Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Screen time

There's a discussion on an e-mail list I'm a member of about screen time and I got thinking about this again.

We don't really watch TV, though we have satellite service for dh so he can watch the news or occasional sports game. We get no local reception and there's no cable here, so this is the only way for him to watch the news. He watches maybe 4 or 5 hours a week. I'm just as happy getting my news on the radio or internet. We've tended not to buy newspapers because the kids read them.

Anyway, for whatever reason the kids have just never gravitated to TV, and I've never turned it on for them. We have an understanding that they can watch something if they have planned in advance what they want to watch, but they're so bad at planning and transitions that they just never get it together to work out what they want to watch and turn the TV on. I wanted to avoid the habit of turning the TV on because they can't think of anything to do. If they really want to watch something in particular, they're always welcome to. But they don't.

I have fretted a little over the computer use around here. The kids have gone through phases of playing computer a lot. We have a bench in front of the computer that seats three, so they usually play games socially, and the games we have are pretty much all things I have helped select or approve of at any rate. So I'm comfortable with what they play and how they play at the computer, but I haven't always been comfortable with how much they play.

Lately, though, I see all of them using the computer much more as a tool, and less as [albeit educational] entertainment. They're writing, sending e-mail letters, creating lists, editing photos for printing for journals, and so on. Last night Noah started a book report! Don't know what got into him, but there you are. So I'm feeling better about the role the computer is playing in our house.

We have weekly family meetings where, among other things, we discuss how the issue of screen-time has played out over the previous week, just to keep the kids aware that their choices about how much time they spend in front of a video screen are matters of physical and intellectual health. I don't seem to have to make any pronouncements or judgements, or set any limits; just asking "How are we doing with screen time this week?" is enough to keep them aware of the necessity of creating some balance in their lives.

So that's our family's path so far. No limits on quantity, just some structural things that hopefully encourage better-quality choices. And of course plenty of enticing alternatives to screen time. Mostly I'm happy with the balance.

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