Me and my kiddo

Me and my kiddo

Monday, February 14, 2011

Experimenting. Parenting.

I remember my mom told me that the first kid was always a kind of guinea pig; you learned along the way.  One of my prime parenting techniques for developing independence is offering as many choices as I possibly can.  Of course, sometimes, you have to set limits because the kiddo doesn't have the context of knowledge or maturity.  You don't let a toddler decide to play in the street or a 4 year old watch 10 hours of TV.

Recently, I've been dealing with my kiddo's love for screen time.  Computer games, videos, iPad/iPhone apps... he loves them all.  It hadn't been a big issue until the holidays.  When we visited family, he didn't want to go out at all.  He wanted to play on the phone or iPad.  These items belong to me and my husband, so we could certainly say "no".  At those times, he would play board games or read, but he consistently preferred the screen time.

When we came home from these trips, a new game on his computer and worsening boredom at school combined to make screen time even more desirable.  (I'm in the process of working on all sorts of things for the school issue.)   He also had decided to save his money toward an iPod touch that would get him his own platform for some of his favorite games.   So, imagining the vast amounts of time he would likely devote to games then and, not desiring to be in the position of trying to limit his use of his own property, I brought up my concerns during one of our family meetings about two weeks ago.  My kiddo listened and seemed to hear me and we made a deal that he could have as much screen time as he liked staggered with the same amount of anything-else time.  The maximum was an hour before a break, but that could go back and forth with an hour of each from 8AM to 8PM if he desired.

That sounded like a good plan to me and it worked... sort of.  He didn't fight the timer, it was his deal after all.  He wound up spending lots of time doing things like board games and reading for much longer than the required break and often having lots of fun.  We enjoyed watching episodes of The Rat Patrol together too.  But, there were timers all over and they were set by me and the whole day was broken up into screen time and non-screen time and there were times when what he really wanted was to continue the video game he was playing and didn't have motivation to do something else.  The bored tone was new and not welcome (see the last cute antic here).

So, that set me thinking, am I setting an unnecessary limit?  He has certainly not been a good modifier of his own screen time in the past, but he can't learn without practice and he is 7 years old.  Kids develop self-discipline by practice and learning from mistakes.  I pulled the family together for another chat on the issue.  My kiddo seemed to think it was working OK, but he jumped at the suggestion that we try letting him modify his own screen time for a week and then chat again.

Experimenting.  Yep, I've found so many times that parenting is a prolonged bout of trial and error with the child constantly changing.  So many of my tries have failed, but by noticing, acknowledging, and adjusting, I eventually find something that works... until it doesn't.  The current experiment has been in effect for a little over a week.  Sometimes he plays for two hours, but it's rare.  He still delves into chess and spent well over an hour listening to me read The Hobbit today.  I didn't like the week of timers, even though they were friendly ones and requested.  Our evenings have been a much more pleasant interaction without looking at the clock all the time.

So, I think it's in the nature of parenting and that every kid is necessarily a "guinea pig".  The parent needs to figure out who each kid is and what will most nurture their growth to independence, while keeping the parent sane too.  That is different for each kid.  Not that there aren't principles, but it is a process every time.  I don't think there's any way to parent without this massive process of trial and error which, naturally, includes... errors :)  So, on with my parenting experiment.  I so love this job that lets me improve again and again.

We did get out for a family stroll while visiting my parents.


  1. Go Cameron, and go you! It's hard to step back and see what they're capable of sometimes. SO HARD. I'm terribly interested to know how this turns out, so keep us posted!

  2. I'll write up the third experiment soon... this is so exciting!

  3. Thank you, there are some gems of advice here. Can you tell me at what age you started family meetings?

  4. For about two years, since my kiddo was 5, we've been having a morning routine where each member of the family relates "three good things" from the previous day and then says what they're looking forward to that day (a practice based on recommendations from Jean Moroney It's been about six months since I started adding "open table" to this process one weekend morning each week. We've handing things as varied as bathroom challenges and ideal vacations. It's just a time when we can bring up anything on our mind regarding family. I haven't needed more structure yet since we're so open and communicate well as a family. It is nice to take the pause though and make sure we're all content with how the family is working.