Washington - Like most kids, mine crave screen time. So, like most families, we instituted rules to limit screen time for our children.
Naturally, I think the rules are reasonable and for the benefit of my children - to make sure they don't get sucked into an electronic void for hours on end, to give them time to pursue other activities, and to ensure they interact with friends and family.
As an adult, I obviously have more leeway with my own screen time, but I find myself in front of screens more often than I would like. I wanted to see what would happen if I followed the rules I had put in place for my children.
- No devices in the bedroom: My kids are not allowed to have any devices in their room in large part because I don't want them staying up too late, like I often do. Most nights I had at least two devices in my room - my phone and my tablet. Sometimes I also brought my computer with me. Once I stopped bringing devices into my room I found a huge improvement in the flow of my own evenings. I stayed focused on any work I had to do online before heading upstairs, which made me much more efficient. I had more conversations with my husband before going to sleep. I also got through the stack of magazines piled by my bedside and started a new book - all of which were much better reading material than the random links from Facebook I had found myself clicking on before bedtime.
- No screen time in the morning: Screen time in the morning would undoubtedly make my children late for school so it's not allowed. So, it's no surprise that the screen time I tried to fit in each morning was putting me behind schedule. Not looking at any screens in the morning has been the most beneficial to me. I used to justify checking email in the morning as an opportunity to quickly take care of a few things before the day began. I soon realised that not only was my morning check-in not so quick, but that it added an enormous amount of stress to the start of the day because I was inevitably distracted by things I could not take care of until after the kids were at school anyway. I am happy to report there is a whole lot less rushing and stress to my morning now.
- No screen time in the car: We made the decision to get a car without a DVD player and decided not to allow our kids to use phones or tablets in the car (with the exception of very long trips when all bets are off) to encourage conversation or other activities like reading. Although I never texted while driving I will admit to keeping my phone within arm's reach for a fast look at email or to check how many people liked my latest Facebook post at red lights. Once I stopped, I found that I interacted with the kids more in the car and wasn't as distracted when talking to them - a welcome change that made car rides more enjoyable and allowed me to learn more about my kids since they were a captive audience.
- No screen time on playdates: I decided a long time ago that no matter what the rules were in other people's houses, when my kids had friends over there would not be any screen time to ensure they engaged with their friends. Nevertheless, I often found myself sneaking a quick peek at my phone when I was with my friends or kids. It was only after I stopped keeping my phone within reach when spending time with others that I realised how much my quick check-ins were distracting me - and how rude I was being.
- Limited time: Ever since getting Netflix account a few months ago I've become an avid binge watcher and have had more than one night where I've been so totally engrossed in Don Draper's fate that I didn't notice how many hours had passed. I also tend to get lost online following links and doing endless Google searches. This has given me a new appreciation for why it's so important to keep track of the time children spend in front of screens and made me realise that I needed to set limits for myself as well. Since setting a limit for non-work related screen time, I've become more responsible with my decisions about how I spend my time online and in front of the TV. I've been making more thoughtful decisions about what to watch, post, and follow.
I'm not perfect and never will be. Since starting my experiment I have backslid on more than one occasion. Nevertheless, every time I violate my self-imposed rules I regret it since I wind up stressed in the morning or realised I wasn't engaged with my kids all afternoon. I recognise that there will be times when I really do need to check on a work email or just decide that finding out what happens next on whatever show I'm watching watching is warranted.
There are also times when my kids are driving me crazy and I need a break to check what my Facebook friends are up to. But overall, I think that the screen time rules I put into place for my children are good for me, too, and I'm doing my best to follow them.
* Jamie Davis Smith is a Washington DC-based mother of four. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @jamiedavissmith.The Washington Post