I confess: my kids are would-be video game junkies. When it comes to kids like mine, if we parents did not limit the amount of time they spend glued to the screen, they would play until their eyeballs fell out. Right?
We all know that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends strict limitations to screen-time for children. Trying dutifully to be "good" parents, my husband and I have spent years carefully monitoring our children’s daily digital digestion. As they have gotten older, this has become more and more of a challenge.
Our kids believe that allotted gaming time should increase, proportionately, with age. Meanwhile, greater than ever demands on after-school time crop-up in the form of homework, sports, and a burgeoning social life. After-school time was becoming a daily marathon in our house. Most days would end with a contest of will between the well-intending POD (parent on duty) and the child who has spent nearly 8 hours in school, followed by soccer practice, followed by homework, then dinner, then bath, and now it is bedtime, and when is he supposed to get to play?
Uuugh! We just could not fit it all in. Something had to give and you can probably guess what that something would be. But, how do you tell techno-junkies that there is no time for games on school days? Clearly, there would have to be a serious compromise.
So, this is how my family arrived at the “All-You-Can-Eat, Video Game Pig-out, Extravaganza On-the-Weekend” technique. We made the following pact: if the kids would forgo any-and-all video game play during the week, the reward would be unlimited weekend screen time. Yes, I said UNLIMITED.
Had I lost my mind? Would this crazy scheme end in disaster? Were my beautiful children doomed to becoming e-zombies? Alas, in the beginning my worst fears seemed to be coming true. During the first weekend, my children sat at the computer morning, noon, and night. They emerged, glassy eyed and stiff legged, only to eat or use the bathroom. I thought I had made a dreadful mistake.
However, by the second weekend, both kids voluntarily chose to spend some of their time with friends instead of the computer. Soon after that, Soccer-game Sundays started and the kids made no objection to the screen-time interruption; in fact, they actually seemed a bit relieved. My older son has even observed that too much time sitting at the computer makes his shoulders ache. He started monitoring his own screen time.
We are now six weeks into the new weekend video-smorgasbord technique and things are working out nicely. It is much, much easier to get through the weekday evenings with video games completely out of the picture. On the weekends, the boys are learning to self regulate, again, a major plus for Team Mom and Dad!
As I reflect on what Dr. Montessori herself discovered, that children need to choose their “work” within the framework of a prepared environment, my little experiment proved once again that children will regulate their time based on what their minds and hearts really do need. Freedom within limits does work!