Computer Time: the blessing which turned into a curse

A few months ago, after much scrimping and saving, we purchased a computer each for our four girls.  Six months prior to this T12 had been given one as a joint birthday and Christmas present from Gary and I.  We watched as our son, who has always struggled to express himself in writing, began to type eloquent plays and essays.  The boy who hated to write had found his voice.  His school work tripled in productivity, moans about writing ceased and the work he did was of superior quality.  Gary and I sat back in disbelief.  We couldn’t see anything negative to come from him having a computer.  It was, to all intents and purposes, a huge blessing.

So we determined to get the girls one for their 12th birthday and Christmas this year.  As it happened we were able to pay for them a little earlier and decided to go ahead and get them.  They would still be as a birthday and Christmas gift, only they would get access to them earlier than previously planned.  We expected to see the same from the girls, that their school experience would be opened up when they had a computer.  We expected this gift to each of our girls to be a huge blessing too.  Once they all had a computer their time on these were fairly limited considering they were using them for school and pleasure, however Gary and I began to see changes in them.

We have always been a close family in which bickering is strongly discouraged and never ignored; bad atmospheres are rare and working as a team a priority.  Just recently, however, we began to notice the children bickering more; talking to each other on occasion with cold tones; feeling irritated with each other; not wanting to play or work together and not wanting to join in with chores.  They were still very close, but all five seemed to be a bit more ego-centric, wanting their own way a lot of the time.  This may or may not sound like a normal household to you, but for us (as a general rule) it is not normal, nor is it nice.  Gary and I had began to talk about it, wondering how we ought to go about recapturing what we had just a few short months ago.  We both felt it was down to the increase in screen time, because (we reasoned) screen time is often a solitary activity, it doesn’t in the main encourage team work nor does it require much physical activity (I know there are exceptions to this rule, I am writing about how it is here in my family).  Also, the bad attitudes had only become apparent en masse over the past few months.

We asked around.  What were friends doing?  What were their boundaries?  We had a mixture of responses from parents of children who allowed their children unlimited screen time, to others who timed it to the nearest minute of an hour.  Really it wasn’t much help, because each family and each character in each family was different.  Something somebody said did resonate.  They commented they wouldn’t be too focused on how much screen time per se their children were getting, more what their children were not doing because they were at the screen.  This was really helpful to me because the children weren’t playing as much; weren’t exercising as much; weren’t outside as much getting lovely fresh air; weren’t giggling as much and seemed much more uptight all round.

Together Gary and I formed a plan of action. And together we felt at peace.

The plan was to reduce the time we are all on the computer.  Since I have been sleeping over 8 hours per night, I have lost my night time blogging sessions and thus increased the time during the day I am on the computer.  Gary enjoys catching up with everyone back home via face book whilst the children love just about anything so long as it included screen time.  We decided to take a very strict stance and apply it not just to the children but to their parents also!  The two younger girls would have their screen time reduced to 1/2 an hour whilst the older three would be allowed an hour per day.  Gary and I would be allowed two hours.  These restrictions would apply to week days with extra granted on a Saturday (family night video) and absolutely none on a Sunday.  This would inevitably mean much more thought would be placed on what we do in that time.  It would help our whole family prioritise what was important and what could be dropped.

We called a family meeting and shared with the children our plans for a reduction in screen time, listing the negative  changes we had noticed.  We held our breath expecting an out-burst.  Silence.  I gently queried whether any of those points rang any bells.  T12 replied equally gently that they weren’t ringing the bells, more clanging the bells!  The girls also agreed.  And so it is.  The computers (including mine) are not turned on at all during the day.  Gary is in the process of disallowing any time outside of the 7-8pm time frame by disabling the children’s ability to log in at any other time.  They will be allowed to choose either video or computer time and if any of us are busy with another activity screen time is not allowed to be carried over into another day.  On a Wednesday afternoon, computers will permitted for project work but with no screen allowed between the 7-8pm time frame.

These restrictions may sound harsh and unnecessary for some but for our family they are essential.  In this case we had to be strong and resolute in our decision even if it made the children angry and us very unpopular.  As it happens it didn’t but even if it had Gary and I knew deep down inside that this was the right and best choice to achieve the family values we have deemed important.   All of us, children included, want to enjoy sweet relationships, time spent playing and enjoying each other, using our imaginations, cooking more, exercising more, gardening more, making water pistols from plastic bottles and bicycle pumps (I kid you not!), taking photos and basically doing all those things we had stopped doing because we were on the screen.  The children looked relieved that night.  And I was proud, so proud of my lovely family who, when push came to shove, chose relationships over their computer.