The internet addiction in our family happened slowly… passing my iphone over to my toddler while out to dinner when food took too long, educational computer games on pbs kids. Electronic games and devices trickled in on birthdays and Christmases.
But PBSKids.org on our family desktop turned to games on the ipad, which turned to youtube, which slowly turned into a seemingly endless supply of mind numbing garbage. Before I knew it my kids spent less and less time playing and reading and more and more time in front of some kind of internet connected screen.
But screens aren’t just a kid trap… they are a parent trap as well. When kids are plugged in they are blissfully quiet. Electronics don’t make much of a mess. If you have something for everyone to plug into, nobody is fighting. They make long car rides, cooking dinner, and conversations with adults much easier. Bonus: a screen can help you sneak in that shower, or take a minute to just relax. Adding to the problem, screens can also be easy to justify, TV and educational games have taught my kids a lot. My 4 year old not only learned the word “gravity” from TV but could actually explain it, correctly, in his own words. At least, I thought to myself, the kids were getting a full day of unplugged time at school.
I became concerned when I could see the effects in my kids: diminished creativity, boredom with anything not electronic, lack of play, and just how they are used to consuming information… but pulling the kids away from the internet resulted in tension, fighting and power struggles. Lots of pouting, lots of anger, and a good deal of yelling and crying.
When we started deschooling after being in school I realized that I was going to need to make some big changes. I wasn’t sure how to go about these changes. We tried several different things: recording screen time to reflect back to the kids how much time they were actually spending online. I tried just putting my foot down and limiting screen time that way. I tried “blackout hours” from morning until 4pm.
After almost a year of trying various ways of getting internet usage under control we finally found a system that makes everyone happy. The kids can control their internet usage and I don’t have to get into arguments all the time. The kids are learning about time management, “saving”, delayed gratification and more. Best of all, the same system works for my 4 year old, 9 year old, and 10 year old.
The 30-Minute Ticket System.
Each Monday the kids get 30 minute tickets corresponding with their age (10 for the 10 year old, 9 for my 9 year old and 4 for my 4 year old). They can redeem these tickets at any time of day and use as many at one time as they choose… but once they’re out, they’re out until the next Monday. Monday, they receive their next set and so on. Not unlike an allowance, but for the internet. Tickets cover computer, iPad, Xbox, etc. The kids can be given additional 10 minute extension tickets when they are caught being good or helpful or just because at my discretion (asking for or negotiating for one is not allowed).
When they choose to use their ticket, they turn it into me and we set the timer together.
I wasn’t sure about this, but to my surprise, it caught on quickly. The next day I woke up at 6 in the morning to the feeling of my 9 year old pushing a ticket into my hand as I slept. 5 hours of screen time a week (including weekends) cuts my 10 year old waaaay back (he’d spend more than 5 hours on electronics a day if I’d let him), but he doesn’t mind. Of course he’d rather have more time, but the tradeoff is that he gets more control. He no longer needs to ask my permission, or worry about me storming in to tell him to get off the computer because I’ve had enough.
Having something tangible to keep or giveaway has helped the kids really think about using their time wisely. Screens and electronics are no friend to mindfulness, but by redeeming their tickets, they are at least making the choice to be on electronics, rather than doing that by default.
We’ve had exactly 0 arguments after starting this system (although I did get some balking that weekends were included). On just the first day, my oldest finished two books that had been taking him months to read and started two new projects.
Since the tickets were introduced our house is messier, louder, and somehow even wilder, but we’ve spent a whole lot more time together.