Children are only supposed to be exposed to two hours or less of screen time daily, the last I read. I used to have a system in my house, that performing certain tasks got you a fifteen minute turn on the computer, the right to choose a movie, etc. Screen time was a half hour or less, total.
Finally, last month, I realized that three children in a small apartment during one of the coldest winters on record was a horrible time to be politically correct on adhering to recommendations from any pediatrics association.
My son has PTSD. Throwing him together with a bossy older brother and an annoyingly willful little sister in a small space day after day is very stressful. With none of them engaging their attention elsewhere, what happens? They turn on each other, is what. They offend each other, hurt each other, tease each other. They are bored. They have toys on shelves up to the ceiling, but their attention spans are short, the winter long.
I am not sitting in an armchair, watching benevolently over their play. I am in the kitchen, cooking. The bathroom, cleaning. The laundry room.. well, if you don’t get the picture, I cannot help you. I work, I parent, and the au pair, maid and chauffeur never condescend to join me. I am home three hours before bedtime. In that time I must cook, serve, clean up dinner and then tend to whatever else needs to be done. We are not sitting around playing Monopoly, either. I am busy, always busy.
So forget the screen time rules and recommendations. Were you a good listener for your teachers? Did you keep your hands to yourself? Did you resist fighting with your brother, refrain from teasing your sister? Yes, you can get on the computer. Have at it. Then it is your brother’s turn, if he shows the same good behaviour.
I am not using screens as babysitters. I am using screens as escapism. When one of them is on the computer, the others gather nearby and watch. They offer helpful suggestions. They help the active player with the mouse, the arrow keys. They get excited over triumphs together, and sympathize over losses. They are team building. They are engaged in something besides manipulating each other’s moods. Their stress is down, their empathy is up. Their cooperation is golden. My house has been better in the past month, than ever, since I took the pressure out of the house by removing their screen time rules and making it a general permission. When they are off the computer, they act out the games together. Without fighting.
I am going to get them a tablet. They have earned it.