I remember when I was a kid...too much screen time wasn't even an issue. We didn't have cable so we only had a few channels. Those channels only played cartoons on Saturday mornings so there wasn't much to watch the rest of the week. There was the occasional "Wonderful World of Disney" movie that would play on Sunday evenings and I watched Mash with my Dad each night. I also remember watching "Wheel of Fortune" on occasion...must be where my love of puzzles developed. So, yeah...watching TV wasn't a huge time sucker for me. Don't even get me started on how funny my kids think it is that I was born before the internet was around! Dealing with too much screen time these days is a legitimate concern.
Annie received her first Leapster when she was about four years old. We bought Megan one when she was three. Lily inherited those when the older girls moved on to the Nintendo DS. Those were passed on to Lily when we moved to the Nintendo DSi, which are still a favorite. Of course, now we have iPod Touches for the older girls and I am sure Lily will have one sometime in the next couple of years. I began to feel a bit overwhelmed by the technical gadgets my children were amassing so I decided to do things differently with Noah and Claire. Noah turned four in January and does not have any type of electronic device. He has to play with good old fashioned regular toys! I intend to stick with this until he is at least five or six. I will do the same with Claire as well.
We have a new method of controlling "game time" in our house. The kids earn 15 minutes per day for doing a good job with school. They earn 2 minutes per glass of water that they drink. They can also earn time by playing outside....if they play outside for an hour they can earn an hour of game time. They can redeem their game time on Fridays after all of their schoolwork is completed. They can also redeem it on Saturdays between 10am and 4pm. We started this about a month ago and it has been working really well! I am planning to continue this through the summer. Instead of earning time for doing their schoolwork, they will earn time by completing math drill worksheets or writing stories. I also don't allow them to sit down and play game for hours on end. If they play for an hour then they must take an hour break. There have been weeks when they have earned a large amount of game time and weeks when they earn the bare minimum. If the weather is awesome and they spend a large portion of the day outside then I will let them play game off and on without deducting time since they are striking a good balance. Really, that's what it is all about...striking a good balance between time spent being active and engaging their minds and time spent being couch potatoes.
We got rid of cable a couple of years ago. Programming for kids was available 24/7 and it was turning into an addiction with the kids. We have Netflix now. The kids are allowed to watch TV when they wake up in the morning until we are ready to start our day. It usually ends up being just enough time to watch one show. I allow them to watch a bit of TV or a movie in the afternoons as well. I just try to keep an eye on how much time they spend sitting in front of a screen. Once again, it's all about balance. Yes, some days they will be a couch potato all afternoon...usually if someone is feeling poorly or it's rainy and ugly outside. Other days the TV will go off at 9am and not come on again.
We also have rules about screen time when people visit. If friends are over we do not play video games or watch TV. In my opinion your friend is there to play with you and not to watch TV. Yes, we have had the occasional playdate when all the visiting friend wants to do is watch TV or play game...those friends don't usually get invited back. Seems harsh but I have a tough enough time keeping my own kids from too much screen time so I don't want to spend my day policing someone else's child in that regard. Besides, if there is a friend visiting then they should be able to come up with some sort of creative play on their own. Of course, we do make exceptions to that rule...sleepovers almost always involve movie watching and day long playdates will involve a bit of screen time just to keep the peace. Generally speaking though we try to discourage screen time when friends visit.
Another big no-no in our house (really anywhere) is that you do not ignore others in favor of staring at a screen! It's a huge pet peeve of mine when I am trying to engage a child/teenager in a conversation and they are busy texting, listening to music or playing a game. It's just rude. I don't do it as an adult and I won't allow my children to do it either. I am sure we have all seen the person who is talking on the phone while checking out at the grocery store...totally ignoring the cashier as if they didn't exist except to bag their groceries. It is the epitome of tackiness to behave that way. I won't stand for it! My children know this. In fact, it is the very rare occasion that any sort of gaming device leaves the house and travels with us...they certainly never make it out of the car. I know lots of parents rely on these gadgets as a way to keep their children entertained while at appointments, grocery shopping, etc... I am guilty of it myself, however, I try not to do this. I always encourage them to bring a book or a few small toys. I would rather see a child playing with some action figures and laughing than sitting quietly with their nose shoved against a screen. FYI, those pocket versions of regular board games (Connect Four, Scrabble, etc...) are fantastic to toss in your purse to bust boredom if the need arises!
So, it really all boils down to being responsible about how much time the kids spend in front of a screen. It's easy to tune the kids out and not pay attention to how they spend their time. I know some days I am just happy if they are being quiet and not fighting. However, I try very hard to remain aware and responsible about their screen time. I also have to remind myself not to become addicted to screen time. If I don't set a good example for my kids, who will?