Why screen time makes me want to scream


January 29, 2013 by talkaboutyork

If you have boys aged anywhere between 6 and 12 you will probably have watched the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ films. There is one film (I forget the title) in which the lead character Greg Heffley breaks up for summer holidays and has plans to play video games ALL SUMMER LONG. He has to pretend to his dad that he is actually playing sports outdoors. His dad cottons on and tries to get him to take part in a bunch of ‘super fun’ activities like fishing and scouts. Greg hates it. The dad hates it. Generally life is easier if he was just left to play his video games.

I watch that film and secretly cheer that it’s not just my children who would rather kill aliens on a screen than charge about outdoors. And it’s not just me that finds ‘spending quality time’ playing countless games of Monopoloy or Risk or Chess fucking very dull.

But Screen Time is becoming a BIG issue in our house.

When they were little, we had limits on how much TV they could watch. These days TV is sooo passé. TV is now the default fall back position when all other screens have been banned. They actually view having to ‘just watch TV’ as a punishment.

The screen of choice is the ipad, my old one. They fight over it. They are  obsessed with ‘just checking it’ you know in case a dragon egg has hatched or a creeper (or whatever) has entered their building on Minecraft. They can’t possibly get dressed/clean their teeth/look up. Life as we know it stops when they are on the ipad. 

If, as invariably happens, they start fighting over who is going to kill the next zombie on the ipad, it gets confiscated. They immediately start fighting over who can go on my laptop. If I need the loo perhaps, or have to make dinner, the minute my back is turned, they have pounced on the PC to play Friv (I don’t even know what that is except to say that it has seriously annoying music). They claim that they are on Mathletics, but they’re not. Of course I’m not organised/clued up enough to get the correct filters/protection on the PC so who knows what they see. (Note to self: look into that).

An aside: in case you’re wondering what 8 year old boys like looking at on the internet, it is Minecraft videos on Youtube. Quite possibly the most dull things you will EVER see. That and One Direction videos. Or Gangnam Style anything. 

If I ban that, they either try to play on my phone (which has virtually no games on it but they like to arse around with the pictures so that I get an array of warped photographs as my home picture) or they play on the Wii. Apparently Wii’s are now babyish and uncool though. Good to know given they just got a bunch of Skylanders for Christmas.

They also have Nintendo DS’s but these are largely ignored unless we travel somewhere. And the older one saved up his money to buy himself a second hand ipod touch which he never uses.

The thing is, I want to get rid of the lot. I cannot stand how addicted they are to these screens. I do my very best to limit them but it is impossible to police them all the time and my alternatives are (as mentioned above) to play Monopoly, Risk or Chess. Not a massive incentive on my part.

What happened to the days when children entertained themselves using their imaginations? I’ve threatened to sell all their toys as they NEVER play with them. Do you know what they said? ‘As long as we can have the money to buy new games.’ Sigh

Now the oldest is about to have a birthday and he wants an Xbox because (and I quote) he is ‘THE ONLY BOY IN THE WHOLE SCHOOL WHO DOESN’T HAVE ONE’. (As I mentioned, they only have a Wii – poor ickle things). If I’m not prepared to give him that, he wants his own phone because (and I quote again), he is ‘THE ONLY BOY IN THE WHOLE SCHOOL WHO DOESN’T HAVE ONE’. Who is a 9 year old going to call?? It is NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.

Apparently he’s also the only boy in the whole school who isn’t allowed to watch James Bond Quantum of Solace or play on Call of Duty. I am, by all accounts, the worst and most mean mother on the planet.

I have literally had the child in tears sobbing about how he can’t join in conversations with the other boys as he hasn’t been able to watch/play with something they have.  We’ve had long chats about peer pressure (with his seven year old brother helpfully piping up with ‘Just say no dude’). And the dangers of too much screen time. And how many other fun things there are to do in the world besides staring at a screen, to no avail. I have even turned into one of those lame parents who bangs on about how the starving children in Africa don’t even have food to eat and they’re whinging about the merits of an xbox over a wii. First world problems kiddos. 

I really don’t know what to do about this. How do you limit the screen time successfully without it becoming a daily battle? How do you decide what they can and can’t play on/watch when everyone else is apparently doing it? Am I being a mean mum or am I being too lenient?

If you could post me your answers the old fashioned way, that would help me avoid looking at a screen but in the interest of speed, please feel free to comment below.


17 thoughts on “Why screen time makes me want to scream

  1. He he he – not just me then 🙂 remember the swearing issue you had a couple of months ago…had a similar thing here last week…we rationally discussed behaviour and I let him decide an appropriate punishment – no Wii, DS or Ipad for a week. I was a rather proud mummy knowing that he understood his misdemeanor and had self selected an appropriate punishment…that was until he started playing Moshi Monsters on teh desktop…ANOTHER screen!!!

    I understood his objections when I said no…we had “agreed” the other three, no mention of the desktop. In the brain of a 7 year old – wholly unfair. Time to renegotiate…limited access through the week to the computer or (and this is the bit I thank you for)…a letter to your teacher explaining your behaviour and no playtimes for a week…he jumped at the former! Note to self…cover all bases in future!

    The middle one is currently asking for Nintendo 3DS for his birthday – he already has a ‘normal’ DS – is there really a difference??? At five years old…I am determined to hold firm…he doesn’t need one, it’s a waste of money and will casue conflict with his brothers…but what to get??? I know that TVs in bedrooms will be the next thing they want…not a chance!

  2. kathy says:

    My g’kids are wired on either the tablet or iphones or androids. All of them. So far the 2 yr old isn’t, but that will probably change any day now. The other 3 are a nightmare with regards to them. During the day (when I’m the caregiver/babysitter/for one set of g’kids) all video machines are banned. But the minute that I have to drive one to k’garten I come back and the other one has either the tablet or my hubs’ iphone in his hot little hand. My hubs is worse than my g’kids for NOT FOLLOWING THE RULES …cause “look how happy he is and quiet” So I’ve taken to hiding the tablet…but i’m going to have to confiscate the iphone soon. They’re both driving me nuts my hubs and my g’son. It’s not unusual to find weird charges of the credit card for 1.99 and 2.99. I don’t know how they do it, with all the password protections and all. And my g’kids are only 4 and 5. They usually just hand it back to either of us and say something like “its free” and somehow it’s not. It’s either fighting over the tablet or the mario/on the wii. And my g’son (the 4yr old) watches some stupid ass geek on utube/youtube (whatever) playing mario over and over again. I don’t understand the facination for him. As I’m writing this my hubs is on his phone and my g’son is sneeking around me trying to grab mine. These machines are worse than a pound of sugar. At first I thought it was just the boys….but it’s not. Something is wiring their little bitty brains. And it’s not a good thing. Watch them when they are on them alone…..it’s as though they are having a uphoric (bad spelling) experience. It’s scarry…..
    When my kids (3of them) were little we didn’t use any credit cards, just payday to payday. and we couldn’t afford the stupid ass nintendo every xmas season. But it’s strange…cause I always seemed to have one or two in the house. Cause some parent of some friend was threating to throw the machine out…and the kid was harbouring the thing at my place. And then my kids would go at it. And it got thrown out of my house. Litterally…one day it was minus something outside and I threw it outside. The original owner was not a happy kid. But i bet the parents were thankful it was finally gone. Cause they didn’t have the guts that I obviously had. And i refused to compensate. You don’t think I heard the “but i’m the only one in the whole school” crap. But you know what……my house was ALWAYS full of these kids that had nintendo’s but they were actually PLAYING at my house. Actually playing. My junk food budget was out of this world. I remember overhearing one kid say that “this is his fav place cause your mom always has potato chips”
    The one thing that really pisses me off BIIIIIIIG TIME?
    When the father’s (one is mine and the other isn’t) come home….that’s the first thing they both (stupid asses) do…is turn on the damn video games and play with the kids while my daughter and daughter-in-law are getting dinner served. My son is the worst. I keep sending him copies of studies that show these things are bad for little kids with undeveloped brains. But it’s not my place to say anything. Grrrrr
    I like to think that I’m saving their little brains at least for a few hours a day by banning the machines and phones and video crap. At least the two that I bbysit during the day. I don’t know what the other two are exposed to on a daily basis. But when I come to visit, that’s the first thing I notice….the bad behaviour, the tantrums when they can’t play the wii, or the tablets.
    Sorry…didn’t realise I was going on and on…..
    Stay strong. ..ban the stupid things out right. It will be hard….They will really really HATE you big time. But you will feel sooooo superior when all the other parents have crazy uncontrollable kids and yours will be normal….or normal—er.

    • I agree Kathy – if dad’s play with them, I don’t really have a leg to stand on saying no to the kids. But luckily my husband doesn’t play much with them and he is FAR more willing to play monopoly

  3. Potty Mummy says:

    Wow. I think I may be living in some kind of time warp because we haven’t reached that stage yet – although that may be because the boys are so damn busy during the week that the chance of having any screen time Monday – Friday is practically nil.

    Add to that the fact that we have no tv (dvd’s yes, tv – since it’s Russian & the kid’s offering is mostly rubbish – no), that my laptop is MY laptop (so, no games on it) & is firmly off-limits unless it’s for homework, and that our desktop, since it’s not connected to the internet, has no games on it either, and their options are more limited. Yes, we have an ipad, but it too has practically no games on it because I never get round to downloading any, so it’s mostly used on flights for watching movies etc. (Funny how I DO get round to downloading those when the alternative is a 4 hr flight with two moaning boys if – as often happens – the inplane entertainment system doesn’t work). And yes, they do have ds’s, but once more, they are usually stowed away as they don’t have time to play them. Finally, we have an x-boxn Kinnect (this year’s Christmas present to the family), and that does get played with – but only at the weekends as a rule because, guess what, they don’t have time otherwise.

    I’m thinking that when we get back to the UK I won’t know what’s hit me…

    • Potty – my boys don’t have much time. The only get back from school around 4.30, sometimes later. But it’s every spare second they have, they sneak off to find a screen. Does my head in. I just need to have some very very firm rules and do not waver from them, regardless of how much they moan.

  4. We have an iPad and the boys got DS’s for Christmas, but they are only allowed to play on them at one time of day (between supper and bathtime, about an hour max). They know this rule now and seem to accept it (although sometimes I’m a bit more lenient at the weekend, or if one is waiting for another to do a swimming lesson, etc). I’m fairly relaxed about TV, but as you say, TV is now passe, and they would rather do other things. But I find between afterschool activites and homework, there isn’t much time for that either, except at weekends. They do play other games such as Lego and making imaginary cities, or throwing their stuffed Angry Birds around the room (!) But don’t worry, I don’t play board games with them either. So the only advice I would really give is, try to limit screens to a set time?

  5. amyquinton says:

    I feel your pain. I have a 10 yo and 6 yo – both boys. We have one computer, the 3DS and an old Play Station 2. My youngest doesn’t seem bothered much either way about playing games – granted, we live in sunny South Carolina (USA) where the weather is almost always conducive for playing outside – so I’m lucky there (so far).

    My oldest is another story. He’s my highly sensitive child and he lives for screen time – yet my experience is that when he spends time on his games, he’s more emotional and combative afterward (though he denies it, of course) – so it is imperative that I hold firm to our gaming rules which are: 1 hour per day MAX, homework is completed first, and all screens are off 1 hour before bedtime (even if they had so much homework they didn’t get their full hour play time) – (we used to say no games after dinner, but I allowed them to demonstrate that they could handle a shut off 1 hour before bed time with no ensuing meltdowns, then I changed the rule). If the rules are broken all screens are off the next day (of course, I give them warnings first). Also, my kids understand the reasons for the rules so they don’t think the rules are arbitrary: ie: the reason for the 1 hour before bed time rule is because when they’re wound up on games, they have more trouble getting to sleep, and then are more argumentative the next day/unable to concentrate as well, etc. I do make allowances for extenuating circumstances… like when they’re sick or we’re on a long road trip – even though I do force them to shut down and look outside just to be bored for a while while we’re driving… and sometimes, I let them have more time (usually when I’m busy) and I treat that as a ‘treat’ and an exception to the rule. So bottom line, the kids know the rules, know the consequences for not following them, and know why the exist… and they know I will be flexible at times and for good behavior.

    When the screens do go off and I get: “I’m bored…” complaints, my response is: “Good for you! It’s character building! We do some of our most creative thinking when we’re bored.” I also make alternative suggestions (usually clean something). If that doesn’t stop the complaints, I point out that it’s not my problem. If he doesn’t like any of my other alternative suggestions for things to do, he’s welcome to just sit and be bored… eventually he will find something else to do. If he grumbles, I make him do it in another room.

    Once, we caught my oldest sneaking down stairs in the middle of the night on a school night – supposedly unable to control himself – attempting to get on my computer to do wizard101.com – he was banned from ‘screen’ time for a week for that.

    Yes, it can be painful as the parent dealing with the fallout from not having their screen babysitter, but I know that I have to do it and ultimately its for the best. I don’t always get this right and the battles are often. It used to be daily, but they’re getting used to this is the way it is and they are becoming less frequent.

    I don’t really have the pressure from my kids about getting more games systems right now, but what I am getting is trouble in the form of inappropriate games. My oldest has a best friend whose parent’s allow him unlimited game time on numerous devices – they’ve even purchased Rated M games (Halo 4 being the most recent)… My oldest has been begging me to allow him to have this game. I overheard him complaining to his friend about this – he was going to stage a rebellion against over=protective moms. I smiled a bit at myself for my courage in doing the ‘right’ thing, and then we talked about it. He felt I was being unfair as I hadn’t seen the game for myself and that he swears it is not violent or bloody and that I should not make a decision without seeing the game for myself. I just pointed out that it was illegal for him to buy the game himself even if he had enough of his own money, and therefore I was not going to get it for him. I also told him I had a problem with desensitizing himself to violence at a young age – which went over his head. He still fought it – and ultimately I told him that: Yes, fine, I was a mean mommy, but I wasn’t going to change my mind. I pointed out that it is my responsibility to ensure he grows up into a responsible adult and as such, I make the rules. I am not his best friend, I am his mom, I love him, but I will not change my mind.

    I do have the boys playing soccer league so they get outside time, but I don’t believe in packing their schedules so full that they don’t have ‘down time’ to just be bored – I honestly think that’s important – to know how to be bored and deal with it – life can’t and won’t always be entertaining and fun. I want my kids to understand that and still let them just be kids. I don’t know if this is right. Every kid is different. Every family is different. It is a constant battle, but I hope to relish in the joy (one day) of seeing him be a responsible adult and know that my efforts now were worth it.

    I do not like feeling like my kid is obsessed with these games. Sometimes I want to get rid of it all and I wish I had never gone down this path to begin with, alas… I still think my approach is right for him, and like I said, my youngest doesn’t seem driven this way…yet. My youngest doesn’t like to get off the game once he gets on, but if I tell him to go outside instead of play, he’s all over it.

    As for my oldest’s best friend – he seems to handle his unlimited access well despite the freedom he has to play any and all games whenever he wants. I find this interesting and it does make me question my approach. He came over our house for a play date once and they didn’t even play any video games. This friend often chooses, on his own, to play outside over screen time. It makes me wonder sometimes if my strict approach is making my son more obsessed (granted I only get a snapshot of this friend’s life – so I don’t know the reality). I don’t know – I think a big part of the friend being so well adjusted with it is inherent in his personality… I think my son’s personality is that if I relaxed the rules, he would just plug in and never unplug… hence, my approach. However, his friend’s younger brother is another thing entirely – he is 7 and is absolutely, almost rudely, obsessed with the games. One time, we all met at a local park that has an amazing playground and within 30 minutes he wanted to go home because he was bored. He argued with myself and his father about why video games were better than anything else. It was quite sad to witness… and of course, the father gave in to his son’s demands. I don’t want to see that behavior in my kids. It was a sunny, warm day in a playground that has obstacle courses, climbing walls, zip lines, slides, swings, rope bridges – you name it – and he was bored!

    I hope this helps – but bottom line is – you know your family, lifestyles, goals, and kids better than anyone so you have to do what you think is right and what works with your situation. Good Luck – and I have to say it’s a relief to me to know I’m not the only one dealing with this stuff!

    PS – My experience with my rules is that, once they realize the rules are set and specific, it doesn’t become a battle every day, but you have to be vigilant – and they must know the consequences if they battle me… If my son complains when I say its time to get off, he knows he risks losing all game time the next day. When he complains ‘everyone else is doing it’ – I also remind him that I’m not responsible for every one else – I’m responsible for my kids only. The reminder that it is my responsibility to see that he becomes a responsible adult seems to reach him on some level. Clearly, I don’t think you’re being a mean mom. You have to look at the long run and know that what you are doing is best long term. I’m not any sort of professional psychologist – these are just my opinions. I’m just another stay at home mom going through the similar experiences and trying to do my best not to screw up my kids :). And always I remember to tell them how much I love them. I also like to point out that I’m not perfect, just a parent. I may get it wrong. He may think I’m wrong sometimes, but I’m just trying to do my best and he is my responsibility.

    • Wow lots of useful advice there Amy. And I agree, it’s my HSC who is the one that has a bad reaction to being on screens, getting far more combative when he gets off them. You sound as though you are very sensible and handle it far better than I do.

  6. Lynette says:

    Mine are still younger (aged 6) that any screen time is precious. We didn’t have cable or internet for the last 2 years, but that is starting to slowly change. If you don’t like playing Monopoly, maybe try Uno or other board games that are a ton of fun. One that I liked growing up is Scattegories. Really works the brain and with enough people you can break into teams.

    Barring that, strong and non-bending rules and consequences are always great ways to change behaviors as well as positive alternatives. But, then again, I haven’t hit the big time yet. So, I could be whistling in the wind. Good luck and let us know if you find a magical answer. 🙂

    • Lynette I beg to play Uno or cluedo or scrabble or pictionary or just about anything but apparently monopoly, risk and chess are the only acceptable choices for my boys. Sigh.

  7. Uly says:

    I can tell you, as a stranger, what we do, but you may not like the advice.

    The girls have a strict half hour time limit each for screen time. Special family time doesn’t count (so if I want to watch the wizard of oz with them, that doesn’t cut into their own time), and watching each other play a game doesn’t count, but watching the show your sister picked on netflix DOES. The only way time carries over is if you ask in advance. You don’t get extra time because you didn’t finish your homework and had to go to bed.

    Before they do their homework, they get half an hour to play. Play, unless it is absolutely torrential, means OUTSIDE. They can sit and sulk if they like, but they are going to get half an hour of sunshine and vitamin d every day. They have to have this time before homework (lest it get dark while they’re slaving away), and then they have to finish their homework before they do anything else, including screen time.

    If they don’t give up the screen when the timer goes off, they lose their time tomorrow. If they whine that their sister didn’t share enough, they automatically lose their time tomorrow. If they do something egregriously bad, they lose their screen time and probably their allowance. They don’t get any screen time Fridays because they go up to their dad and there is no time.

    So, yeah, we’re pretty strict on the subject. Oh, and as always, the deadly words “I’m bored” are met with a list of chores and, of course, a rhetorical question as to whether or not they really want to risk their screen time on petty whining.

    But I find if they have too much time on screens, their behavior takes a real downturn. I’ve been known to preemptively take it away for a week entirely to detox, not as a punishment, but because they need to get it out of their systems. I can promise you that if they started sneaking around to get to a screen, any screen, during any free time they had, I would bring the evil auntie hammer down on them for that. Either it is bad behavior that cannot be rewarded by getting what they want, or they are addicted and sorely need some time to breathe. The only difference is whether or not they get a lecture.

  8. Iota says:

    Aaaaargh… is all I can say. The woes of most mothers of boys.

    You’ve had lots of comments already. Here’s my tuppence-ha’penny.

    1) Limiting time is essential, but yes, a daily battle – unless you’re in a really good strong routine with it. Mine are always trying to sneak extra time here and there.

    2) Finding games that you think are acceptable really helps. eg my two boys play a lot of FIFA and NBA, and I don’t mind that too much. They have a lot of fun together, laughing out loud. They love being managers and picking teams, and I think that can be quite creative. Certainly not destructive. There’s healthy competition. We don’t allow violent games. We once inherited one, which involved running around looking down the barrel of a gun, shooting people, which definitely had an effect on the behaviour of the younger son. So we vet games carefully. Oh, we do allow the Lego fighting games (Clone Wars) and a Spiderman one, so it’s not a blanket ban. But no real humans fighting.

    3) In theory, I think it’s great to play with your kids, but in practice it’s really hard. They are SO much better than you. However, I do try to be involved, even if just sitting watching (boring as heck…). And at one point in my life, I did throw myself into learning the Spiderman game, so I could join in fighting vilains.

    4) For years, we had “no screens week” the last week of every month. That meant that however much they were on screens, it was always 75% of what it could potentially be, was my rational. It was great. The week itself was quite hard work, as they would be grumpy and bored, but we rewarded them with a family game on Friday night. Older son occasionally admitted that he liked “no screens week”. Younger son never! It’s lapsed now, because older son (age 15) need the computer so much for school work, that it just wouldn’t be realistic. I suppose we could have “no recreational screens week” – perhaps we should revisit the idea.

    • Iota – there’s no way I could play computer games with them except Just Dance as I am beyond rubbish and I just frustrate them. But I did implement new rules based on advice given here and it has been working (although halfterm is scuppering our new routine somewhat).

  9. […] have blogged about my children and their slight addiction to screens before. I yearn for them to have a […]

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