Computer Time: the blessing which turned into a curse

A few months ago, after much scrimping and saving, we purchased a computer each for our four girls.  Six months prior to this T12 had been given one as a joint birthday and Christmas present from Gary and I.  We watched as our son, who has always struggled to express himself in writing, began to type eloquent plays and essays.  The boy who hated to write had found his voice.  His school work tripled in productivity, moans about writing ceased and the work he did was of superior quality.  Gary and I sat back in disbelief.  We couldn’t see anything negative to come from him having a computer.  It was, to all intents and purposes, a huge blessing.

So we determined to get the girls one for their 12th birthday and Christmas this year.  As it happened we were able to pay for them a little earlier and decided to go ahead and get them.  They would still be as a birthday and Christmas gift, only they would get access to them earlier than previously planned.  We expected to see the same from the girls, that their school experience would be opened up when they had a computer.  We expected this gift to each of our girls to be a huge blessing too.  Once they all had a computer their time on these were fairly limited considering they were using them for school and pleasure, however Gary and I began to see changes in them.

We have always been a close family in which bickering is strongly discouraged and never ignored; bad atmospheres are rare and working as a team a priority.  Just recently, however, we began to notice the children bickering more; talking to each other on occasion with cold tones; feeling irritated with each other; not wanting to play or work together and not wanting to join in with chores.  They were still very close, but all five seemed to be a bit more ego-centric, wanting their own way a lot of the time.  This may or may not sound like a normal household to you, but for us (as a general rule) it is not normal, nor is it nice.  Gary and I had began to talk about it, wondering how we ought to go about recapturing what we had just a few short months ago.  We both felt it was down to the increase in screen time, because (we reasoned) screen time is often a solitary activity, it doesn’t in the main encourage team work nor does it require much physical activity (I know there are exceptions to this rule, I am writing about how it is here in my family).  Also, the bad attitudes had only become apparent en masse over the past few months.

We asked around.  What were friends doing?  What were their boundaries?  We had a mixture of responses from parents of children who allowed their children unlimited screen time, to others who timed it to the nearest minute of an hour.  Really it wasn’t much help, because each family and each character in each family was different.  Something somebody said did resonate.  They commented they wouldn’t be too focused on how much screen time per se their children were getting, more what their children were not doing because they were at the screen.  This was really helpful to me because the children weren’t playing as much; weren’t exercising as much; weren’t outside as much getting lovely fresh air; weren’t giggling as much and seemed much more uptight all round.

Together Gary and I formed a plan of action. And together we felt at peace.

The plan was to reduce the time we are all on the computer.  Since I have been sleeping over 8 hours per night, I have lost my night time blogging sessions and thus increased the time during the day I am on the computer.  Gary enjoys catching up with everyone back home via face book whilst the children love just about anything so long as it included screen time.  We decided to take a very strict stance and apply it not just to the children but to their parents also!  The two younger girls would have their screen time reduced to 1/2 an hour whilst the older three would be allowed an hour per day.  Gary and I would be allowed two hours.  These restrictions would apply to week days with extra granted on a Saturday (family night video) and absolutely none on a Sunday.  This would inevitably mean much more thought would be placed on what we do in that time.  It would help our whole family prioritise what was important and what could be dropped.

We called a family meeting and shared with the children our plans for a reduction in screen time, listing the negative  changes we had noticed.  We held our breath expecting an out-burst.  Silence.  I gently queried whether any of those points rang any bells.  T12 replied equally gently that they weren’t ringing the bells, more clanging the bells!  The girls also agreed.  And so it is.  The computers (including mine) are not turned on at all during the day.  Gary is in the process of disallowing any time outside of the 7-8pm time frame by disabling the children’s ability to log in at any other time.  They will be allowed to choose either video or computer time and if any of us are busy with another activity screen time is not allowed to be carried over into another day.  On a Wednesday afternoon, computers will permitted for project work but with no screen allowed between the 7-8pm time frame.

These restrictions may sound harsh and unnecessary for some but for our family they are essential.  In this case we had to be strong and resolute in our decision even if it made the children angry and us very unpopular.  As it happens it didn’t but even if it had Gary and I knew deep down inside that this was the right and best choice to achieve the family values we have deemed important.   All of us, children included, want to enjoy sweet relationships, time spent playing and enjoying each other, using our imaginations, cooking more, exercising more, gardening more, making water pistols from plastic bottles and bicycle pumps (I kid you not!), taking photos and basically doing all those things we had stopped doing because we were on the screen.  The children looked relieved that night.  And I was proud, so proud of my lovely family who, when push came to shove, chose relationships over their computer.

34 comments

  1. This is very interesting! You got it right when you said each family is different. I think world war three might break out here if I limited it to an hour, although maybe if I limited myself they might accept it???
    I’m not sure if I would be willing!I am glad you have found something right for your family though and wish you all the best in your decision!

    1. I have to admit to being quite surprised by their acceptance and have been even more surprised by how much they are enjoying being away from the screen.

  2. We’ve went through our own screen time revolution in our house. I had reviewed a documentary called “Captivated,” and it caused me to look much more critically at the way we did screens in our house. We fasted from screens for a month, and when we added screen time back in, we were able to add things back in with an eye to what was truly “too much” in our house. Before we did our screen fast, we each had tablets and handheld gaming equipment that I have never allowed back into the house. We found that having those (even for Mom) caused sibling fights and ugly and disrespectful attitudes. Now, except for schoolwork (We’re doing a couple of internet programs for schoolwork right now) and an hour or two for me to write in the mornings before the kids are awake, we don’t have any screens on until Hubby comes home, and they only come on then if he wants us to watch a movie. (I’m only on right now because I decided to check on my blog while the kids are off getting haircuts with my Mom 🙂 ) It can be really hard, but it’s worth it to work on keeping the screens at bay.

    1. We’ve never had any gaming equipment in the house and don’t even have broadcast television, only dvds so I think we were a bit naïve when it came to the affects the screen might have, especially excessive amounts. I’ll have to see if I can get Captivated and take a look myself.

  3. We have had similar situations like that….for instance, we chose to drop the TV in favor of Netfllix only six years ago because they watched too much junk TV. They agreed and have thanked me several times for the suggestion. The computer can easily become a problem, too, even for me. It is a problem when one spends more time blogging than doing things to blog.

    1. Yes, there’s not much point in blogging if one has nothing to blog about! It’s nice to hear that children thanked you for a decision which may have been hard to make at the time.

  4. Each family is different, so I am pleased that you have found a plan that works for you! My oldest is only 7, so we are only beginning to enter this phase. At the moment, he gets to play the occasional chess game on my husband’s iphone and a half an hour of another game on the computer on Saturday. That’s it for computer time (we have no rules for my husband and I, but we are both fairly self-disciplined anyway). TV time (mostly dvds) tends to be our problem. While in theory I limit the time for the kids very tightly, once the tv is on it seems to always stay on longer then I intend. Perhaps it would be a good time to re-evalute……I am impressed that you and your husband picked up on the behavior changes and the root cause so quickly!

    1. It sounds like you have it sorted Dana! I agree though about how time can some how slip away from you when a dvd is on. I think sometimes it’s very nice (and very normal) to want the five/ten minute peace and quiet a dvd can afford you!

  5. Interesting observation about changes in the children’s behaviour due to increased screen time. I’m so glad that you and Gary took action to mitigate any further problems and to restore your family values, and that the children responded so well to the changes. You have raised them very well indeed! 🙂 We limit screen time here too, and adjust the amount allowable according to any behavioural changes we observe.

    1. We used to adjust it according to attitude and behaviour but that got complicated with so many children! A blanket rule makes everything much simpler. And simple’s good for this mummy!

  6. We have cut back screen time in our house, also. We are having our satellite television cut off in just a few days. We don’t allow electronics, except for school work and one computer activity, during the week. I have weeks where I don’t even look at my phone. It is amazing that “just a peek” turns into hours.

    Sometimes, I wish we had zero electronics in our house, but then I wouldn’t have found this sweet little blog:)))

    Good for you and Gary catching the problem and finding a solution so quickly. It is refreshing to hear the children choosing each other over things.

    Blessings to you, Claire. Enjoy your evening.

    1. I think this will probably continue to be a battle which wages within, but it is definitely helpful that each person in the house sees the benefit of cutting down (not that we had a huge amount to begin with)

  7. We found that electronic games were a huge problem – either on hand held devices or on the computer. It is very addicting and causes many of the negative characteristics to be exhibited that you listed. I do need to limit television time more. It is certainly a recipe for dulling the imagination. Thanks for the frank blog. I need to limit my on-line time. That’s for sure.
    Myra, from sunny, very warm, full of nasty mosquitoes Winnipeg, Canada

    1. I suspect most home schoolers are on line a lot due to the nature of researching and school planning which needs to be done. I guess it’s all about balance.
      Myra, my email is at the top right hand corner of my blog

  8. We are still trying to find a good routine. At the moment there is 1 hour and 15 minutes for the kids after all school and chores are done. They have to have screen time at the same time too. We also allow a show (PBS) a few times a week if the whole family is watching.
    Blessings, Dawn

    1. It is hard to know what is right. I was lamenting with my mum that we really didn’t have these issues when I was growing up, and so have little experience dealing with what is deemed too much and what will hinder them in their school work by setting limitations. Sigh. I’m not old enough for this parenting lark!

  9. I think every family should sit down and set specific (to their family) rules about screen time! Hubby and I were just talking about this last night!
    I think your plan sounds wonderful!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement Amber. It’s a tricky one because every one in every family is so different and what is healthy for one is actually harmful for another.

  10. Claire,

    You are so in tune with your family and their needs! I’d like to have a computer-free day on Sunday too. I know it has to start with me. Maybe I’ll get there!

    1. It’s been hard Sue, especially not turning them on at all on a Sunday! It’s funny how much I have come to rely on the computer for things like the time! I miss it when it’s turned off!

  11. from our experience , claire we had rules which we kept but we didn’t think of checking our extended family and the worst came from there when our 2 boys age 13 and 14 got on holidays with their cousins and taught them to go on bad sites and how to not get caught…it was an awful experience one which was hard to get over if er ever will!!! our boys suffered tremendously from this exposure eventhough we were checking and we thought we had it all figured out…I’ll pray for your family because I can see now there was a before and definitely an after computer eventhough it is impossible to be without in our days … kids should be prepared much better to this than what we did…I’ll send you a link if I can find it which speaks a lot about it much love from us Myriam

      1. It’s difficult to know who to trust and who not to trust. We protect our children, but often we don’t know from whom or what we are protecting them. I hope your boys recovered.

  12. As someone who knows how addictive screen time can be (both my husband and I suffer from overuse), we don’t encourage screen time with our daughter. Therefore, she loves to read, play, create, imagine, dream, etc. and prefers it over watching a movie. We envy her concentration and focus. I’m trying to read more books instead of reading blogs (still working on it!) and I can feel a difference in quality of attention and sense of fulfillment I feel after reading a good book.

  13. This is so interesting…my husband and I have a very different idea of ideal screen time – where I would want it limited, he doesn’t agree. It’s tricky then with the kids. I’m so pleased to hear that everyone, kids included, have decided to focus on family rather than screens. Bodes well for a fabulous summer!

    1. I think Gary, if left to his own devices, would be more like your husband. I think it tends to be us mums who maybe look at what certain choices mean for the future and then make changes.

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