Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Banning screentime

Since 31 August this year, we have enforced a ban on all screens in our home when it comes to Ryan. Except for one minute last week when we showed him the commercial he did for Nestle, he has not used the iPad, the iPhone, the computer or the TV (ie. the DVD player).

I know this is a touchy topic for parents and people can get defensive. Or they feel guilty. Or helpless. Let me say that this post is not meant to be a judgment or a criticism of others. It is a journal of our own experience, and in any case, our own experience has not been faultless so we aren't bragging here.

Ok, let's start from the beginning. I should first explain that, although we have been concerned about Ryan's screen time, it actually is not that much.

Ryan had very little screen time up till he was nearly two years old. I think the first iPhone app was installed when he was around 16 to 18 months, and he still didn't use it frequently until he was about two years old. We let him watch a few videos - mostly Hi-5. Between two and three years of age (I'm being VERY general here), he started watching more videos - mostly Sesame Street and Leapfrog. We also introduced him to the iPad when he was coming to two. We didn't install many apps. I think I have about 10 iPhone apps for him and even fewer on the iPad. We used the iPad mainly for watching videos (Richard downloaded the Hi-5, Sesame Street and Leapfrog videos to the iPad for him).

When Ryan was around three years old, and as he started to be more interested in reading, we got him a few videos on phonics. We also introduced him to Youtube. We would key in "phonics" as a search term and he would surf for videos. He learned how to sign the alphabet from watching Youtube, and he learned words like "stupendous". We did not key in any further search terms so he watched the same stuff over and over again and, after some time, he milked it dry. We then introduced him to Tom & Jerry cartoons, which Richard downloaded into the iPad for him, which he enjoys quite a lot.

We would give him the iPad/iPhone when he was in the car, before mealtimes while waiting for his food, and when we were having adult company and there were no children he could play with.

More and more however, we found ourselves shoving him the iPad. Whenever we were feeling lazy, or in need of a break, or preoccupied with other things, we would reach for the iPad. And then we started having occasions when we couldn't wrestle it away from him, and we would relent to avoid any fuss. It became a vicious cycle. As Ryan got older, he got more determined, and our little tug-of-wars happened more frequently (which Ryan invariably won).

It was not Ryan's weakness - it was our weakness. Richard's and mine. If the gadgets were out of sight, Ryan never, not even once, asked for them. Notwithstanding the fact that he may not know the words "iPad" or "iPhone", he didn't seem flustered in any way. He simply found other things to do.

I did not like it. I felt that Ryan was wasting his childhood. Sure, he learned quite a lot of stuff from all this, but he could have learned all that in other ways too, so it was not as if we had no other choice. We did have choices, and I was determined to employ them.

In addition, Ryan is at the stage where he is starting to be interested in having conversations, which is wonderful. I feel that parking him in front of a screen is not the best way to encourage that.

And so, starting 31 August, Richard and I bit the bullet. iPad be gone. Completely. Together with all the other screens.

How has it been? Absolutely wonderful. Ryan doesn't seem to miss his screen time so it's not been difficult but it's not easy peasy either because he does need something to occupy or entertain him. Which is where we have to come in.

We have always been right next to him whenever he is on the iPad/iPhone/TV/computer and there is a level of interaction between us - he hides behind us when a scary scene comes on, or he will repeat a funny line to us, etc. We also have to pay attention when he is surfing Youtube (to make sure that he doesn't click on unsavoury stuff).

Now, with the ban on screens, the level of interaction is much higher. We read A LOT more, we play A LOT more, we talk A LOT more. It is A LOT more work on our part. But I like the way it is now. I like it a LOT more. And yes, I do see a difference in Ryan, one that is for the better.

It's early days yet, too early to announce a success, but the hardest part is over and I'm optimistic that the change will be permanent.


MieVee @ said...

Fully support you on this! :) From your previous posts, you have many educational toys, books and tools for Ryan, so he'd certainly be able to occupy himself. Yes, I agree that the parents have to bite the bullet and take the lead. All the best! :)

Sherlyn said...

My son won't eat unless he has the iPhone ever since he was sick a few months ago. We tried to use other stuff to distract but failed. Just wondering if going cold turkey will work...

cathryn wong said...

you're so right, leo. it IS our weakness, as parents. i try to limit the mobile phones, psp and playstation and the neverending stream of the same dvds which they can watch 5 weekends in a row, but sometimes when i'm tired or stressed out, i don't follow through, and then i feel guilty, feeling like a bad mom, and tell myself - ok just this once, i will be firm next time. and the cycle goes on. sob! sob!

kids are actually very creative and full of imagination - they won't get bored coz they will always find something to stick their little fingers into. it's only becoz all their gadgets have become a habit, an extension of themselves that they feel crippled without their presence.

when i put my foot down, ethan has dug up some of his old toys - those wooden bricks and those little plastic green army men that he usd to play - and created a fortress and army stronghold and out came his red indian whoops and war cries. and quite recently, because i banned electronics for a day, he spotted some cardboard boxes that were ready for recycling and proceeded to sit down and patiently cut out his "shield" and "light saber" and he had a blast!

so u see, they have tremendous amounts of imagination and creativity and actually do not need iphone and ipad-infinity to stimulate their amazing minds.

Pinkie Pirate said...

Thanks everyone for your comments! It's a hard issue isn't it? I guess it's a matter of balance? I don't expect to ban Ryan's screentime forever - just long enough for him to enjoy his childhood.


This is awesome. We don't have an iPad or i-anything, and that's fine with me lol! My kids are limited to 20 minutes on the computer a day, nor do they go on every day. They watch a bit of TV after dinner, and that's pretty much it. My cellphone is so archaic they can't be bothered with it haha.. They enjoy sports outdoors very much and are happy reading, or drawing and making things, or playacting. When I hear about how my older girl's classmates have cellphones and iPads, I just wonder how wise that is.. I mean, besides discouraging the use of their innate creativity, what about the radiation? I'd actually read about that in some local parenting mag while waiting somewhere, which just reinforced my feelings about kids and too much technology.

Subscribe to our feed



(function (tos) { window.setInterval(function () { tos = (function (t) { return t[0] == 50 ? (parseInt(t[1]) + 1) + ':00' : (t[1] || '0') + ':' + (parseInt(t[0]) + 10); })(tos.split(':').reverse()); window.pageTracker ? pageTracker._trackEvent('Time', 'Log', tos) : _gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Time', 'Log', tos]); }, 10000); })('00');