Nixxing the Flix

In a moment of frustration and indignation, I scribbled a note and taped it to the front of the TV. “Do not watch anything else on this TV until further notice.” I scribbled a similar note and taped it to the front of the iPad.

The crew realized that Mom was upset, and they were right, I was. The note stayed there. The TV stayed off. And I began to really think some things through. The crew may have thought that Mom would calm down, the note would come down, and things would go back to normal. If so, they were wrong. I had reached a point of reckoning. To quote Anne of Green Gables, “Iron had entered into my soul.”

You may be wondering what had happened to trigger this Note-Posting Event. Let me explain.

Our children, probably like most others, have always been enchanted with anything played on a screen. They enjoy being entertained; don’t we all?

Knowing that screen time is not the best activity choice for children, we have tried to be very careful about TV viewing and screens in general, ever since our first child was small. Back at that time, we had just a few DVDs and videos. We designated some days/times during the week that they could be viewed. That seemed to work fairly well.IMG_0220Fast forward over fifteen years to the world we now live in, where screens have taken over everything. We have a smart TV, with various channels and streaming capabilities from our membership with Amazon Prime. Streaming is nice; a great selection and no scratched and ruined DVDs to deal with.  We also have laptops, a tablet, and phones, all with streaming capabilities.

As the years have rolled on, the “need” for screen time in our house has become more varied. Our school days are pretty busy and chaotic, with late afternoons when some quiet time watching a cartoon seemed needed. A cartoon for the little ones during school in the morning seemed helpful too. We have three teenagers now, one of whom has a serious interest in filmmaking. We want to accommodate that interest as much as we can. Clearly cartoons for young children don’t fit the bill for them. We have another teenager who follows football all season. We have little ones who constantly need to be monitored and entertained. IMG_6302“Mom, can we watch something?” became the constant request, mainly from my younger ones, all throughout the day.

“No honey, go play outside.”

“No honey, go play a game.”

“No honey, go get some toys out of the basement.”

“No honey, go color a picture.”

“I know you’re bored, but sometimes you need to be creative and find things to do. How about reading a book?”But how many times can you reasonably be expected to say “No” before you finally break down and say “Yes”? I mean, within the course of an hour? Children can be very persistent. “Watching something” had become the default activity; the thing that everyone gravitated towards. Instead of it being an occasional treat, it had become seemingly a daily necessity to survival.IMG_6297One child just got up from her nap and she is so fussy. Maybe she should watch something so she will stop crying and hanging on me.

We are trying to talk and the kids are so loud underfoot that we can’t hear each other or even hear ourselves. Maybe they should watch something.

Everyone finished their school and now they are bored. Maybe they should watch something.

I just need a few minutes to finish up this blog post. Maybe the kids should just watch something. (Ouch.)

It’s 4 o’clock and I’m getting so tired and I have to make supper… maybe the kids should just watch something. Wait a minute, why is everyone in there watching that?? 

I have to make an important phone call. I need some quiet. Maybe they should watch something for a few minutes.

A few minutes inevitably turned into more than a few.

All of this and more had brought us to the point that we had never wanted our family to be.  Screens seemed to be playing things at many and varied hours of the day, early morning, late evening… you name it. I was doing my best to be aware of all that was being viewed, but it was running me pretty ragged. I know it is my responsibility to be the gatekeeper of this home, and I take that seriously.IMG_6292After becoming upset and frustrated with some content being viewed on Amazon Prime, I thought “we need some more options here.” Prime didn’t seem to offer the really innocent stuff like Winnie the Pooh. I signed up for a free trial of Netflix. Steve seemed a little cautious about giving the family even more viewing possibilities, but he agreed to give it a try.

Not long after, the stark and ugly truth (that I had sort of been ignoring for some time) came along and smacked me in the face: things which seem innocent on the surface can have menacing agendas underneath. (Just to be clear, I’m not referring to Winnie the Pooh here.) Two incidents occurred, within a couple days of each other. One evening, I stood in the kitchen making supper, a little horrified at the glimpses I was getting of what my youngsters were viewing in the next room. I got angry, mostly at myself. Time for a major reality check. If I thought I was managing everything that was being viewed in the household, I was fooling myself. If I thought that my consent of “I don’t know… I guess so…” was somehow acting as a filter, it was time to wake up.

When the flick was over, I explained to one child (reminding myself in the meantime): “Once it has been watched, it’s too late. An hour and a half of ‘watching something’ can undo everything Daddy has been teaching the family from the Bible for the past month!” Attitudes, philosophies, and ideas come through loud and clear, couched in high-level entertainment that would captivate an audience of any age.IMG_6274So, that was it. I posted the notes. Slowly, over the course of many months, probably years, things had snowballed out of control. Time to take the reigns back.

I wondered what the repercussions would be. Would the crew accept this without a fight? Would I continue to be badgered about watching things at all hours of the day? I texted Steve and told him what I had done, because I figured I would need him to back me up on this.

Life went on. I stuck to my word. And surprisingly, I was not badgered. The note seemed to have provided some closure to an otherwise open-ended, never-ending possibility. And here, to me, is the most amazing part of this whole story. The kids willingly began to do things! They created masterpieces with k’nex. Drew pictures. Stapled the pictures into books. Wrote stories to go with the pictures. On their own! Re-discovered the basement full of toys. Created a zoo with stuffed animals. Got out the legos. Played with each other (with some bickering and fighting, of course.) Played with a bag of beans and some measuring cups, for hours. Bounced a rubber ball through the house, endlessly. Played basketball outside when the weather permitted. Stuck a piece of tape over their lips, hummed a tune, and giggled their little hearts out at the buzzing sensation on their mouths (seriously). Pretended they were going on a trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s. Made creations out of cardboard boxes. We re-discovered our collection of music CDs and audio dramas. And only a couple times was I asked, half-heartedly, “Mom can we watch something…. ok…. we know we can’t…” And they moved on. The pictures on this post are a poor representation of the fun, the creativity, the chaos, and the old-fashioned childhood that emerged. It’s hard to capture all that on camera while we are all in the middle of living life. (Of course, again, I am mainly referring to my younger children here, ages nine and down. The problem of the out-of-control screens had mainly developed with them.)IMG_0161IMG_0156And I… I honestly could not believe it. The household actually seemed more peaceful than it had before. Just like that. The crew actually seemed happier. Maybe, just maybe, they were slightly less wild and wired than they had previously been. (Then again, maybe not.) Although the household was more peaceful in some ways (no blaring music, screaming cartoon characters, etc.) it was also even more cluttered than before. Creative kids leave a mess in their wake. I honestly did not and do not mind (well, except the beans. All over the kitchen. All day. I did mind that.) This is what kids should be doing, instead of sitting blankly in front of a screen absorbing whatever is being fed to them by the masterminds who produce this stuff.IMG_0226{Side note: I know there are desperate mamas out there who are using some screen time for their children as purely and truly a matter of survival. I have been there. My last three babies were born 21 and 20 months apart. I was at my wits’ end during those many months of pregnancies, hours of nursing, strong-willed toddlers, exhaustion, homeschooling the older ones, and everything else that comes with that territory. However, I do think that in our case, the stage of legitimate need ended a while back, but the snowball effect of the screen time continued. I am not opposed to using screen time in moderation, and of course each family must decide what is appropriate and helpful in their own home. The thing is– moderation can so easily turn into excess. That’s what this blog post is about.}IMG_6286I was raised with no TV or screens to speak of. I am grateful for that. The world is very different now, but children are the same. They need to be creative. Sometimes, they need to just be bored and lay on their bunk and stare at the ceiling. They need to kick some dirt around outside. They need to have time to notice things. Children need a chance to realize, on their own, some of the wonder built into the world around them. They need to know that they can survive, even thrive, without a screen.

I read an article on this excellent blog about how the author sat in a vehicle as a child, watching the rain coming down, and thinking about patterns in the multiplication tables. Mathematical patterns are pretty much guaranteed not to come into any child’s head while that child is staring at a screen.

The note-posting event happened almost six weeks ago. Is the crew singing my praises at this turn of events? (“Thank you Mom, for doing what is best for us, even though we don’t understand.”) No, not exactly. But they have accepted it and moved on, much more easily than I imagined they would. Most days, they hardly seem to miss it. They are a great bunch and I’m super proud of them, as always.

So where are we now? Good question. Anyone can write a blog post about something they implemented for a few days, right? At this point I think I can safely say that we are on a long term track with these changes.

As a family (and that is a key) we recently enjoyed some of the Winter Olympics, finding them educational, inspiring, and amazing. We have also decided to start implementing a monthly movie night that everyone can look forward to. I still utilize a rare cartoon when absolutely needed for the two year old, etc.

As the gatekeeper, I am at peace with where things are now in this area of our home. There is a lot to be said for that inner peace. I know this is best for all of us. Honestly, I wish I had nixxed the flix a long time ago.IMG_6271

Helpful Links related to this topic:
-This sobering article lists “boredom” as part of a healthy childhood.
-My father-in-law’s message on the home a few weeks ago  included some excellent cautions about various ways that today’s children can be abandoned.
Good read on the advantages of setting aside time to actually think.
-Steve recently read this post to the family about our relationship as individuals to fun, pleasure, and entertainment.

{Any links given throughout this blog do not necessarily indicate a full endorsement of everything found on those websites.}


One thought on “Nixxing the Flix

  1. Wow Jennifer! Great article and good for you for taking this hard but necessary step. The “screens” are insidious, slowing creeping up and taking over the family! You were raised (by me and Dad!) without screens, as you say. The creativity you and your siblings displayed throughout your childhoods was simply fantastic! It is ultimately selfish for moms to “give herself a break” on a daily and often hourly basis while the children are sacrificed to the worldly gods. It started with the wireless, then the TV, and then the internet, which has opened up a Pandora’s box of so much evil, into every home in America at the flick of a mouse. Yes, there is some good; but rare. Yes, watch the good with the family present during designated times everyone can look forward to. You are taking a bold step, a hard step as by mid afternoon, moms like yourself and so worn out they are desperate for a break. But mothers for generations did so, just fine, without even so much as a phone to chat briefly for some “adult time”. So proud of you Jennifer! You are already reaping the benefits of this choice.


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