skills or about my children and their tiny addictions to screen time.
I think my daughter’s only entry in her journal from our electronics free vacation illustrates both our frustrations.