I am tired. I am tired because my littlest guy was up all night coughing.
I am tired because I spent the weekend supporting three kids playing three different sports, coaching the littlest, cheering from the sidelines for the other two.
I am tired because I have emails coming at me from every single teacher who interacts with my kids every single day, voicemails from principals reminding me about book fairs and bullying prevention, and field trip reminders that need filling out.
I am tired because CNN alerts me to the most recent homicide and natural disaster, Facebook draws my attention to the birthdays of people I haven't seen in years but feel compelled to wish a very happy day to, and IG reminds me I am behind on my fall decorating.
Are you tired yet, just listening to all this? I am sure you are, and many of you have way more going on than I do, but how can any of us keep up with this rat race?
The answer is that we can't. We are either filled with anxiety and continue keeping up with the Joneses, or we dial back. We take a moment and remember that we do not have to do it all. We do not have be it all. We just have to put one foot in front of the other, and do the next right thing.
Who cares if my house doesn't get decorated for fall this year? There are always winter decorations.
Who cares if I miss an email about an assignment? I am not in middle school, they are. Aren't we supposed to be teaching these children responsibility and ownership?
Who cares if I turn in early to get a few extra hours of sleep to make up for the missed sleep last night? My big kids are perfectly capable of putting themselves to bed.
But one thing that is not negotiable? My screen time limits for my kids. I'll admit, I have had days when I have felt too tired, too worn down, too overwhelmed, and I have wanted to just let them play their devices to their heart's content (and days when I have surrendered to that), but more often than not, I hold to my convictions that my kids need to play outside, they need face to face interactions with their friends, and they need exercise!
This, right here, stopped me in my tracks.
When I read a stat like the one above that a colleague of my husband's shared on FB, I am discouraged. I googled, "how much time do maximum security prisoners spend outside," and stumbled on this stat...
While inmates at maximum security prisons in the U.S. are guaranteed at least 2 hours of outdoor time a day, half of children worldwide spend less than an hour outside, reports TreeHugger.com.Oct 20, 2017
Clearly, we have a problem.
I've been thinking about what kids learn when they play outside, and more importantly when they play face to face with other kids. Immediately, problem solving skills come to mind. Take this instance today...
My youngest had a few friends over and they decided to make a train out of their vehicles so one person could drive the battery operated kid's tractor and pull the others in the various other wheeled ride-on toys. They asked me for a rope and then they concocted a really strange looking (probably slightly dangerous) "train" that they drove all over the neighborhood, staying on the sidewalks and laughing the whole time. They were having tons of fun, and they didn't need expensive toys, adults, and most importantly, they didn't need screens in order to have that fun. The only things they really needed were their imaginations, and TIME.
How can we keep encouraging them to use their imaginations and to make the most of their time? That is the tough question. I listened to a heartbreaking podcast this weekend about a mom whose daughter gave up on life, finding it too hard to keep going when she was turned away from the college of her dreams (more on this podcast later). The mom said parenting was by far the most difficult job she had ever faced, and that often she wished there was a handbook. Since there is not, we just have to come together and help each other out. Share what works, and what doesn't. And not be afraid to ask other moms for help.
Here are six things I do to avoid too much screen time in our house, and to encourage outside play. We are certainly not perfect, and there are Friday nights when at the end of a harrowing week, my husband and I will let the boys play Xbox while we catch up on This is Us, but as long as we've stuck to our guns for most of the week, we can allow some extra screen time, and not feel too guilty about it. I'd love for you to add to our list by commenting after you finish reading.
The Circle, by Disney. Could not live without this one. We called our oldest down for lunch yesterday, and after the third attempt, logged into The Circle, and hit PAUSE on the Xbox icon. He promptly joined us. With The Circle, we can pause their devices, limit time spent on social media, and set restrictions on what they have access to on the internet. The Circle is a must for any parent who is interested in monitoring their child's screen times. And we all should be interested.
You don't play until XYZ is done. It is understood in our house that if you have not put away your clean clothes, you do not play the Xbox. An when they say, "May I play the Xbox?" I usually have one more thing they have to do, like take out the trash, pick up the toys on the playroom floor, or switch the laundry.
Give choices. Often, the only thing they want to do is hop on the iPad or play Xbox, so I give them two choices, one thing I know they will not want to do, and one thing I know they will. For some reason, they jump on the thing they want to do, without even complaining that it is not a screen. It is like their brains are incapable of coming up with ideas that are not technology centered, and they just need to be reminded that they actually enjoy shooting baskets, or jumping on the trampoline, or dribbling the soccer ball.
Go outside with them. I can use the fresh air and exercise myself, and oftentimes when I engage with them for a few minutes, they forget all about me and start playing with their brothers or other friends outside. They just need the encouragement to get outside and move their bodies.
IF, THEN. "IF you go outside and play for 20 minutes, THEN you can come back inside and play Xbox." 20 minutes often turns into 30, then 40, then an hour has gone by and they don't even notice!
Phones are charged downstairs. A simple charging station is all it took for this to become a rule. And phones are not given back until they have eaten breakfast and are completely ready for school.
There may be things that are not worth fighting for every time, like eating all their green beans, or making their beds. But this one?
This one is worth fighting for.