pulling the plug

I had let the use of technology/electronics/screen time, whatever you may call it, get out of control in our home. We have just a few rules when it comes to screen time: 1. No electronics before school.  2. No electronics in their rooms. 3. No electronics at the table or when guests are in our home (there are a few exceptions to this...when my son has friends over intentionally to play games and let's be honest when I'm having lunch with a friend and I just want to have a normal conversation without being constantly interrupted.) 4. They have to ask first to have screen time. 5. All games are parent approved and age appropriate. Seems like good rules, right? They are. Or at least I thought they were, until I saw what technology was doing to my children. It was then that I realized our rules were not enough.

My kids are good kids, they aren't perfect by any means (can we just acknowledge the constant fighting please?) But they became little addicts. Their brains were in constant thought about when they could play games. If they didn't have their game fix for the day they became agitated, irritable, moody and whiny. They were uncooperative. Shutting down game time was painful most days. My son became obsessed with one game, it's all he could think about, even while at school he admitted to me.

I knew something needed to change. I didn't blame the kids. I had let it get to this point. I took all of the blame, but it was time to take control. A few months ago I overheard a friend telling another friend that her children are only allowed electronics on the weekends. If they helped around the house and were generally good kids they could have screen time on the weekends. I found myself longing to have this kind of rule in my own home. I wondered if it would work. But how would I get to that point? If I just marched home and announced a new rule unexpectedly all hell would break loose. Ok, maybe that's extreme, but I knew I had to be more tactful about implementing a new game plan in our home. Actually, I knew deep down, things had to get worse before they got better.

It didn't take long before it happened. The "worse" happened. I don't remember how it all went down exactly, but I do know the kids were so focused on the screens twelve inches from their faces that they didn't even hear me, who was also a foot away. They tuned me out. I was gone to them. When they did finally realize I was talking to them, they told me to wait. They had to finish this program or that game. Excuse me, what? Wait? Time does not allow me to wait any longer. I had been spending the last five minutes just trying to get their attention. I grabbed the iPad and phone from their hands and may have said some things I shouldn't have, like "I'm going to throw the iPad in the fireplace and throw the phone into the Sound!" The floodgates opened and tears quickly flowed. Mean words were said. Feet were stomped. I wasn't mad at them. I knew that. I was mad at myself. I was mad I had let it get to this point. I was mad I lost control over something so silly. I was mad I had allowed my kids to think electronics were a right, not a privilege.

Once everyone calmed down we gathered back together to talk about what had just happened. I apologized for more than my quick tempered words. I explained the new rule. No electronics during the week. I explained why. I explained all the things I had failed to explain in the months prior. Electronics had to become a privilege, something to be earned in our home.

The results so far? The first day was a bit of a challenge, but like most kids they were resilient and moved on to the next thing (like their toys that they say they never have enough of. Good grief!) I am blown away by all that has taken place in the last month since we implemented an electronic free week in our home. They look for things that need to be done in the house. Yes, you read that right. My son notices when the dishwasher needs to be emptied and just does it, without being asked to. My daughter sees that the floors are dirty and mops them, without being asked to. They make their beds in the morning. They are quicker to do the tasks we ask them to do.  My favorite is that we play more board games together because we have the time to and because I want to since they are not as cranky. It has forced them to have their heads up, literally. They see our home differently. It's not about them and their screens anymore.

It's not all rainbows and butterflies here because of it. We are still working through the weekends and this rule. It is so easy for them to slip right back into old habits, but it's easier for me to nip things in the bud when I see where things are headed. If anything, there may be more fighting between them because they are playing more together. But they've also got to work it out because I'm not putting an electronic in front of them just so I can have some peace and quiet.

I've learned that while rules are important, explaining things are just as important. I had the expectation that my kids would just know when to stop. They would just know why playing too much is not a good thing. I expected them to understand why some apps are good and others are not. I also learned that kids just want our attention. I mean, I knew this, but seeing how much happier they are playing a board game with me and building legos with dad was the reminder I needed. They want to feel needed and responsible. My son is learning what a great feeling it is to help without asking. He is learning how the act of emptying the dishwasher makes things easier on me, which then frees up more time to just be. We can just be.

I would love to know, especially from parents who have older kids, what rules you have in your home when it comes to electronics and what works for your family.

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