Besides wondering if it’s a school day or a stay-home day, there’s only one reason I’m asked “what day is it?” It’s usually the wee one (though now he often already knows what day it is because he’s learning these things in Primary) and he’s asking because he wants to know if it’s a screen day.
In our home, the only screen days are Friday and Saturday. It’s not just video games, but it includes TV, too. Five days per week are completely screen free. (And by completely, I mean while the kids are awake because tired parents need their Netflix, amiright?)
On Friday, we have Pizza Friday Family Movie Night religiously. (Like one time I dared to suggest we barbecue instead of pizza and I faced a three-man revolt. Lesson learned.) And the kids often like to play Wii together on Saturdays.
When we first started the screen rules, the kids would make a beeline to the Wii as soon as we got home on Friday and often first-thing in the morning on Saturday. But over time, their feeling of urgency about maximizing screen time has faded. In fact, on a recent Saturday, when the kids had spent all morning colouring, playing Lego and adventuring outside, Mike mentioned quietly, “I kinda feel bad that they’ve forgotten that they can play video games today.”
They admittedly get joy from playing Wii or watching a show, but here’s the thing. The kids are cranky when they’ve had too much screen time. They argue with each other (and us) more, they listen less, they forget their manners more and they’re generally irritable. It took us a long time to realize the cause, but once we did, we made a big change.
It was inspired initially by my brother- and sister-in-law who had a screen-free day for their teens on weekends, which is a pretty big deal when you’re dealing with teens. At the time, we were completely inspired and quickly implemented that in our house.
And you know what happened? Those days became our favourite days. Making a big weekend breakfast became a family affair, we all spent more time together, we did things we wouldn’t normally have experienced and we were all in (relatively) good moods. (I wrote about those first blissful screen-free days here, which was almost two years ago to the day).
We stuck with the one-day-per-week plan for many months, but we started to slack on the rules from time to time and inevitably, our screen-free day went by the wayside. Shortly thereafter, Mike and I were struggling with some of the kids’ behaviours and we had a bit of an ah-ha moment. We quickly did a 180 on our screen laxity and decided to try a more intense method by turning it around to be two screen-allowed days per week.
This is where I need to stop and clarify that our kids can be cranky and pick on each other and lose their manners and forget some of their best virtues on any day and at any time. I’m not, by any means, suggesting that screens are the sole culprit. Also, what works for our family may not work for yours and vice versa, of course.
That said, this really does works for our family. Even the kids see it and feel it now. When we gently suggest that they’ve had enough, they quickly agree rather than getting upset or fighting with us as we hit the power button.
It freaks me out a little, if I’m honest, to know what a hold my screen can have on me, let alone thinking about what kind of impact it has on the kids. I read an article (yes, on a screen) in which they talked to a teen who spends 30% of her day on her phone (we’re not even talking about TV time), which would equate to 9.5 years of her lifetime.
So, with a lifetime of screen time ahead, if we can spend a few more days without screens at this juncture without too much protest, I think we’ll go with that.