Parents are always wondering how much TV is too much. Recently Care.com Director and mom of two, Cora, went from allowing 2 hours a week to unlimited time each day. But there’s a hitch. Here’s her story.
“Mom, What’s the Super Bowl?”
“Is it bowling?”
That’s what my non-TV-watching, 7-year-old son asked me the morning of the Super Bowl last year. And I realized our house rules might be limiting access to some prime American culture. So I promptly set out to buy chips, dips and sodas and get our own little Super Bowl party started.
None of us really knew what was going on during the game, but we definitely had fun watching.
I’m sure you’re wondering how a 7 year old boy – and his parents – don’t know about football.
The answer is two-fold. First off, I grew up in Montana skiing, hiking and rafting. Team sports weren’t a part of our family culture. Second of all, my husband is European, so for us, football generally means soccer.
This American blunder also came about based on the limited amount of ’screen time' our children are allowed. Although we have a television, we’ve turned it on maybe ten times, and generally get sucked straight into ‘family shows’ like Modern Family, HGTV or reruns of the Love Boat. Other than family movie night, media and computer time was limited to about 2-4 hours/week of educational shows and games.
This was working fine. But as our children were getting older, I realize that the bowling question will soon no longer be cute, but a potential total social embarrassment. There are so many reasons kids tease and ostracize others these days without my creating one.
So my husband and I started to support more ‘smart’ media use. But what would that mean? And how much was too much?
In our search for a proactive screen-time approach, we came across the Momentum Optimization Project List. This was developed by a mom searching for ways to teach and motivate her kids to entertain themselves, not just fall into the abyss of Minecraft whenever a free moment arose. This ‘List’ outlines a set of creative and productive tasks that must be completed, after which, children are allowed to consume as much media as they want. Crazy, right?
But here’s the theory: Children are naturally so drawn towards making things and playing active games, that they often get so caught up in ‘real life’ activities that this open-ended media time doesn’t happen at all -- or when it finally does it lasts only an hour or so.
A revolution! Kids: You play hard and do your chores. Parents: You lay off and let me enjoy my media time -- I earned it.
And if I tell you my kids are suddenly vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms, mopping and doing laundry, would you even believe it? My friends, and we, are all amazed. But the motivation is real, and on a good day they are even proud of themselves.
We have since moved from focusing on the amount of time spent on a screen to making sure it’s spent on quality shows, games or tutorials. We set the computer up in the family room so all shows can be seen (and indirectly monitored) by us, and my kids are really impressing us with their choice of appropriate, funny and even educational shows and games. My daughter has started to write a Family Newsletter, adding recipes, interviews, jokes and family updates. My son is tackling Geometry Dash game and a Learn to Draw series. And we’re all cracking up at YouTube sensations like “Conversations with My 2-year Old” and “It’s Raining Tacos.”
So will we be watching the Super Bowl on Sunday? Sure. As long as the kids have done the laundry.
At least we know they’ll never confuse it with the World Bowling Championship again.