Jack watched his first television show when he was about 20 months old. Zoe had only been around a week or two, and I was at my wits end trying to figure out how to nurse her and entertain him at the same time. During a particularly fussy period for Zoe, I became exasperated. This juggle with two babies was brand new for me and very intense. Without really thinking, I turned to Thomas the Train, and Jack was hooked. I felt guilty about it, so much so that I remember the day clear as a bell, but I knew that his television indoctrination would come sooner or later. From that day forward, our dance with technology with the kids began and has been a learning experience ever since.
I’m not a fan of screen time, but I think that it’s enjoyable and relaxing for them and harmless if monitored carefully. Even after Zoe and Beau came along, we’ve been very diligent about limiting their total daily screen time to 1-2 hours.
Zoe and Beau have never been all that interested in TV, apps, or video games, and they regularly lose interest in most after about 20 minutes or so. Jack is the opposite. He is the type of child that will lock his attention into the screen and completely immerse himself into whatever he’s watching or doing. He’s seven years old, and most of his friends are watching TV or playing Xbox games and iPad apps, along with games like Pirate101 and Wizard101 on the computer. The reality is, he is at that age. I’ve just decided to be proactive and diligent about establishing boundaries.
I recognize that many of these factors are leading him to wanting more time in front of screens, so we developed a Reward System where he can actively start earning his video game time once his homework is done and his room is picked up. Fortunately for us, reward charts were made for kids like Jack. He wants to please, he wants to do well, and he wants to play with the things his buddies are interested in too. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve come around to feeling OK about letting him play games on certain devices as long as I know all about the game, and that there is a security function enabled before he uses them. For games on the computer like Pirate101 and Wizard101, I know that he’s not only getting used to the keyboard and functionality, but he’s also working towards a goal within the game that is ongoing. The controls and functions are smooth, intuitive and engaging for a child and they pride themselves on safety as well. Jack particularly likes the combat with the giant frogs within the Pirate101 game and the ability to search and achieve higher levels and other “worlds”. The games are both free to play but if you opt into the game’s membership, the player can access more worlds quickly which means more story lines and more adventure. There’s incentive within the game, which creates incentive for Jack to achieve more within our own Reward System.
Once he’s finished his daily or weekly tasks, he can earn screen time minutes (capped at 30 minutes per day) by completing extra “chores” including collecting dishes and putting them in the sink, collecting dirty laundry and putting them in a hamper, feeding Theo and Charlie, helping me prepare dinner, set the table, or fold towels. Each task earns a popsicle stick, and each popsicle stick can be lost with poor behavior. Jack works really well with incentive and clear guidelines, so this has been effective in curbing some attitude and behavior issues we’ve had, too.
Overall, I’m comfortable with this system and am content with letting them use approved screen time. With Wizard101 and Pirate101, the incentive to earn coins and the engaging graphics and goal make the games interesting and compelling for a child Jack’s age, which makes me think he’s using his brain and actually enjoying himself. Plus he’s learning the value of earning one of his favorite play times, all of which are things that I’m striving to highlight in our parenthood as well. Jack is an avid reader at bedtime, and extremely athletic and is outside playing during the day, but it’s fun for him to have a little play time indoors, too. He’s getting his feet wet in this realm of skills within technology, something he’ll surely use in the future. As long as we have clear guidelines, I’m comfortable watching him explore this side of computer gaming, too.
Thank you to Kingsisle Entertainment for helping me tell our screen time story, and thank you for reading.