Screen time tool
There are few topics so widely debated in the unschooling world as screen time. On one end of the spectrum is the belief that screens are addictive and children are unable to manage their screen use in a healthy way so the adult caregiver must determine a screen limit for the child. At the other end of the spectrum is the belief that no one should interfere with nor make judgement about the child’s management of their own screen time.
Imposed limit vs. unlimited access
Neither of those positions felt exactly right for our family. When observing our children’s screen use, we noticed that our six year old would consistently watch her screen until she felt terrible. She would not attend to her body’s needs, forgot about other plans she’d had and, after prolonged screen use, had a difficult time interacting pleasantly and productively with our family. Our eight year old did not often experience these problems and was always able to meet other needs and use screens in a way that felt good to her.
Long term goals for screen use:
The end game
Deciding on a firm screen limit for our children felt out of line with how we try to parent. We aim for partnership parenting, where we bring awarenesses or things we’ve noticed to our children and partner with them in brainstorming and testing solutions. Before we brought the issue to our children, we distilled our long term goals with regards to supporting our children’s screen use. Our hope is that they will use screens in ways that feel useful to them, to support their learning goals and interests, for passtime and pleasure, for rest and escape, to connect and communicate. Above all, we hope that their screen use supports rather than interferes with their personal goals for how they spend their time.
The Noticing Tool
I showed our children the pie charts and we settled on dividing each circle into 8 slices, or two hours, roughly the length of a movie. I note, as closely as I can, when they start using a screen and periodically ask them to come and log their screen use on the pie chart. We collaborated on a little question list to help them notice certain things while logging:
1. AM I HUNGRY OR THIRSTY?
2. DO I HAVE ANY OTHER PLANS FOR THE DAY THAT I WANT TO ATTEND TO?
3. DO I NEED A LITTLE BREAK?
Results... so far!
So far, the tool has been successful in helping our 6 year old meet her physical needs and be intentional about how she spends her time. Sometimes that means intending to spend much of the day on screens but often it means noticing that she has other interests to pursue. Interestingly, our eight year old’s screen time has reduced dramatically once she noticed how much time she was spending on a screen and how many other interests she wanted to be pursuing.
The root of screen time anxiety is our worry that screens will interfere with our kids’ ability to create happy, healthy, fulfilled lives. Since we can’t tell our children what happiness, health and fulfillment look like for them, we should focus more on reminding them to ask themselves those questions:
1. AM I HAPPY?
2. DO I FEEL GOOD? DOES THIS MAKE ME FEEL GOOD?
3. IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE I WANT TO BE DOING?
Supporting young people in being intentional with their time and how they spend it feels like a productive way to help them evaluate their screen using in an ongoing and specific way!
For more information, check out Lauren's video describing how her family uses Screen Time Pie