Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Back to School: media and unplugging

Or commit self-righteous graffiti.
As summer winds down (one week until the first day of school!), we have been thinking about how to get ready for the school year, with thoughts on homework earlier this month and today, with our family's approach to free time. I had originally planned this to be a post about tv/computers/video games/other devices. However, conversations with the kids during vacation made me realize that these screen-enabled devices are the bull in the china shop of free time.

I'll start with the bull, which represents the media devices that we use for entertainment. In our house, we have three tvs (one connected to the internet), three laptops, one desktop computer, two iPads, three iPhone Touches, two iPhones, a Wii, and a PS3. Good Lord, I have never collected everything up in a list like that. Crazy. I am tempted to put qualifications on the devices (what's used for work and what's a junker and so on) but it's probably better to leave the list as is, because it represents the electronic behemoth appropriately.

Despite the proliferation of devices, the kids don't have free rein to use them. We have guidelines in place: no tv before 6pm, no tv after dinner (which is usually around 7) without permission (generally, we skip it). No tv in the morning except for weekends, at which time, to tv/devices before 8am (otherwise, at least one kid would set his alarm to get extra video game time). We haven't allowed video or computer games during the week at all.  That's been the template, and it has worked more or less effectively. Thus far, there have rarely if ever been clashes between tv/other devices and school responsibilities. When a kid hasn't been able to get to his homework, it comes first, before any media consumption happens.

This school year, we're changing it up a bit by adding one screen-free night a week for everyone, including Kevin and me and our often ubiquitous iPhones. We're doing this for reasons that are fairly obvious. Even though the kids don't watch a ton of tv/use other devices all the time, the devices loom large and are totally consuming. They get fixated. There is individual variation from kid to kid, but in general, fixated is not too strong a description. They count down until 6pm and eschew other options. And really, it's often easier for us. During the work week, I get home at 6 and make dinner most nights. To get that done, it's convenient to have the guys squared away watching something or other, with the promise of decent family time at dinner.

Nevertheless, breaking the pattern feels like the right thing to do. If it's tv time, the guys often don't want to be in the kitchen and therefore don't participate in making dinner. They don't want to run over to the community garden with me. They don't go (or stay) outside past 6pm for fear of missing their precious screen time. There is a little bit of an addiction thing going on, and it seems wise to shake things up.

So we're going to try a media free night per week and see how it goes. We discussed this at breakfast during the final day of vacation and the kids were mostly okay with it, with two conditions:

1. The media-freedom applies to adults too.

2. They get access to video games for one additional night during the week.

We readily agreed to the first condition and reluctantly to the second. We decided to give it a try in the spirit of compromise.

So that's the bull. The china shop is actually in fairly good shape otherwise. They play outside a lot, play board games with each other, go off into their separate corners to do their thing: to read, do Legos, draw, daydream. I am hoping that our media free night will allow us all to read together. We're planning to use it as homework check in night; while we already quickly check their work nightly, this will be the night that we help them think through how to deal with anything they're struggling with, plan for long term assignments, etc.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I do yearn sometimes to get rid of all of the devices and have a media-free house. However, unless we make other radical changes to our lives in terms of work and where we live, that's not going to happen and despite my Little House on the Prairie fantasies, I don't think that it should happen. We live in a media-intensive world and our job as parents is to help our kids negotiate that world. I think that the off switch the best feature of any of these devices, and we try hard to teach the kids to use it and to value what happens as a result.  We may indulge the media-free lifestyle next year by going camping. I'd like that. I'd like to know what happens to our brains if we unplug for a week. But until then, unplugging for an evening a week seems more reasonable.

I'll let you know how it goes.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for posting your families agreed upon guidelines, please keep us posted on your families unplugged progress..