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White Knuckle Parenting: After-school Screen Time

Managing after-school time can be a challenge. Removing screen time from the equation can be a great way to calm things down.

If you were to ask my children what they love, they would not say "my mom" or "my country" or any other such heartwarming thing. They would say "video games." There is no doubt in my mind. I mean, I'm pretty sure they love me and all, but I know that they love Super Mario Bros.

This is all to say that what I did to them last week is unthinkable. I took away their video game privileges.

Okay, I'm not a monster. I didn't take them away entirely, but Monday through Thursday afternoons, they are not allowed screen time unless it is part of their homework or they are playing a learn-to-type game.

I fully expect them to be typing 90 wpm by December.

The no after-school screen time rule is one that I instituted during the school year a few years ago. It took a while for the kiddos to get used to it, but once they did, it was wonderful. I find that my kids are generally nicer people when they aren't coming down off of cartoons or thinking about playing the next level in Super Smash Brothers. 

My kids had finally come to terms with me being the meanest mom in the world and we had all adjusted to our reduced screen time way of life until a year and a half ago when my middle son stopped doing work at school. 

This was Jack, my autistic kiddo, and evidently he decided that he was done doing school work that was not on his very own mental to-do list. In case you're wondering, his mental to-do list was very short. I think he just decided that school was hard and not what he wanted to focus on and he just wasn't going to do the work anymore. And, frankly, if a kid decides that, there is not much you can do. 

You can take a student to the pencil, but you can't make him subtract.

Emails flew around between the teachers and I, ideas were tried and discarded, and, finally with much trepidation, I suggested that he could earn screen time if he did enough work at school. Thus was devised the "tally system." If he earned ten tallies over the course of a day, he would earn a half-hour of screen time after school.

This is how video games crept back into our after-school lives.

See, the problem is, once one child had these privileges, the others quickly noticed. I had tried to hide Jack and his TV privileges, but my other two children caught us. Then I tried to claim that the video games were an extension of school, but even I couldn't quite stand behind that statement. Pretty soon I had to come up with conditions for my other kids to earn their 30 minutes of video game time as well. 

Soon enough, we had screens going for 90 minutes a day after school—and I had to keep track of behavior protocols for my youngest and flute practicing time for my oldest, as these were their screen time earners. I hated the tally system for this reason, but at least Jack was participating in school again. Mostly.

This year, however, Jack is going to a brand new school and has a brand new environment and behavior plan and, thus far, there is not a single tally involved.

Enter mean mom.

Last week, before school started, I warned my kids that we were going back to no after-school electronics. There was minor grumbling and they tried to come up with some exceptions, but for the most part, they agreed to toe the line. One week into the school year and they've already almost stopped asking to turn on the TV after school.

Now they go to the basement or the backyard and act out their favorite games and shows. Sometimes they draw pictures of video game levels that they would like to play. Often, I find them reading video game guides. They're still obsessed, but at least they're running around and using their brains.

Furthermore, when I occasionally give the unexpected go-ahead for weeknight game play, my kids think I'm the best mom in the world. Not to mention that I get to feel awesome about myself when explaining to various authority figures that my kids only play video games on the weekend. (I neglect to mention the staggering amount of games they can squeeze into those two days.)

Another silver lining is that, because they are so desperate to catch up on their game playing, I get to sleep in as late as I want on weekend mornings, as long as I let them play video games while I sleep. I think I'm going to like my new tally-free life. 

So long, after-school video games; hello, weekend sleep-ins, afternoon creative play, and moral superiority.

Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, writes a personal blog at Stimeyland; an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont; and a column called Autism Unexpected in the Washington Times Communities. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey.

NG September 04, 2012 at 08:21 PM
"I find that my kids are generally nicer people when they aren't coming down off of cartoons or thinking about playing the next level in Super Smash Brothers." Yes, yes, YES! I finally banned the screens during the week this year for exactly that reason. They act like savages when they watch too much. It's crazy. It's been harder for the adults in the house than the littles. I like to watch TV after work to decompress, but even when we are watching something that is not remotely interesting to a child, their heads snap around the second it's turned on and they don't pay attention to anything else. It's so much harder to monitor tv/game time when there's more than one of them because they are content to sit and watch each other play. At least you don't ALSO have someone calling you Mean Wife.
Gail September 04, 2012 at 11:05 PM
Love this. We do the same thing - no TV or computer games M-Th during the school year. It solved all the problems of "why is he watching?" from a kid still working to finish homework, etc etc. I find, too, that the transition from summer to school year is hard (on me! oy vey the complaining!) but then everyone settles into the routine and it's better. Great article!
Jean Winegardner September 05, 2012 at 12:58 AM
Yeah, I'm a total hypocrite. As soon as my kids go to bed, I turn on the TV. This is how I don't have Angry Husband. But, yes, if the TV is on and we're not watching something the kids want to watch, then it's even worse because they beg to change the channel.
Jean Winegardner September 05, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Thanks! I think you're totally right about the whole sibling thing. I would have kids getting frustrated because I wouldn't let them play because one kid refused to do his homework, so sometimes I'd let two of them play when one of them was still doing homework, but then HE was even MORE distracted an angry. So much easier to nix them completely!
Meesh September 06, 2012 at 02:07 PM
My kids each get a 1/2 hr of screen time (TV for my daughter, games for my sons) a day. But the sons will watch "ANT Farm" with their sister, then claim it wasn't "their" 1/2 hour, it was "hers". I think I need to switch to no screen time during the week too, but I do fear the mean mommy label!
Jean Winegardner September 06, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Kids are sooo good at finding those loopholes, aren't they? My kids do that too!

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