The Sliver, or How to stop fighting about screen time

Published by Lori Pickert on May 15, 2013 at 08:08 AM

Sub-subtitle for this post: Why you need to move from a scarcity to an abundance model.

One of the most frequent things I’m asked is how to deal with the struggle between parents and kids over limits on screen time.

Parents want something better for their kids than TV, movies, and video games — they want their lives to be full of better-quality activities, like playing outdoors, reading, playing, and building.

Many parents approach the subject of screen time — or other kid activities they don’t like, like reading comic books — by placing a strong limit on it. They say to their child, “We want our lives to be lovely and full of all the good things, so we are cramming all the stuff you love that we don’t like into this sliver.”

The child hears, “Blah blah blah, you love the sliver.”

Then the parents get to experience the ever-burgeoning frustration of having their child riveted on that sliver of time. The kids want to talk about it. They want to bargain for more of it. They want to argue about whether they got their fair share of it. Why? Because the sliver is where all the good stuff is.

What we need to do is flip it around. Instead of making the sliver the garbage chute on Star Wars that everyone dives into for blessed escape, we need to allot the sliver to ourselves instead.

We say, “We want our lives to be lovely and full of all the good things, so we are going to allot a portion of our day to the stuff that really matters — the stuff we think is important.”

Now put it all in there. Make time every day to read, to play outside, to play a board game together, to build with LEGO or blocks, to spend time together in the art studio. Work on your projects together, side by side. Go for a hike, fly a kite, sit on the steps and eat an ice cream cone. Read aloud to one another.

As if by magic, the stuff you care about is now part of your everyday life. Magically, your kids are no longer riveted by the tiny sliver of time when they get to do what they want — therefore, they are free to enjoy all the good things instead of bitterly resenting them. Magically, you have just negotiated a life that respects both what is important to you *and* what is important to your child.

When you set up a scarcity situation, you are always going to whip people into a frenzy to get whatever it is that’s hard to come by, whether it’s a dancing Elmo, a Beanie Baby, or a half-hour playing Minecraft. That’s just human psychology. Make it rare and people want it desperately. And when you limit what your child wants to do and push them toward something else, saying THIS is better than THAT, you create conflict where there doesn’t need to be conflict. They should be able to love books *and* TV, computer games *and* playing outside. But because you have put these things in competition with one another, they have to choose — so they end up rejecting the very things you want them to embrace.

When you force your child’s interests into the sliver, you are denying them the opportunity to get good at what they care about. You are denying them the chance to relax and enjoy themselves. And you are saying, flat out, “I don’t care about this thing you like. I don’t like it.” That’s a path toward having them not talk to you about it anymore. You are forcing them away from you just when you should be pulling them close.

If they love Minecraft or playing a video or computer game, they can’t accomplish anything in a tiny slice of time. The way these games work, it usually takes a lot of time just to learn how to play and then it takes a lot of time to slowly progress to mastery. The games make you put in the time; they don’t let you jump straight to the fun part. And the kids are willing to do the work — but if they don’t have enough time, they can’t do the work.

It takes a lot of time to understand, grasp new concepts, figure out rules, learn, practice, and master. Kids whose screen time is limited are living in constant frustration because they can’t build their skills, they can’t watch the YouTube tutorials another kid made, they can’t learn what they want to learn, and they can never relax while doing the thing they enjoy most because they always have one nervous eye on the clock. They can’t experiment, they can’t explore, and they can’t practice — and those are the key steps of learning that you want them to experience, even when it’s doing something you yourself aren’t interested in.

Some parents say they’re really frustrated because their child seems to spend all of their available screen time watching *other* kids play — and they’re tempted to reduce the amount of computer time even more. But watching others is a crucial step in learning. What’s the fastest way to learn to ride a bike — reading a booklet about it or watching someone else ride? Plus, watching tutorials and watching friends play are community aspects; that observation helps them learn how to teach and mentor, how to collaborate and socialize. If you only get X minutes a day and you really want to learn, you are going to forgo playing yourself in order to try to cram in more learning time — and learning requires observing. So cutting back on their computer time actually forces them to do less hands-on experimentation. Learning by doing takes a lot of time, and they just don’t have that luxury.

One of our higher goals as parents should be to help our children become independent — not just physically, but intellectually. If we reject their interests because they seem stupid or because we don’t understand them or enjoy them ourselves, we are rejecting our kids themselves. Do you remember what you liked when you were 11? I’m pretty sure that’s the summer I played Monopoly nine hours a day, six days a week. On the one hand, it was very sedentary. On the other hand, I do own some real estate now. I haven’t built a hotel yet, but don’t count me out. I also watched a lot of “Love Boat” that year. Yet I still managed to start a company, open a school, and write a book. If “Love Boat” can’t kill your intellect, believe me, nothing can.

In our home, we limited screens naturally when our children were little by having a routine that just didn’t include them. When they got older, we employed generous limits. We didn’t use screens for entertainment (our family word for this is actually “sloth time”) until 3:00, which made their morning and early afternoon the focus of project work and play. As they got even older, we shifted that time to 2:00, but we also allowed computer use for project-related work because the boys were now researching independently, making films, writing books, and so on.

During the day, we worked on projects, played outside, read, played LEGO, took photographs, made art, and all the other good things. The kids never watched the clock; they never dropped a book or a squirt gun to dash to a computer or a TV set. They experienced balance and they enjoyed everything they did. There was no competition between computers and nature or between books and TV. Screens were fun, but the kids never riveted on them because there was no need to. If they wanted to get to level 47 of some game, they had plenty of time to do that. Employing generous limits means you have plenty of time. You don’t worry — there’s no urgency. You aren’t hyper-focused on it, and your mind is free to focus on and enjoy other things. And we made sure they had plenty of other things to focus on.

We need to shift from a scarcity model (there’s very little time for you to do those things you love to do) to an abundance model (there’s plenty of time for us to do all the good things, including that stuff you love to do).

You can’t really fix the sliver problem by, say, making the sliver a little bigger. It really takes a complete flip-flop. You have to stop curtailing what your child loves and instead focus on building a routine and a family culture around the things you believe are most important. Get those things in there — do them every day. But if you want your child to see them, appreciate them, and relax enough to enjoy them, think about getting rid of the sliver.

See also:

Why I Don’t Worry About My Kids’ Screen Time, Part 1

Why I Don’t Worry About My Kids’ Screen Time, Part 2

Parenting with abundance vs. scarcity

76 comments

Comment by amanda on May 15, 2013 at 09:32 AM

brilliant. really.

i often felt the need to limit the time my guy plays civilization but once i started watching him actually doing it, i realized it wasn't a mario bros. type game, that he had to work and build and forward plan. SLIVER BE GONE.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 15, 2013 at 10:08 AM

yes, civ is a great example of a game that takes a lot of time to master! my older son is a history/politics/government nut and civ motivated him to learn so much about other countries, cultures, and history.

Comment by sylvia on May 15, 2013 at 10:03 AM

I agree 100 %... My kids are still small so i have no issues in this regard. It will become a struggle though once they enter school... more things competing for their limited spare time, which i'd love for them to spend on projects... but i'm trying to ignore that this time is fast approaching... homeschooling is not permitted in Germany (i know, *GASP*!) so we'll just have to work it out.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 15, 2013 at 10:09 AM

it’s really just a flip from the mindset of I WILL LIMIT THAT to “i will start really living my values and making sure we do the things we care about.” if you are doing that, then everything else just folds in.

Comment by Michelle on May 15, 2013 at 10:09 AM

I read something recently (gretchen rubin, maybe?) about giving kids lots of time to get good at the things they like, and about people who loved playing video games become game designers or how her friend who played with her dollhouse became an interior designer. I try to remember what I did as a kid . . . I had a LOT of limits place on me . . . but I watched a lot of tv and played by myself a lot, so now I have a rich story life in my head and try to get it on paper. :)

And the sliver... yes, routine is key for getting all the good stuff in. My kids know when they have free screen time in the afternoons now, so they don't ask for it all day. And it's enough time (took a while to find the right balance) so they aren't cranky about it. I try to think about how I feel when I only get the sliver for myself. I get really grouchy and tune out during the rest of our days, which is filled with fun stuff I should enjoy, but I'm cranky about my sliver. It's much better for everyone when we all get enough time to play and develop our skills at what we love to do.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 15, 2013 at 10:13 AM

 

YES. i really think the key is starting with balance. so many people think (wrongly, in my opinion) that kids are going to naturally seek balance even if they’ve never experienced it. you should give them a fighting start and help them experience it *first* — then when they get off the rails, they can tell something isn’t right. if you start from a place of balance, it’s so much easier. if you have to go from severe limiting to trying to open things up, you have to go through the unpleasant adjustment period where the kids are going to binge before they chill out.

people praise and praise the freedom we had as kids 20 yrs ago but they focus on how we were outdoors all the time instead of looking at screens — the *real* difference is how much *freedom* we had then. no one cared what we did. we could spend weeks just digging a hole; no one cared. we could spend weeks playing Monopoly; no one cared. now we rivet our attention on what our kids are doing and load up every activity with huge significance. i think everyone should just mellow out and if you care about it, why aren’t you doing it? if the outdoors is important to you, go for a hike, don’t just yell at the kids and tell them to go outside and play.

Comment by boywrangler on May 22, 2013 at 08:55 PM

Everything about your comment is yes. :) Thank you!

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 22, 2013 at 09:11 PM

thank YOU ;o)

Comment by Cindy Stephens on June 1, 2014 at 06:51 AM

Wow! This is amazingly good! Right before bed last night I was telling two of my kids how tomorrow we would limit screen time. Ugh! Even as I laid my head on the pillow, I knew that was the wrong time to give that speech. Now I see it was the wrong thing to say! If only I had read this last night!! Thank you for this insight, Lori. I am enlightened by all of your posts I am reading!

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 1, 2014 at 07:45 AM

thank you so much, cindy! :)

i hope you find the balance that’s right for you guys! xoxo

Comment by sarah pj on May 15, 2013 at 10:12 AM

I love love love how you have framed this. It's so true - the more we all spend time doing the things we love, the less we fight about how we spend our time. While *I* may not appreciate the nuances of role playing stories online, my child certainly does. I should probably get over myself.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 15, 2013 at 10:17 AM

thank you, sarah! scarcity to abundance, i think that’s the ticket — stop trying to reduce X and pump your life full of the stuff that matters to you.

Comment by Kelley on May 15, 2013 at 10:50 AM

I am right in the thick of trying to find a good balance with this. I know I watched a lot of tv and played a lot of video games when I was a kid. When I moved into my own place, I chose not to have a tv. When my kids were little, we spent a lot of time outdoors, doing arts and crafts, reading, etc. It has been really tough for me to get to a neutral place about screen time. I see that my 11 yr old is really interested in Minecraft, blogging, drawing on the computer, Skyping with friends, learning to do his own animation and video game programming. He has learned all these things on his own. I have no idea how to do these things. I can see a lot of value in what he's doing. And I also see that he is struggling to pull himself away from it in order to get good sleep, take breaks to eat, etc. I can be like that too when I am really into a project or a book, so I get that. I have just struggled with the grumpiness that sneaks up on him because he hasn't been able to pull away to take care of himself. I do think he has experienced balance so hopefully he can find it again.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 15, 2013 at 01:53 PM

love your comment, kelley.

 

I also see that he is struggling to pull himself away from it in order to get good sleep, take breaks to eat, etc. I can be like that too when I am really into a project or a book, so I get that.

this is where i think negotiation comes in — and generous limits vs. stringent limits or no limits. it sounds like you are involved and talking about the issue and stepping in if he goes off the rails, which is what i would do, too.

I see that my 11 yr old is really interested in Minecraft, blogging, drawing on the computer, Skyping with friends, learning to do his own animation and video game programming. He has learned all these things on his own. I have no idea how to do these things.

that made me laugh out loud! ;o) and seriously, i see the pride my sons have in mastering these things and sharing them with us — and we are proud of them, too.

Comment by Sarah Scott on May 15, 2013 at 11:51 AM

At one time I would have agreed wholeheartedly with what you've got here, but since I have spent time researching what television and computer games do to brain development, I would now disagree. Television is a public health issue. It does cause physical damage to children's developing brains, regardless of the content, and this is at 'modest amounts' of 1-2 hours per day (average viewing is 4 hours). If you want a good introduction to the research, I'd recommend reading 'Remotely Controlled: How Television is Damaging Our Lives' by Dr Aric Sigman. I was really shocked by what I found out, and for anyone who has children I would really BEG you to do your research; and for anything you read, find out who the research is done by and what their agenda is too.

Recommendations are that children under 3 should not be getting any screen time at all (including passive viewing - being in the room whilst a television is on). From 3 years up, a maximum of 1 hour screen time a day is a suggested limit, and that is what I try to keep my family to at the moment.

I don't let my children eat whatever they choose, even though they prefer sweets and chocolate I keep those as a treat because these things are bad for their health. I explain my reasoning to them, and they understand. Essentially I am doing the same thing for television viewing. I understand the crux of your argument, that allotting enjoyable screen time then makes it a focus, but so what if it does? My children get sweets on a Friday evening. They have learnt that no amount of nagging will change that, and they now look forward to Friday night. The same thing goes with TV and computer use.

I know that many feel that children are learning things from TV viewing and computer games, and as I write this my 10 year old is playing Minecraft and I can see he is getting a lot of enjoyment from it. But, the research suggests that the negative aspects of screen time far outweigh the positive ones. Limiting time makes my children more focused on what they want to achieve when they are using the computer, and as someone who in the past has just checked facebook for 5 minutes and has then looked up realising that 3 hours has past, I think that is a healthy skill to learn.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 15, 2013 at 02:38 PM

 

 I understand the crux of your argument, that allotting enjoyable screen time then makes it a focus, but so what if it does? My children get sweets on a Friday evening. They have learnt that no amount of nagging will change that, and they now look forward to Friday night. The same thing goes with TV and computer use.

well, re: studies and research, i admit that i am a gentle skeptic. i take their recommendations with a grain of salt. after all, if i followed the recommendations blindly, i would circumcise my sons, i would eat 2 to 3 servings of dairy a day, and i would have replaced butter with margarine and then gone back to butter again. i would have a glass of red wine every evening with dinner, wait, oops, no, never mind, stop doing that. and so on.

i have to put studies and research into the context of my own common sense. and what i am offering here isn’t so much an argument, it’s a recommendation — that if a person hates the constant friction of fighting with their child about screen time (and obviously this is not a problem for you), they should consider instead unclenching on that issue and instead flooding their life with better choices. they should get to know their child and what their child loves instead of flatly rejecting it. and they should demonstrate what healthy balance looks like. if healthy balance for you is chocolate on friday and very limited computer/tv, kudos to you. but that is not what healthy balance looks like for most of the adults that i know.

as I write this my 10 year old is playing Minecraft and I can see he is getting a lot of enjoyment from it. But, the research suggests that the negative aspects of screen time far outweigh the positive ones. Limiting time makes my children more focused on what they want to achieve when they are using the computer, and as someone who in the past has just checked facebook for 5 minutes and has then looked up realising that 3 hours has past, I think that is a healthy skill to learn.

i don’t see how severe limits teach a skill. actually, you develop the skill of achieving a healthy balance by controlling the situation, making mistakes, adjusting, and learning what works best for you and how to adjust when things go awry. if children are controlled by strict limits, they have no opportunity to develop the skill of managing their own time and their own choices.

my sons’ friends who have tight limits at home want to binge on TV and computer games whenever they are out of the house; one of my friends grew up without a TV and he says all he did when he visited a friend was beg to watch TV the entire time. as soon as he left home, he bought a TV as big as a king-size bed. i myself grew up watching loads of TV and i hardly watch it at all now.

my husband is a software engineer; the first company i started was computer-based, and now the work i do is mostly on the internet. as a family, we enjoy TV and movies and video and computer games. we camp and kayak and hike and garden. we are outdoors every day. we read voraciously. we write books and make films and create art. i have no expectation and no *wish* that my children limit either their chocolate or their screens to one night a week when they are adults, as that is not the way i live myself. obviously you should make the choices that you feel good about. that’s what i’m doing, too.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 21, 2013 at 09:27 AM

saw this today & wanted to come back and put it here…

Diagnosed with moderate to severe autism at the age of 2, Jacob spent years in the clutches of a special education system that didn’t understand what he needed. His teachers at school would try to dissuade Kristine from hoping to teach Jacob any more than the most basic skills.

For a parent, it’s terrifying to fly against the advice of the professionals,” Kristine writes in her memoir, “The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius.” “But I knew in my heart that if Jake stayed in special ed, he would slip away.”

“I operate under a concept called ‘muchness,’” Kristine said. “Which is surrounding children with the things they love — be it music, or art, whatever they’re drawn to and love.”

 

By the time he was 11 years old, Jacob was ready for college. He’s now studying condensed matter physics at the Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis. — Boy genius diagnosed with autism has IQ higher than Einstein

and a quote from Jacob Barnett, the boy genius himself, from his TedxTeen talk that appears at the end of this article:

In order to succeed, you must look at everything with your unique perspective and not settle for accepting the straight facts.

The video is great — you can watch the whole thing here.

Comment by Deborah on May 18, 2013 at 10:40 AM

I have to agree with Sarah somewhat just because of experience. Since September, we have been all over the map with Minecraft limits: generous limits, no limits, strict limits....Right now our limits are pretty strict, and I think it is working pretty well. It seems like generous amounts of screen time does adversely affect my ten-year-old son. He gets cranky and less able to focus on other things. Also, I kept waiting for him to plug into the more problem solving aspects of Minecraft, but it didn't seem like that was happening very often. Really, he seems to use his Minecraft time more productively now that he has pretty strict limits.

We actually tie our Minecraft time to how many math assignments my son has completed. I know this sounds terribly behaviorist. I am generally not a big fan of the “carrot and stick” approach to education, but I read that individuals with attention issues (such as my son) are natural entrepreneurs, and that some incentives might be helpful. What we are doing right now does not seem to be in the spirit of interest-led learning, but it is working. My son gets his math done, he has some Minecraft time, and he has plenty of time for other pursuits as well.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 18, 2013 at 10:42 AM

if it works for you, then that’s great. :)

Comment by Ettina on October 8, 2016 at 10:13 PM

Just wondering, have you read the research or just the synopsis of the research? Because I checked the actual research and it's all about TV, not video games. It makes no sense to me to lump video games and TV together under a general category of 'screens'. The differences between the two mediums is immense and theoretically very significant.
And even with TV, the only age group where TV watching is consistently harmful or ineffective is under 2. For 3-5 year olds, meanwhile, regular daytime TV is harmful, but Sesame Street is beneficial.
I don't trust anyone who talks about 'screens' as a monolithic thing. The reality is a lot more nuanced.

Comment by Anonymous on May 15, 2013 at 02:21 PM

Good post, but it's also about sustainability; if your kids don't like the way you've divided their time, they won't maintain that schedule themselves in their adult life. So it's not just about the value of their "screen time" it also affects the value of the "good things." If children resent the activities parents want them to value, the biggest problem isn't how they feel about it then, it's that if they leave the house with those attitudes there will be a complete reversal — they'll never do those things, and only do the things they think they want to do. You see that with plenty of kids who, when they go to college, collapse into sloth as soon as they leave their parents field of vision because of their strong resentment of certain good behavior they’ve developed. If you can’t build a meaningful schedule that your children also find meaningful, it’s no use, because you won’t be able to have your children incorporate those activities into their lives long-term. You might as well have not regulated at all. So I’d say you’re even more right than you think you are, because balance isn’t just important because of the inherent value of that screen time, but because you have to find a happy balance to hope for any sustainable participation in the good activities.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 15, 2013 at 02:47 PM

 

if your kids don't like the way you've divided their time, they won't maintain that schedule themselves in their adult life

If you can’t build a meaningful schedule that your children also find meaningful, it’s no use, because you won’t be able to have your children incorporate those activities into their lives long-term. You might as well have not regulated at all.

balance isn’t just important because of the inherent value of that screen time, but because you have to find a happy balance to hope for any sustainable participation in the good activities

i love what you’ve written here, and i agree with you.

if children are denied the things they want most, they are more likely to indulge in them wildly when the restrictions are lifted — whether that happens when they’re still at home or when they’ve left the nest and they’re on their own. obviously, i think it’s much better for kids to learn to self-regulate when they are young. it increases the chance that they will appreciate and incorporate those “good things” in their life and i think it increases the chance that they will do meaningful work on their own time.

this all relates back to PBH in that children need the opportunity to make their own choices and decisions and learn to fix what doesn’t work — with mentoring, with support, but also with freedom and responsibility. i fully believe in slowly ramping kids up to independence rather than keeping them tightly controlled and then cutting them loose at 18.

Comment by Stefani on May 15, 2013 at 02:41 PM

Thank you for this, Lori. It's given me lots to think about. When my boys were small, we didn't even own a TV. Now we have 3, plus computers, iPads, phones, ipods, Wii, and XBox. I never, EVER, would have believed we'd be so "plugged in". Just recently we even got satellite TV for the first time (after realizing it was probably more efficient than buying episodes of the shows we like). I couldn't help but feel like I was crossing over to the dark side though, or at the very least potentially opening the door to more frustrations over trying to balance screen time with "real life".

Most of the time though, I think that we live a pretty balanced life. My guys have lots of off-screen talents, passions and interests, but they do spend what seems to me to be quite a bit of screen-related time too. It might be skyping with friends as they build a Minecraft world together. Then they'll get off and maybe watch an episode of a Discovery show, then they'll play outside for a while before they wind up back on a screen watching You Tube videos about skateboarding tricks, then they skateboard, then they're back on the screens editing the video they made of themselves skateboarding, off... on... off... on... off... on. It kind of makes me crazy and leaves me worried that they're too dependent on screens or that maybe I'm just not doing a good enough job of fostering the kind of environment that leads to so much fulfillment and passion that they don't NEED to rely on screens.

I don't know really why it bothers me so much, but I think it might have something to do with the fact that while I do remember watching hours of TV as a kid, I also remember longer stretches of sustained, uninterrupted play. My screen time and play time were separate, while my kids play time and screen time seems far more interwoven.

If I'm honest though, I'm that way now too. Draw some, look something up on the computer, watch a cooking show, cook in real life, check in on Instagram, fold clothes, email a friend, read a book, hop on Amazon to see if the author has other books... on... off... on... off...on...off

I guess I just worry that they, or rather WE, will get too used to the ease and passivity of screen time, even "educational" screen time, and find ourselves wanting to forego the part where we turn it off and go do, create, learn, explore and think for ourselves.

I really like the idea though of just making sure we allot time in the day for what matters to us - to make THAT the focus - rather than worrying so much about what we don't want to happen. It sounds a little like thinking on and planning for and sowing what you DO want in your garden, rather than starting a garden only thinking about what you DON'T want to grow in there. It's important to weed, of course, but it's even more important to cultivate and nurture the good stuff.

Thanks again for the food for thought!

Comment by Everydaybest on May 15, 2013 at 02:46 PM

I'm not convinced. I do not have the ability to be as interesting as a polished computer game, TV show, or YouTube video, and on their own the kids don't either. Perhaps they will get there.

Lori, you have an exceptional model, and you are very good at what you do. Some of us need limits in our houses and some boredom so that our kids can find other interests.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 15, 2013 at 02:59 PM

 

I do not have the ability to be as interesting as a polished computer game, TV show, or YouTube video, and on their own the kids don't either.

this is fascinating to me, and i hope you come back and write a little more!

i have often thought it interesting that parents don’t invest as much money in, say, their kids’ open-ended toys and outdoor play spaces as they do in the computer, XBox, video games, etc., even though we seem to want to have the *value* of boosting outdoor play and free play.

one thing i think is helpful: actually investing time, energy, and yes, money, in those things. make your art studio wonderful and i guarantee (i have years of experience with this!) that every kid you know will want to be in there making and building and creating. adults, too.

make your outdoor playspace wonderful with sandbox, loose parts, garden, climbing structures, and etc., and your kids will play outside for hours. (the best thing we ever added to the outdoor playspace? a gigantic pile of dirt.

i think if you build the family *habit* of, say, going hiking, then that is *just what you do* — and you value it and enjoy it together. again, i have never known a five-year-old who doesn’t love to walk in the woods with a bug box and a magnifying glass. if these things are part of your family culture, they are woven into the fabric of your everyday life.

in order to help kids build non-screen interests, we have to give them a rich collection of tools, spaces, and experiences to draw from. we have to build a life that reflects our values. it’s not just a matter of turning off the TV and the computer.

you have an exceptional model, and you are very good at what you do. Some of us need limits in our houses and some boredom so that our kids can find other interests.

thanks? :)

your last sentence unfortunately cuts directly against what i’m trying to say in this post, which is: rather than *limiting* the one, you can *boost* the other. and once kids find all those other interests, things balance out. the computer/video games/tv just become another thing in the mix.

while i want to say i champion boredom — i am certainly against parents constantly entertaining their kids — i have to say, boredom has never been an issue for us. in fact, my 16yo just said the other day that he thinks the measure of a happy life is that you never have enough time to do all the things you want to do — your interests outpace the clock.

i think it’s asking a lot of kids to say “turn off that TV/XBox and get really good and bored and somewhere on the other side you will think of making a puppet theatre or playing pirates in the yard.” i think we can make it a whole lot easier for them by building habits of play, outdoor play, reading, building, making, creating, etc.

Comment by Romy Mueller on February 15, 2015 at 10:03 AM

Lori you are so right with that. We just did that. We built a play ground paradise with lots inexpensive things. We checked the web and got inspired and went for it. Fairy garden ,rock garden. climbing wall from side of house to the roof, robes hanging from trees, homemade swings, pounds ,fire spot, big canvas outside with paint from the paint store , balancing robe, mirrors, pump station, lots of glow in the dark things, a homemade tippy and ping pong table, sand hill, gardening projects and much much more. Guess what happened kids are off the screen. Freely they can do whatever but they prefer to play outside.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 16, 2015 at 06:41 PM

that sounds fantastic! :)

Comment by Sofia on May 15, 2013 at 06:35 PM

Oh, my! This is right on the spot! Every time I come here I get more inspired. Thank you!

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 15, 2013 at 07:14 PM

thank you! i’m so glad! :)

Comment by Carol on May 15, 2013 at 08:28 PM

I'm really fascinated by this post and way of thinking and I want so badly to believe that it would work for us because it would just be so relieving! ;)

My son has a diagnosis of autism; I say it that way because he is doing really well in many aspects but he still seems to get sort of "stuck" with somethings - a little bit obsessive about certain shows, etc. I've always found that we do better when we limit T.V. time - less fights, much easier to engage him in other things, less asking for T.V., etc. But your argument makes so much sense that I can't help but wonder if this would work for us, it would be so wonderful in many ways if it did!

I think we already fill our days with what's important to me - we do projects and activities together in the morning and usually play outside with friends in the afternoon - and I believe he enjoys this. Whenever he has an idea I jump on it and honour it and try to help him accomplish it. He's an only child so I'm lucky to have the space to do that for him.

BUT. The big BUT here is that he still doesn't have (IMHO) the ability to self-regulate even without T.V. If I didn't play with him he would play with the same lego toy day in and day out. I think he really loves T.V. because he doesn't have to DO anything or think anything (I love the sloth analogy, it fits for both he and myself!) - he just takes it in as entertainment. He has never (maybe a handful of times and he's 6) come to me and said "I want to build X". I think I'm rambling.... but in a nutshell I'm trying to explain that I'm unsure whether or not he might fall into a different category than typical kids (at this point - not forever) because of his difficulties with self-regulation in general and his limited self-directed interests that I believe with even an hour of T.V. a day of his choice would become that much worse. But maybe I'm wrong. Right now I can only dream of one day having him have more ideas than he can do in a day.

Just wondering if you have any advice for me...so much of what you have to say I believe fits both typical kids and kids on the spectrum but I gotta say I really struggle with concerns around the impacts of T.V. time on our quality of life. It probably warrants an experiment but in the interim I'm curious if you have any thoughts or experience in this regard.

Thanks!

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 15, 2013 at 09:41 PM

 

I'm unsure whether or not he might fall into a different category than typical kids (at this point - not forever) because of his difficulties with self-regulation in general and his limited self-directed interests that I believe with even an hour of T.V. a day of his choice would become that much worse. But maybe I'm wrong.

i wish i could offer an opinion, but i don’t know! i trust your instincts on this. at the same time, if you are hopeful that maybe loosening things up might have a good effect (yet aware it might swing the other way), perhaps you could experiment, collect data, and see what happens? i’d be interested to know, either way!

can i assume that you are considering changing your routine because there are arguments about screen limits?

He has never (maybe a handful of times and he's 6) come to me and said "I want to build X".

here i do have some advice to offer. ;o)

his particular issues might make this advice moot since you said if left to his own devices, he would return to the same LEGO toy every day. but in general, my advice here would be first to make sure he has abundant building materials and tools — and i would branch out and make sure he has many different choices: LEGO, wooden blocks, clay, cardboard & tape, etc.

then i would present the thing he’s interested in right alongside the building materials — as a direct provocation. so, if you are doing activities and projects together in the mornings, you might set up clay or recyclables & tape alongside library books laid open on the table showing whatever he’s interested in right now: space vehicles, dinosaurs, etc.

if he has a regular LEGO building area, you might hang things up on the wall as inspiration and provocation — again, preferably whatever he’s interested in right now. help him bridge to that idea of building the thing he likes.

you might also consider, along with inspirational books and maybe pictures/xeroxes hanging on the wall, working on the aesthetics of his building area — making sure he has a nice table to work on, bins and trays to sort in, perhaps a mirror on the wall so he can see the back of his structure, and so on.

thank you for your comment! if you aren’t already a forum member, you might join and keep us up to date on how things are going. :)

Comment by Carol on May 16, 2013 at 05:49 AM

Thanks Lori,
I am a member of the forum just not an active one (and a new one). I think I'll try a T.V. experiment and also some of your suggestions and let you know how it goes in the forum. Thank you so much for such a detailed response.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 16, 2013 at 06:29 AM

you are very welcome! :) i’ll look forward to talking with you more as you experiment. ;o)

Comment by dawn on May 17, 2013 at 01:17 PM

i have some personal experience with this and worry about similar things.

kids on the spectrum tend to be highly visual. they also tend to like things they can repeat, the point being that consistency - rather than something unexpected - is less anxiety-causing and therefore comforting and regulating. ("live" interactions cannot be identically replicated and you've only got one shot at seeing it and observing all the details.) i don't believe, though, that all the viewing is passive, as some would have us think. in watching movies or tv shows, they are absorbing and internally recording communications and other social interaction. that's why it's so very important, i think, to be aware and involved in what is being watched, as it serves as a potent role model.

kids on the spectrum CAN learn to regulate themselves, but they may need different, longer-lasting, or atypical tools to help them out. my little guy would stay on the computer for a lot longer if i did not give him prompts & reminders about when his time was finished; he also doesn't argue very much with me about stopping anymore because he's come to trust that i will make sure he has that time to do what he wants.

just a thought about him having more ideas than he can do in a day - he might actually have them, but if his executive functioning skills are a challenge, he probably can't remember all of them, let alone organize his thoughts enough to choose one, then consider if it's the right time/place for the idea, and so on. that's where i think lori's pbh suggestions on keeping a notebook might be useful. if you take notes on the kinds of things he seems to like to do, with pictures of the activities (or of him doing the activity), you could offer him several of those as options for him to choose from. they are still, then, "his" ideas and "his" choices. make sense?

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 17, 2013 at 01:30 PM

dawn, thank you so much for sharing this great advice!

Comment by cordelia on May 16, 2013 at 12:30 PM

Lori,

Still out here reading your blog, but this morning I just had to write and say "Abso-stinking-lutely!" My son's back in school now, but we chose a no homework school precisely so he'd have lots of time to do all the stuff he wants to do. We find time for camping, bike riding, gardening, but always surrounding us is the lure of the current obsession.

I chuckled as I read all the posts, agreeing and not, of parents whose children are off somewhere in the background playing minecraft. My bulletin board and workspace are carpeted with flowcharts for mods and add-ons my son is designing. He talks "all minecraft, all the time" and his friends call him with installation and compatibility questions that puzzle and amuse me. There are wonderful conversations about how minecraft geology, physics, and biology do (and don't) mimic real life.

He comes by this need to do each thing deeply and with all of his might honestly. In my "Dark Shadows" phase, I watched Dark Shadows every day, read all of the Dark Shadows novels and painted my family's storage shed to make a really cool "Dark Shadows Fan Club". The archeological evidence from grandma's attics suggests that my husband didn't think about anything but fishing for the first 12 years of his life, yet here we are, lawyer and biophysicist, ok a lawyer with a fondness for vampire fiction and biophysicist who goes fishing whenever he can, but still.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 16, 2013 at 02:42 PM

 

He comes by this need to do each thing deeply and with all of his might honestly.” oh, cordelia, i so identify with this! hmm, maybe this is why i’m so forgiving of kids’ obsessions — because that’s the way i throw myself into all of my interests, too. as a kid and as an adult, too!

love what you say about his minecrafting. if parents really educated themselves about minecraft, i hope they’d see the tremendous learning/intellectual potential there. when you think about all the complaints in the past about violent or sexualized video games and then you see kids absolutely enthused and engaged in a game that is so brainy, it’s kind of funny that people don’t embrace it more!

Comment by Janet Stücklin on May 16, 2013 at 01:56 PM

For those who think Lori and her kids are an exception:

Don't forget that there will be a rough transition period (which feels like forever to parents!) where the new freedom will be used to indulge in all manner of "sloth." I was homeschooled from 3rd grade back in the days when homeschooling was rare and many people would tell me that I was an exception, their own child would not use the time as well as I did. I strongly believe this is not true. When I first had educational freedom (3rd grade, remember) I remember thinking "ha, Mom didn't notice that I didn't do my math today!" Then sometime later (but before the end of 3rd grade) I realized "hey, I don't want to grow up stupid!" and from then on I took ownership of my education, which didn't mean I always used my time well, but I took my responsibility seriously and had the freedom to make mistakes and try new ideas. Ironically, I ended up majoring in math - what if my mom had clamped down because I skipped some math in 3rd grade?

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 16, 2013 at 02:48 PM

 

excellent point, janet — there *will* be an adjustment period when limits are loosened (or tossed away). kids binge both because they’ve been held off so long and because maybe they are testing the new limits and seeing if they can *really* do what they want.

you can avoid all that by always having balance… just my opinion… and janet’s… ;o)

I was homeschooled from 3rd grade back in the days when homeschooling was rare and many people would tell me that I was an exception, their own child would not use the time as well as I did. I strongly believe this is not true.”

love this. when teachers and administrators used to visit my private school, they would say how *wonderful* it was and then in the next breath say that *their* students couldn’t handle the freedom. they would be destructive; they wouldn’t work; they would abuse the privileges and freedom. but … our kids were just normal kids. just like their students. it was a bogus excuse to not give the kids that freedom.

one set of teachers left our school and went back and emptied their classrooms and started from scratch *in the middle of the school year*. they just rebooted it and started over. it can be done!

lately i hear about my kids (who are both teens now!) “well, but your kids are exceptionally intelligent/self-confident/hard-working/whatever” — i have started thinking of this as the outlier excuse. any teen who’s obnoxious is “normal” and any teen who is focused and hard-working and loving is an outlier. uh, yeah. i reject that. my kids are normal — they have talents, they have interests, and they’ve been raised with both freedom and expectations. ANY kid would have thrived at my school, and i believe any kid would thrive in this homeschooling environment as well.

Comment by dawn on May 17, 2013 at 12:48 PM

i've been pondering this scarcity/abundance lens for some time now, applying it to how the members of my family interact. when they feel like they have an abundance of space and time and contact with each other, they can relax and exist relatively calmly and peacefully and respectfully with each other.

i had mixed feelings about screen time in the past, but have more recently come to terms with it simply by considering it in the same way that we have come to approach many other aspects of our life: we find what works for us and do it, making adjustments along the way as necessary to account for individual differences. nothing is static or set in stone. we look back in time to assess trends, consider the future in terms of our goals, but are very much into finding what works in the "right now."

we reserve time in almost every day for the things we each want to spent time on. my son (5) asks nearly every morning about our plan. he often asks to do his "work" which usually entails looking up his favorite lego stop-action movies, reviews and tutorials. during this time, he typically goes to our own extensive lego supply and builds his own models, sometimes replicating but oftentimes extending and modifying what he has seen into his own creation. he then wants to share and explain what he has made. my daughter (10) knows she has an opportunity each day to work on her programming/coding and explore her favorite blogs and correspond via email, almost all of which she wants to talk about with me. i make sure i have my screen time, too, whether it's to blog or read other blogs or do research or edit my photographs.

we also read, explore outside, make art, listen to (or create or sing along to) music, create, build, cook, eat, dance, and so many other things together. no, there is not enough time in EACH day to do ALL the things we want, but there IS enough time for each of us to get at least SOME of what is important to us. and we ALWAYS make the time to share with each other about those things. that connection is crucial.

also important is the recognition that adults and children will experience the passage of time differently. when my son is viewing his tutorials (for the umpteenth time), he is fully absorbed in them and does not notice that any time has passed. i can be watching him do this, mentally ticking off the minutes and worrying that his brain is rotting. or i can consider this as the "watch first, then do" aspect of his learning curve. when i am patient and don't register the period of time that has passed, i allow myself to more fully enjoy my time with him when he brings me his own version of what he has been studying. when i stop watching the clock after it seems like my daughter has been on the computer for ages, i can appreciate it more when she demonstrates a new piece of code she has written and can actually teach me how to do it.

i still have my moments of hand-wringing concern over how much time my kids spend on things, of which screen time is only one, but that reaction has more to do with me than it does with their behavior. sometimes i don't recognize it as my feeling of scarcity in having time to spend with them, especially if what they do is a non-preferred activity for me! i must work daily on remembering that their preferences are just as worthy of consideration and honoring as mine are. my husband helps me out tremendously when i am being unnecessarily restrictive by asking if i am coming from a "place of yes" and helping my refocus my response to one that is more in line with our values.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 17, 2013 at 01:37 PM

 

i had mixed feelings about screen time in the past, but have more recently come to terms with it simply by considering it in the same way that we have come to approach many other aspects of our life: we find what works for us and do it, making adjustments along the way as necessary to account for individual differences. nothing is static or set in stone. we look back in time to assess trends, consider the future in terms of our goals, but are very much into finding what works in the "right now."

dawn, i’ve been immersing myself in BJ Fogg’s work on “tiny habits” and “success momentum” (basically my upward spiral) and this is exactly what he recommends, in his words “practice and revise” — basically, he says the best attitude you can have is that you’re always practicing and if things aren’t going well, you’ll revise. this in turn is very similar to dweck’s growth mindset — http://project-based-homeschooling.com/camp-creek-blog/helpless-vs-maste...

also important is the recognition that adults and children will experience the passage of time differently … when i stop watching the clock after it seems like my daughter has been on the computer for ages, i can appreciate it more when she demonstrates a new piece of code she has written and can actually teach me how to do it.

love what you said about this — i really saw myself in another comment re: kids being completely absorbed in what they’re doing; that’s the way *i* learn. and i was always losing time reading when i was a kid and being told to put my book down and go outside and play because i’d been reading for hours. but i tend to hyper-focus on whatever has my attention!

honoring kids’ different internal clocks is beautiful and i hadn’t thought of it.

i must work daily on remembering that their preferences are just as worthy of consideration and honoring as mine are.

beautiful <3

Comment by Cath in Ottawa on May 17, 2013 at 03:41 PM

I have not been able to stop thinking about this post. It is exactly right ... how I just have to figure out how to do it! thank you.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 17, 2013 at 04:08 PM

thanks, cath, glad you enjoyed! :)

Comment by Sarah on May 17, 2013 at 03:50 PM

I really do not want to write one of those "but" posts, but..... I want this to work. In fact, I want it to work so much that for the past couple of years I've let so much go that I felt I really needed to hold on to. The time limits, the access limits, the parental controls, etc. I let them all go and let the kids have the experience of abundance (with me there and involved, but not directing or hovering).

Here is where I get stuck. First problem, three kids, two computers. This means there will always be someone who isn't able to play firsthand. Fortunately, 75% of the time my girls will share and take turns, but not always. Second problem, what is abundance? Unlimited computer access from morning to bedtime? Just a good chunk of time during the day, more than an hour or two? Is eight hours enough or too much? Because this is where I am now. Though in the past it's been unlimited access, right now we have from noon to 8pm. Even with 8 hours a day though, I still have the problem of waiting around until noon and then at 8pm begging for more time. I have grumpy kids who don't want to bother getting up to eat or take care of a simple chore. I still have kids that watch the clock when we are at the park, running an errand, on a field trip, visiting friends, doing chores, and going out to dinner. Honestly, even when it was unlimited access from the time they got up, they still complained at bedtime.

I don't want this. I want very very much for my kids to play and learn and explore and have access to the world. I want them to do all the stuff I want them to do too, but I know the value of letting them be them. What I don't understand is why mine don't see the abundance, they only see the few times it's not there. My husband says it's because they don't have perspective and we don't *really* want them to have perspective. That perspective is the all of the stuff that we rejected and stayed away from (school, two parents working, time limits). I feel like I'm missing something. The reason there are time limits (if you can reasonably call 8 hours a time limit) right now is because I do want to carve out time for the stuff that is important to me and I have. I just want to end the complaining that even this time is just "not fair".

I really need to add here that this is mostly my oldest, my son. The girls are still learning, but are much more like the kids you describe in your post. They do pick up the language and attitude of their older brother though sometimes and it's very frustrating.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 17, 2013 at 04:22 PM

 

I really do not want to write one of those "but" posts, but...

never fear about writing a “but…” post. ;o)

Here is where I get stuck. First problem, three kids, two computers...

we are having a discussion in two different threads in the forum and this same issue came up — there is nothing more naturally limiting than more kids than computers! ;o)

Second problem, what is abundance? Unlimited computer access from morning to bedtime? Just a good chunk of time during the day, more than an hour or two? Is eight hours enough or too much? Because this is where I am now.

for me, in *general* terms, an abundance mindset is about flooding your life with the things you love rather than (scarcity mindset) getting frustrated and angry trying to reduce the things you don’t like.

what is abundance specifically for screen time? for us, it was that 3 o’clock to bedtime period when the kids had free choice to do whatever they wanted, including screens. keep in mind:

- they would be working on their own projects in the early afternoon; this would often carry right over that 3:00 threshold. because they had plenty of time to do screen-related activities, they weren’t worried about it.

- we had certain things built into that time like dinner, reading aloud at night, family movie night once a week, playing catch in the yard after dinner, evening dog walk...

- we were relaxed about the fact that they would binge on a new computer game, knowing they’d get tired of it soon enough (and they always did).

Though in the past it's been unlimited access, right now we have from noon to 8pm. Even with 8 hours a day though, I still have the problem of waiting around until noon and then at 8pm begging for more time. … I don't want this.

questions and suggestions:

- i know it’s counter-intuitive, but maybe you still have too *much* time. what are you doing between getting up in the morning and noon? what’s your normal routine during the rest of that time? maybe the tail is wagging the dog. ideally, your life should be balanced so that you are doing the things you think are important; are you doing those things? or do you feel like there’s not enough time because the kids are always on the computer?

- how old are your kids?

- if you set aside a block of time in the afternoon to work one-on-one with your daughters pbh-style (in your art studio or workspace if you have one) on whatever they choose, would that entice them away from the computer?

- what’s your son’s computer interest and can you feed it? which, again, i know sounds counterintuitive, but often going DEEPER into an interest (even an online interest!) means doing more — e.g., writing, recording, and posting online game tutorials; taking photographs and editing them to make a stop-motion film; organizing a weekly minecraft club at the library; and so on.

i could go on, but this is really more of a forum discussion at this point! if you come back to chat more, perhaps we can move the conversation there. :)

Comment by Sarah on May 18, 2013 at 12:06 PM

I have not yet signed up for the forum. New baby and all has just kept me too busy for the computer and long discussions. I am finally getting back to a more regular balance though. I'll try to find the time today to get over there and answer the questions you asked. I really do want to work through this a bit more. I'm also interested in the post from today because I think that will help. Just haven't had the time to read it yet :) So hopefully I'll see you in the forum soon!

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 18, 2013 at 12:32 PM

great, see you when you get get there! :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 17, 2013 at 04:22 PM

 

I really do not want to write one of those "but" posts, but...

never fear about writing a “but…” post. ;o)

Here is where I get stuck. First problem, three kids, two computers...

we are having a discussion in two different threads in the forum and this same issue came up — there is nothing more naturally limiting than more kids than computers! ;o)

Second problem, what is abundance? Unlimited computer access from morning to bedtime? Just a good chunk of time during the day, more than an hour or two? Is eight hours enough or too much? Because this is where I am now.

for me, in *general* terms, an abundance mindset is about flooding your life with the things you love rather than (scarcity mindset) getting frustrated and angry trying to reduce the things you don’t like.

what is abundance specifically for screen time? for us, it was that 3 o’clock to bedtime period when the kids had free choice to do whatever they wanted, including screens. keep in mind:

- they would be working on their own projects in the early afternoon; this would often carry right over that 3:00 threshold. because they had plenty of time to do screen-related activities, they weren’t worried about it.

- we had certain things built into that time like dinner, reading aloud at night, family movie night once a week, playing catch in the yard after dinner, evening dog walk...

- we were relaxed about the fact that they would binge on a new computer game, knowing they’d get tired of it soon enough (and they always did).

Though in the past it's been unlimited access, right now we have from noon to 8pm. Even with 8 hours a day though, I still have the problem of waiting around until noon and then at 8pm begging for more time. … I don't want this.

questions and suggestions:

- i know it’s counter-intuitive, but maybe you still have too *much* time. what are you doing between getting up in the morning and noon? what’s your normal routine during the rest of that time? maybe the tail is wagging the dog. ideally, your life should be balanced so that you are doing the things you think are important; are you doing those things? or do you feel like there’s not enough time because the kids are always on the computer?

- how old are your kids?

- if you set aside a block of time in the afternoon to work one-on-one with your daughters pbh-style (in your art studio or workspace if you have one) on whatever they choose, would that entice them away from the computer?

- what’s your son’s computer interest and can you feed it? which, again, i know sounds counterintuitive, but often going DEEPER into an interest (even an online interest!) means doing more — e.g., writing, recording, and posting online game tutorials; taking photographs and editing them to make a stop-motion film; organizing a weekly minecraft club at the library; and so on.

i could go on, but this is really more of a forum discussion at this point! if you come back to chat more, perhaps we can move the conversation there. :)

Comment by shelli on May 17, 2013 at 07:33 PM

My thoughts exactly. You say it much better than I could though! We have pretty much had this model from the get-go. The boys watch a lot of TV, though we have appointed times for that and we approve what they watch. They get to watch more than most kids, and because of that, I think, they never fuss about wanting to watch more. Our days are still filled with projects, reading, outdoor time, friends, outings, etc. TV is just part of our day and usually used for a little down time/rest from all the activities! Same with the computer and iPad. I never restrict those. They can play any time they want. The computer is also used a lot in the mornings for "school/project work." When the boys were first introduced to the computer/iPad, they wanted to play non-stop, and that lasted a few weeks. Now they hardly ever ask to play the games on either of them. It tends to be something they do on rainy/cold weather days more.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 17, 2013 at 07:41 PM

 

When the boys were first introduced to the computer/iPad, they wanted to play non-stop, and that lasted a few weeks. Now they hardly ever ask to play the games on either of them.

this is the pattern i am used to — novelty in any form spikes interest. new game = playing more than usual, new device = playing more than usual. then it levels back out to normal.

i think it’s much easier when you start with generous limits/balance than trying to dial back toward the middle either from zero limits or severe limits.

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