Screen Time in the Summer–What’s a Work-From-Home Mom To Do?

article-2241437-164A0D73000005DC-831_634x637When we first began practicing Sabbath, we weren’t sure what to do about technology: TV, video games, social media and the like. We started out by putting a limit on those activities without banning them outright. Each of the kids received a coin that they could spend whenever they wanted on 30 minutes of screen time, which was usually watching a TV show. Now that the kids are more into MineCraft, Wii and (in Caroline’s case) emailing and texting friends, we’ve expanded that to two 30 minute blocks.

But with Robert and me both working from home this particular summer, we needed something a little more robust. We need the kids to be more self-directed–we can’t be monitoring who’s doing what and for how long. Besides, the girls are reading more and more books on tablets–who wants to keep track of whether they’re reading or watching Netflix?

Enter the Momentum Optimization Project, in which kids can have unlimited screen time, AFTER they have completed ALL the items on a list written by the parents.

Here’s the philosophy behind it:

As a freelancer who makes her own hours,  I’ve learned a few things about personal momentum. I’m a morning person, and my peak productive time is before 10:00am. If I start my day by sitting at the desk at, say, 5:00am, and digging in on actual work, I’ll keep going all day. If I start the day by, say, cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry or phaffing about on the interwebs, I’m in trouble. And if,  God forbid, I sit on the couch and flip on The Today Show, all bets are off; I’m not moving until bedtime.  I think of it as Newton’s Law of Personal Momentum, for I am an object that will either stay at rest or stay in motion, based on where I am at 5:30 am.

My kids are the same way. And because they are youth existing in the 20teens, they are drawn like moths to glowing rectangular screens as soon as they wake up, and given their druthers, would spend the entire day glued to the Interwebs, killing zombies or mining diamonds or whatever. I know all the reasons why that’s a bad idea, but since my kids are growing up, I don’t feel like it should be up to me to find ways to entertain them. At ten and thirteen years old, they should be figuring out what to do with their own time themselves.

Here’s the summertime edition of the MOP.

We were in Dallas over the weekend, so our MOP began in earnest yesterday. Yesterday’s list included:

  • tidying rooms
  • reading for 30 minutes
  • vacuuming basement (James)
  • changing sheets on the top bunk (Margaret)
  • washing and folding one load of laundry (Caroline)

We also took a trip to the library so each kid would have an arsenal of books.

It went pretty well. With morning swim practice, the MOP doesn’t really begin in earnest until 10:30 or 11, making the day more compressed. But I could have given them slightly more to do. So today’s list includes a few of the same things, plus:

  • 45 minutes of reading instead of 30
  • emptying the dishwasher
  • going through the books in their rooms and sorting them into “keep” and “giveaway” piles. (We’re moving at the end of the summer, so I expect each day’s list will include some decluttering task.)
  • doing something creative for at least 30 minutes, e.g. playing music, doing art, Legos, or cooking.

The underlying benefit of the MOP is oftentimes you get immersed in an activity and forget all about screen time. That seems less likely to happen with James, who loooooves his video games, so I need to be mindful of that when I compile his list. But yesterday Margaret ended up inviting a friend over and didn’t have much screen time at all. And Caroline is currently making muffins, which will end up taking longer than 30 minutes.

[pause writing for a quick trip to the grocery store–we were out of eggs. While there I picked up ingredients for Margaret’s “something creative.” Both recipes will be linked below.]

The challenge for the “something creative,” clearly, is that I need to make sure they have adequate supplies. Plus they are full of questions. James wanted to know if he could use the old boxes in the garage to make a tunnel. Caroline wasn’t sure which dish to use to melt the butter in the microwave. I’m encouraging them to try to solve the problems themselves first, then ask me if they get stuck.

I’ll report back as the summer goes on, but so far, so good. They are definitely having more screen time than they would with two 30-minute tokens, but I can’t imagine it’s more than I had at that age. I did all the standard childhood-summer-in-the-1970s stuff–swimming pool, playing outside, but I also watched an epic amount of TV. (The above image is from I Dream of Jeannie, which was an indispensable part of my summers, along with Bewitched, My Three Sons, Leave It to Beaver, and of course, The Brady Bunch. And somehow I am not ruined. And the great thing about the MOP is it’s a hybrid of self-direction and parental guidance.

And I get some folded laundry out of the deal.

~

Margaret’s “something creative”: Creamy Orange Popsicles

Caroline’s “something creative”: Brown Sugar Muffins

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