Tablets, and e-readers, & TV…oh my!


As a follow up to my post Monday about us adults weaning ourselves off the internet, I thought it would be good post about our kid device philosophy. For a really long time I will admit Mr. Tucker and I were hypocrites: not allowing our kids exposure to passive entertainment while swiping away on our phones most of the evening when they were in bed. We’ve recognized our hypocrisy and changed it but I think it’s important for many families to set ground rules for device use.

A friend in Europe recently asked her FB friends what their rules about tv/device use were. Did people curate content? Did they set time limits? Did they restrict it by weekdays/weekends? Naturally, the responses were all over the place, which is normal given how we all have a unique set of circumstances. Still, I will discuss our personal perspective with the caveat in mind that I can’t pretend to speak for others. This is what works for our family and it may not work for yours.

I will be the first to admit that I am pretty hippy froo-froo about things. So much so that our eldest daughter didn’t even see a TV show until I was exhausted during my pregnancy with my second child that I needed a break. I bought a season of Sesame Street for the Apple TV just to have five minutes to myself, and have never regretted it.

When I went back to work, letting the kids sit in front of the TV so I could make breakfast and lunches. It gave me the much-needed time to get things done. Like most parents of small children, it can be an issue of survival when you are balancing between a kid’s needs and the need to get everything else done. However, I started noticing that more and more the kids were being less entertained by the TV. They would maybe sit still for five minutes before the cries of “Maaaaaamaaaaaa” would start and I wouldn’t get anything done.

It was then that I decided to cull the entertainment in favour of boredom. I know, it sounds counter-intuitive but when your kids have a constant stream of entertainment being shoved into their brains, they adapt and start to get bored. The things that once captured their attention becomes the background noise to everything else and they don’t appreciate it. So I made them go cold turkey.

I didn’t ween them off during the time I was working and they were in school/daycare but I waited until they were both going to school full time in September to lay down the ground rules. The rules? During the weekdays there would be no TV, no iPods, no eReaders, and no tablets. I figured things were chaotic enough without having a bunch of zombies come home, toss their bags on the floor, and then rush right to the entertainment. Transitioning when they were just starting the school year helped them adapt as they knew summer was over and the work had begun.

It wasn’t just about not having devices, we were also on a mission to get the kids to take care of a few things when they came home from school. So I made a visual guide with acronym that the kids see when they walk through the door after school: CHAMP: chores, homework, and music practice.

Graphic artist, I am not

For chores, the kids have to put their lunches on the counter, and their agendas/papers from school on the dining room table for us to review. Then they have to take care of any homework they have, and once that is done they both have to practice music for 15-20 minutes a day. So when they get in the door the usually have a snack and then tackle their CHAMP. It’s not perfect, it’s easy for a six and eight year old to find a million and one things they would rather be doing but for the most part they manage to get it done.

Naturally, the kids have access to a bunch of other things to entertain themselves: puzzles and games, craft supplies, books, toys…their imaginations.

Of course, the sneaky reason I have cut the passive entertainment back is that by the time the weekend hits, the kids are super stoked to have unfettered access to ALL THE THINGS! Mr. Tucker and I sleep in a bit and the kids get up, flip on the tv, break out the iPad and self-entertain while we languish in bed a bit. We still do monitor their access: only downloading games we approve of, and curating their TV access but for the most part we just let them have at it. Since they are older they can get their own snacks and play for an hour or two before Mr. Tucker and I get up. Not going to lie: it’s great.

It’s not perfect. There are times where the kids come home, exhausted, and then end up fighting over every little thing. It would be easy to give in but we stand our ground. I am not convinced that device use during the week would change those days when they come home fed up and short-tempered. Still, this format has worked for us because we were dedicated to making it work. The kids know what to expect and we have learned how to manage any issues that come up.

I think also because we are big on connecting as a family during the week, the kids have things to look forward to. We eat dinner together every night, have a games night at least twice a week when we don’t have activities, and we kick off the weekend with movie/MYO pizza night. Then Saturday morning they know that they can have as much online time as they want. These things have become ingrained habits and something we all look forward to. They are used to the rhythm of this routine and so it is normal to them not to have access to electronic entertainment all the time.

Although we have allowed our family to buy the kids small iPod Shuffles and the eldest has an eReader, we’ve really pushed back on allowing them their own tablets. As it stands now the entire family has one tablet we share, and one TV we share (I don’t think any house needs more than one TV, IMO). The children have had to learn diplomacy and divvy up the use of each device. They know if there is fighting and we have to get involved we’ll take away the access and find a chore for them to do. So despite the fact that we allow them unfettered access to these things on the weekend, they still have to get along and make judicious use of their time.

Mr. Tucker and I are by no means Ludittes: we have both benefitted enormously both personally and professionally by the internet and technology in general. However, our parenting strategy is one of in-person connection and a disconnection from technology most days of the week. This strategy works well for our family now but it doesn’t mean it won’t change at the kids get older. While we are open to revisiting our rules in the future, I can’t see us changing much: we enjoy our family time and this current strategy is working well for all of us.