It is Sunday afternoon and the kids have been watching Phineas and Ferb for hours. Howard and I have watched snatches of the show as well, because the cleverness reaches out and grabs us as we pass through the room. Kiki watches while sketching. Link watches while seated at the computer, multi-tasking between an online game and the show. Gleek bounces around the room, teeters on Howard’s balance board, does a puzzle, or shoots bands for the cat to chase, all while also watching the show. Patch is the only one to give the show full attention, but then he’s the one curled up under a blanket with a pot nearby just in case. I could tell myself that Patch’s illness is the reason we’ve allowed this marathon video session, but the truth is that the TV is on more often than it isn’t. Usually it is showing a video game, but it is on.
When Kiki was two years old the bishop of our congregation (think pastor) issued challenges to families for two weeks and then had them report on the outcomes of those challenges. These challenges were things like: read scriptures for an hour a day, live off your food storage, or no electronic entertainment. When I heard about that last one, I felt quite smug. Howard and I owned a television, but it lived in the basement and was only hooked up to a VCR. We watched shows recorded for us by others and I took Kiki down there to watch Winnie the Pooh or Hercules which were pretty much the only kid movies we owned. Going two weeks without electronic entertainment would hardly have been a challenge for us at that time. Now it would represent a major pattern shift. We would all suffer electronic withdrawal and would struggle to find new habits. Yet I would not trade my life now for the one I had then. The introduction of video games has solved problems and provided avenues for growth even as they have become issues for overuse.
Yesterday I imposed a time limit on screens. Not only did I declare the limit, but also clarified that a one hour turn meant video games OR computer, not one hour on each. The kids did not argue with me because we’ve imposed limits before. In theory we’re always using timers to regulate turns. Timers went off and so did the screens. The boys earned additional time by doing extra chores. I allowed this because with the temperatures in single digits playing outside was an option with limited utility. Sleep reset all our brains, and Patch was sick, so not a single timer was in use today. In theory yesterday was better run, but that day was cranky and today felt nice. The kids did not just watch the shows, they giggled together and shared jokes. Kiki and Gleek joined together in a chorus of one of the songs. Link and Kiki re-enacted a particularly funny scene. They all had ancillary activities. Their minds and imaginations were engaged.
Thus it goes in our house. We have cycles of heavy video game usage, heavy show watching, and then periods where we eschew these things to play board games, draw pictures, or ride bikes. Our habits change and the biggest change is that I no longer feel like I am failing when my kids engage with electronic entertainment.