Screentime Again, Again

A friend sent the link to this excellent post, Why I Don’t Worry About my Kids’ Screen Time, on my own personal new favorite screentimesink, Camp Creek Blog.

I’m not going to attempt to paraphrase. Except here’s a brilliant little quote,

“Childhood: You’re doing it wrong.”

(Whosoever gets the reference in the title of this post winds my undying affection)

Who’s Addicted?

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned the abhorrent sloth of our latest kid movie-watching binge. It was bad around here for a couple of weeks. The 2yo would wake from sleep crying for Dora. I swear there is some kind of actual crack in that show. Remember how light is supposed to be both particle and wave? I’m convinced that somehow the makers of Dora got the particle part to be crack particles. They radiate out with the vibrating spectrum of colors, straight into your child’s bloodstream. Highly disturbing. Highly effective. Especially, it turns out, on 2 year olds.

But more disturbing is what happens to a harried mama when she is given whole hours, relatively uninterrupted, day after day. I sat on the couch and read. I drank tea. I stared into space when I felt like it, peace marred only by the faint bounce of cartoon voices in the background. I hung laundry. I weeded my garden, not in the heat of naptime mid-day, but in the pleasant morning, after a leisurely cup of coffee.

I had forgotten.

Do you remember? Do you remember the distinct luxury of doing what you wanted to do, when you wanted to do it? That my friends, is some addictive shit.

As the days wore on, and the initial Dora-bender began to ebb, I found myself crashing hardest. ‘Fuck. I have to get up, yank my wastedly tired body out of bed, and right off the bat start mothering? Are you kidding me? How can this work?’ After two weeks of part-time digital childcare, I had lost the ability to mother for more than an hour or two at a time. Or rather, the ability was probably still there, but the expectation of that as normal was gone.

Then the inevitable set in. Movie-watching as crack can only last so long for healthy children in even moderately interesting environments. After a couple of weeks, the 2yo began to get bored of Dora. And subsequently Diego. (The 4yo, for what it’s worth, had been watching more than her share of movies too, but had not gotten the junkie eyes. Different stages of development, I guess.) After two or three depraved weeks, the little atrophied muscles finally rebelled. Earnest sibling fights began. Movie watching became as hard to referee as anything else.

When one day I actually yelled (yelled!) at the 2yo to go watch his movie, I finally woke from the reverie. Time for an intervention.

Here’s the good news, for any of you who may find yourself in a similar situation. So long as you let them run their course, kid movie-watching binges are not as hard to break as they might seem.

CJ’s Six Step Program for Digital Addiction in Children

Step 1: Accept that you as the parent are about to lose any and all ‘you-time.’ Don’t worry, you’ll get some back, later.

Step 2: Watch for the right moment. I have a friend who managed to pull her kids off the movies mid-bender, but with my two little firecrackers, forceful parenting almost never works. Instead, I wait for a natural wane in the fervor. In my experience, it will come after a couple of weeks.

Step 3: Offer alternatives. Not half-hearted bullshit like “Wouldn’t you rather color?” but something that actually excites them. This is a good time to become manically social, if your kids are into it that is (mine are). Unearth any hidden toy boxes, or pick up some new junk from the local thrift. Also, although this could backfire, certain food bribes can work so long as they are out of the house. For example, walking to the ice cream shop.

Step 4: Be patient. It takes a couple of weeks to get back into regular life. At first they will be excited to go visit friends but as soon as they get home, they’ll want to turn on the tube. They’ve forgotten how to play in a room with a screen. Like any addict, they have to re-learn, and disassociate certain activities. Yes, you can drink a cup of coffee without a cigarette, but it takes awhile to get used to. Thank fuck kids are so much more flexible than grown-ups.

Step 5: If your kids are as feisty as mine, nix any commentary about the process. At the beginning of this particular movie weaning, I made the mistake of mentioning the upcoming effort to my 4yo. I thought maybe she was old enough to participate. We’d sunk so low, I thought maybe even she would have noticed how it affected us all negatively, and we could tackle it together. She was in a good mood. I figured I’d give it a whirl.  She was horrified and threw a fit on the spot. “I don’t want to watch less movies!” she wailed, while I kicked myself repeatedly in the shins. I never mentioned it again, and thank god she seemed to forget the conversation. But we have had plenty of other experiences where my attempts to include her in my parenting agenda backfired in a big way.

Step 6: Determine your comfort level. I’ve talked this through before, but just so we’re clear, I’m not proposing no movies at all. I have a few friends who manage that, and I adore and admire them. But for most kids, an hour or two a day seems to be pretty innocuous. I feel like as long as the rest of their day is full of goodness, and mama gets the break she needs to maintain sanity, it’s a positive equation.

I’ll be straight with you, we’re still occasionally doing three hours a day here at Camp Apron Stringz. I’m not proud of that, but it’s true, so there it is.

Lastly, don’t underestimate your own addiction to their movie-watching. Modern, full-time parenting is some crazy hard shit. No grandparents next door to offer relief. The ingrown expectation that we are supposed to continue our adult lives at the same rate of productivity. It’s no wonder we are blinded by the mere possibility of a few hours of kid-less time. The idea is addictive enough, but the reality, oh dear. If you accidentally get a few days of it like I did, wow. That’s a hard habit to break.

But you can. You will. I did.

Never Cry Wolf: A Rare Movie Review


You won’t find many movie reviews on this blog. As much as I do enjoy vegging out at the end of a day, and my girl watches something almost every afternoon, it’s just not a subject I feel merits much time or attention.

But, there are some exceptions. And one of them is Never Cry Wolf. It’s based on the book by Farley Mowat. In Alaska, everyone knows who he is, and everyone saw the movie when it came out, back in the 80s. Here, no one knows who he is, nor have they ever heard of the movie. And maybe the appeal is all Alaskan too, I’m not sure.

All I know is that we got it from Netfl*x three weeks ago, and my little girl still won’t let me send it back. We watched it the first time together, and she’s watched it by herself at least half a dozen times since. It’s a simple story about a man who goes out into the Canadian arctic to study wolves, completely unprepared for the vast wilderness he is suddenly dropped into. It is at turns humblingly profound and bust-a-gut hilarious. I think it’s about as wholesome a family movie as has ever been made (though there is a long scene of him naked, running with a herd of caribou, in case anyone cares). It’s a very slow movie, lots of long scenes of mountain tundra and, not surprisingly, wolves. But there is some death defying adventure as well, and as I said, some uproarious humor.

I feel there are very few movies really suited for families. Disney “family movies” generally make me sick. If I am not outright offended, I am just plain bored. The movie industry plays down to kids like they’re stupid. They’re not. They are attracted to black vs. white stories and loud, obnoxious voices, that much I can’t deny. But it doesn’t mean they are not capable of enjoying much greater depth.

Never Cry Wolf is, to me, an epic family movie. Absolutely good enough to watch as plain old adults, and yet apparently compelling enough to hold my 4yo’s attention and adoration. Though I will say, she is obsessed with camping and Eskimos, both of which the movie provides in full measure. But even the little guy was interested for a while, a bush plane and animals did it for him.

After a few times round with the movie, my girl said one night, “Oooo, I know. Let’s make a tent! Like in Never Cry Wolf!” And so we did. Then she instructed me to crawl under with her so we could “watch the wolves and take notes.”

Two of my other top favorite movies are the Gods’ Must Be Crazy I and II. Also old, also both serious and hilarious, though the humor is incredibly slapstick. Right up my alley, but too silly for some. They are simple stories with lots of animals and kids seem to enjoy them. Probably best for older kids though, they are set in the Kalahari Desert on the edge of a war zone. They portray the ridiculousness of war, a very anti-war message I think, but nevertheless…

That’s it. Probably the only movie review I’ll ever do. Anyone want to share their family faves?