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Monday Mom challenge: Turn off the television!

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Electronics break

We reached critical mass last week. The sun was finally out and yet my children declared they wanted to be inside, either watching television or on the computer. The pull of the electronics was so strong that an argument ensued. Finally, I put my foot down - or, rather, I took my masking tape out. On the screens of the television and the computer monitor I taped the word, "No!" I banned the television and the computer until further notice. My children were horrified. They were angry, even. But I stood my ground.

Electronics breakI don't necessarily mind the television or computer, except in excess. Sometimes it's nice to relax and watch the ball game or some mindless show. But this spring, with it's wet and dreary tone here on New England, it had gone to excess. We've long had limits on television and computer usage, but had become a bit lax in our enforcement as we stared out at yet another gray, rainy day. The habit had become so entrenched that when the opportunity to be outdoors was finally here, the opportunity was wholly ignored. But by taking away even the option of turning on those screens, I was hoping to change that habit. It's mostly worked.

Lovely quiet

The morning after I banned the television, we came downstairs to lovely quiet. My younger kids, who had already been up, were in the family room. One was reading a book and the other was playing with a construction toy. I set to making breakfast, and they both came to help at one point or another. My oldest finally woke up and turned on the radio when he came downstairs. We had a nice breakfast together - actually talking instead of rushing so the kids could get back to a computer game or whatever - and after breakfast the older two went outside to ride their bikes. It was just what I hoped for.

Through the day, there were several complaints about the lack of screen time, but I did not relent. The biggest question was, "How long is, 'until further notice?' " The truthful answer was that I didn't know. What I did know is that we needed a break from electronics, and I'd evaluate how we were doing with the break on a day-by-day basis. Days passed, and we continued to enjoy the lovely quiet - at least my husband and I did. The kids asked less and less for the television, but they did still ask. However, there were no arguments over who had just taken a turn on the computer or who was the last one to pick a Discovery channel show. Of course, being kids, they just took their sibling bickering over to new topics - who was the last one to lay the couch to read, for example.

Reentry - with rules

The break from electronics has had its intended effect, I think. The kids played outside more, read more books, interacted with each other more, and so on. They did not necessarily bicker less, but I think they get the general point. The house had less of a din to it, and I loved that. However, I think it's time to reintroduce the electronics - with tighter rules.

I bought a couple inexpensive timers at the hardware store. One is going next to each device. Each child will be limited to 30 minutes per day of total screen time (television AND computer), and all of it has to happen after all household responsibilities are met, after dinner - and after dinner has been cleaned up. Yup, this leaves very little time for screens time during the summer, and that's exactly how I want it. I expect some pushback initially, but the kids will get used to it. Turning off the television has been a great exercise for us, and not just for the kids. There have been a couple times I've wanted to turn it on, I admit, but I haven't - I've kept with the spirit of the ban. Even though I need my computer for work, I kept computer use to the absolute minimum and necessary - and I was interacting more with the family, too. The television and computer definitely have a place in our lives, we're just working harder to make sure it's an appropriate one.

Tell us: Do you set limits on the time your kids can watch TV or be on the computer? Comment below!

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