How Giving My Kids Unlimited Screen Time Actually Got Them To Use Screens Less

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The following was syndicated from Narrow Back Slacker for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at [email protected].

As a freelancer who makes her own hours, I’ve learned a few things about personal momentum. I’m a morning person, and my peak productive time is before 10:00 AM. If I start my day by sitting at the desk at, say, 5:00 AM, and digging in on actual work, I’ll keep going all day. If I start the day by, say, cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry or phaffing about on the interwebs, I’m in trouble. And if, God forbid, I sit on the couch and flip on The Today Show, all bets are off; I’m not moving until bedtime. I think of it as Newton’s Law of Personal Momentum, for I am an object that will either stay at rest or stay in motion, based on where I am at 5:30 AM.

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My kids are the same way. And because they are youth existing in the 20 teens, they are drawn like moths to glowing rectangular screens as soon as they wake up, and given their druthers, would spend the entire day glued to the Interwebs, killing zombies or mining diamonds or whatever. I know all the reasons why that’s a bad idea, but since my kids are growing up, I don’t feel like it should be up to me to find ways to entertain them. At 10 and 13 years old, they should be figuring out what to do with their own time themselves. But of course, I shouldn’t be surprised when they want to do Minecraft now and do homework later. The problem is, frankly, I’m too lazy to argue with them. I don’t want to do homework, either.

So, I stopped arguing. They need to learn to prioritize their time, and I need to figure out a way to make sure that they get all the things they need to do done without me having to do it.

Which brings me to the Momentum Optimization Project (MOP), or it is more commonly referred to in my house, The List.

The List is simple, it’s short, and in a 6-month trial at my house, it has shown promising results. The List is just a list of things things they needed to do every single day. I printed it on a 5×8 purple index card, like so:

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I posted The List on what has become the MOP Command Center (i.e., the kitchen cork board) and I told them, sure, you can use the computer, or watch TV, as much as you want, as long as you do all these things first.

No compromises. No complaints. No Negotiation. Just do these things. And once those things were done, they could have as much screen time as they want. Yup. Complete The List by 8:00 AM, and you are free to rot in front of the monitor until your eyeballs bleed.

I know what you’re thinking: Surely these 2 vidiots will devolve into pasty, nearsighted dunces. But that’s where Newton’s Laws come in. I know that if I get them up and out the door bright and early, they’ll be out playing all day. But let them sit down in front of a screen, and they’ll stay there all day. Like me, they are all about momentum. The simple direction to “do something creative” would get them started drawing, or building.

The first week, she figured out how to use a hot glue gun and devoted an insane amount of time to constructing a bizarre 3-story building, complete with a spiral staircase, out of cardboard and wine corks. Himself picked up a novel and wound up blowing through 5 in 2 weeks. Homework was suddenly getting done without me nagging. Brownies were baked. Rooms were tidy. And computer time, while still substantial, was contracting.

It’s been 6 months, and while the results haven’t been perfect, they’ve been impressive. I’ll update with details soon, but for now, why not get started on a list of your own? You can view my lists here. Let me know if it works for you.

Ann Kirby-Payne is a freelance development editor for college textbooks. Check out more of her writing at narrowbackslacker.com.

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