setting computer limits

When Chas was one, he watched one TV show every day: "Bear in the Big Blue House", which was, at the time, a lovely show. (We saw it again recently, and it has become a short-attention-span, dull show. No more storyline, no more Ojoe and Pip and Pop.)

When Chas was nearly two, and Sam was six months old, we moved house (but stayed on the same street, pretty much), and decided to leave TV behind. Forever.

Everything that I had read about the harm that TV does to little growing minds helped to make the decision easy, and although Sean missed his fave shows, he backed me up. We lived ON the beach, so entertainment was never hard to come by. Chas was (is!) a very hyper child, and watching TV actually seemed to wind him up more. (says Chasbo's teacher: "I have never SEEN such a high-energy child!")

Having no TV has been fantastic! Our kids love to read, play chess and any other game they can get their hands on, build models and Lego, and just lie back in the hammock and look up into the trees. "hey, look! A woodpecker!" Their teachers are always saying how communicative, and just plain brilliant they are. They seldom see on-screen images of kids being rude to adults. They never ever complain of being bored, ever. There is always something to do, or... Do nothing! It shocks me the way many kids CAN'T do "nothing". Thinking. Inventing. Coming up with secret codes and thought-experiments. I think that not having a TV has been the best decision we have ever made for our kids.

Of course, our "no TV at home" policy extends to video games, game boy, and... Until now... Computers.

There are computers at school, and my parents have one which the boys may use occasionally. They have some lovely games: Dr. Seuss, and the like.

Sean has a laptop, for work, and recently, wireless internet connection via his phone.

I have had a Blackberry since last Christmas, which I needed for keeping in touch with my sister, friends and family in far-off lands. I have become a Blackberry virtuosa, posting blog entries and searching the net like a maniac. It takes great pictures, and has helped me to organise my life and work. Even my main grocery list is on Blackberry. I am using it now, to type this! Then I will copy and paste it to my blog and email a copy to my non-bloggy sister. I take pictures of work-in-progress and email them to clients. My Blackberry reminds me to take the kids to the dentist. The kids use the internet search for homework and to answer their many questions, and they email friends and family too. Even 6-year-old Max has learned to "text"!

So you see, the media is creeping into our lives. And surprisingly, our middle son Sam is a complete whiz with a computer. He has been called out of his class by a flustered teacher, to go and fix her computer, and has a full understanding of how and why they work. He installs programs, and wins at games. Strange for someone who hardly ever sees a computer, I think.

Now, Santa may bring us a super-dooper computer for Christmas, with all the bells and whistles. We will have internet access, in our home. The screen will be sitting there, beckoning us, all day and all night. In the kitchen. How will this affect our lives? How should I limit the kids' screen time? Will it be a fantastic educational tool, opening up new avenues for learning? Or will the kids use their time downloading free poker games from the net (as Sam has done with my Blackberry, the little hacker) and fighting over who had a turn already (as happens at my parents house)?

I have no previous media-limiting experience here. Is half an hour at a sitting too much time? Not enough? This is a dictatorship here, people. I need limits for my little minions. Parents of the internet, lend me your experience!


Jen said…
This is such a hard issue, I think, for every parent. How do we limit their exposure to technology and media, without making them little weirdos who can't relate to anyone? I only recently started letting my son watch a video to learn signs and I struggle with that decision. I think one hour a day for the computer is reasonable, that they can break up into two 30 minute sessions if they want.
Thats just my 2 cents. Good luck!
Burgh Baby said…
This is something I struggle with as well. I am fortunate that my daughter couldn't care less about TV, but she is already, at age 1, obsessed with the computer. I'm thinking I need to start limiting my time so that she doesn't see me using it as much. Just thinking about it makes me sad, but I don't want her in front of a monitor all day any more than I want her in front of a TV all day.

For me, the time limits would vary depending on what they were using the computer to do. Writing emails would warrant a longer amount of time than playing a game.
Anonymous said…
Hi Nan,

I've seen the evils of this with my step son. He is 7 and it's all he does. He comes here twice a week after school and spends the entire evening (4-5 hour) playing video games. And if I am using the computer, he and his sister watch TV for 4 or 5 hours. It's the same at his mom's house.

I've tried buying board games and books for them, but he has no interest in them other than maybe for 2 minutes before he's whining about his game again. He is having trouble reading in school, and is (I think) socially and emotionally immature for a 7 year old. His teachers describe him as lazy, and talk about tantrums! And i've seen ''bully'' tendancies when he is interacting with other kids. Maybe I'm expecting too much from a 7 year old?

Surprisingly it does not seem to have affected his sister like this. She will pick up a book, drawing pad, help me to cook, or just come to chat, and is an otherwise lovely child. She's 9. Maybe girls are different? But i've also noticed that his mom is more ''involved'' with his sister... in terms of spending real time doing things together.

I have another friend with a 10 year old girl. Her computer access is limited to 1 hour or so a day, and is monitored. She just passed for her first choice (SEA), loves to read, is emotionally very mature, and again is a lovely child.

I just had a thought.. maybe the kids who illustrate the negative effects of too much TV or computer games, are just illustrating the effects of inadequate (or dare i say lazy) parenting?

Maybe if you have already, and continue to put in the time and effort foster your child's all-round development, then the TV and video games won't have that effect... compared to not putting that effort in and just leaving them to be stunted by the media?

And if Sam has been showing exceptional profficiency at it, then maybe it should be encouraged for him? If he showed the same propensity for music or sport, wouldn't you ecourage that? The world we live in now is heavily I.T. based.

OK.. thats my 2 cents. Of course the fact that i'm not yet a parent (3 more weeks!!) can't be overlooked :)