The media ominivore’s dilemma

When I first posted about the Momentum Optimization Project, I was expecting just a few friends and family members to read it. But it must have struck a chord: As of today, it’s been viewed more than 100,000 times (although part of me suspects it’s my mom, clicking over and over again just to feed my ego). The traffic kind of freaked me out, to be honest–I’m an editor, not a writer, by trade, and I’m not really used to having people whom I don’t know read, comment, even ask me for advice based on something I’ve written. I should probably make it clear that I’m not an expert on anything, more of a curious questioner. And as far as getting my kids to keep things really need and orderly? It’s kind of hilarious that anyone would look to me for advice, because: I am a disaster. Seriously. I need one of these just to find my keys at any given moment.

Anyway, 100,000 views are bound to yield a few criticisms.  A few readers inferred that my insistence on the kids reading “real text (not comics)” meant that I don’t want them reading comics at all, or that I don’t think comics are valuable. Others thought that by limiting screen time and insisting on “creative time,” I was implying that computers are not in fact tools that can be used creatively, or that I think gaming is stupid. All of which is kind of hysterical. Seriously, media–tv, books (including comics and graphic novels), movies, music, online gaming and computers–makes up a huge chunk of our family budget, in terms of time and money. Technology and media are kind of priorities in our lives. We’d rather have new machines than go on vacation (and so, we don’t really go on many vacations).

My goal with the Momentum Optimization Project wasn’t to make the kids not play on the computer, or not watch TV. It was to remind them that there are other ways to spend their time, too.

I know that as a child in the 1970s and early 80s, I watched as much TV as I possibly could. But in reality, there was just not that much TV to watch. Five channels, with maybe three hours of programming per day that might be interesting to a child of any given age, all running at the same time. No DVRs or TV on demand, no streaming media, no 24-hour Nickelodeon or MTV yet. I could watch All The TV There Was To Watch, and eventually, run out of TV to watch. I’d get bored, find something else to do.

Today’s kids have no such limits forced on them. There is so much entertainment, available the touch of a button, that can be delivered right to their faces. And, despite the existence of some really terrible stuff (I’m looking at you, Real Housewives), much of what’s out there is ABSOFREAKINGLUTELY AWESOME. I’m quite certain that if I had Internet when I was a child, I’d have spent my entire adolescence sitting in my room watching SNL clips and searching some kind of irrefutable evidence to prove, once and for all, that REM was better than U2. (Because they were). And if I were a kid in the 2000s, I’d probably have grown pasty looking for LOST spoilers and theories or watching Epic Rap Battles of History until I, like my kids, knew every word to every single rap battle. I get that Everything is Awesome, but I would by happy if my kids would be motivated to, say, follow up on Stephen King vs. Edgar Allen Poe by perhaps reading Carrie or at least looking up Poe’s biography on Wikipedia.

So, really, I’m not looking to put an end to computers (or comics) or to even put strict limits on either of them. I’m just trying to raise well rounded, media omnivores. As I’ve stated before, Newton’s Laws of My Family state that if they get involved in a video game early in the day, that’s pretty much what they’ll want to do all day. If I don’t point them toward other things, and give them a little shove, I know they’ll waste their free time away in a Minecraft or Steam bubble at the expense of all the other awesome stuff–music, sports, books, podcasts, movies–not to mention sunshine and face-t0-face socializing–that they could be enjoying, exploring, and learning from.

Anyway, when I started instituting “creative time” last winter, I generated this little Wordle and hung it in the kitchen. It’s just a hodgepodge of ideas so I always have an answer to “I can’t think of anything to do.”



There’s exercise, chores, good deeds, and even some ideas for using technology creatively. When it’s cold or rainy, or when they’re in the height of swimming season and don’t really need to be pressed for more exercise, I’ll let them slide on the “glowing screen” aspect, and suggest they do something active or creative–say, research some topic of interest or make a video or go on a photo treasure hunt–which might involve a computer or tablet. For me, the key is to make them use technology actively and creatively, rather just having them passively absorb content while sitting in a chair.





12 thoughts on “The media ominivore’s dilemma

  1. Pingback: How I limited screen time by offering my kids unlimited screen time. | Narrowback Slacker

  2. Pingback: A quick note on comics | Narrowback Slacker

  3. Unlike you I don’t have any children but like you I work from home (two homes now since my husband retired last fall and we now escape the winters in MN by living in Arizona at the place we bought in Apache Junction). Your story was posted by one of my nieces who has six kids on my Facebook page and I am sure she never expected me to bother to read the whole post but for whatever wonderful twist of fate made me click on the link I did and found it applied to me too. I am my own boss and if I see 4 am it is because I approach it from the opposite side of the clock from you. I am a night owl and always have been and my body clock cannot be changed even though my mother spent my growing up years trying to change not only my sleep habits but also trying to understand how she could have produced a daughter so unlike anyone in our family. I am positive I have so few left brain cells that they gave up long ago and hid somewhere so they wouldn’t have to deal with those totally odd and weird billions of right brain cells that run my life. I am a professional Art Quilter and spend most of my time at my sewing machine when I am not dyeing or doing other strange things to fabric. Most people know what a quilt is supposed to look like but mine don’t look the way a quilt is expected to look and the words Art and Quilt don’t make any sense unless I am with another Art Quilter or an artist who works in a different medium. Your rules for your children are the answer I have been searching for to tame my somewhat erratic work habits. I have never been able to come up with a simple and easy way to going from working like a madman for sometimes 24 hours straight to having days where I do nothing but stare at the computer screen all day. I now have the rules you set down and with only a few tweaks they are now my rules to follow. Thank you for posting them. I will continue to follow your blog—but only after my “chores” are done for the day.

    • Thanks so much for your post–I love hearing from other Work-at-home folk. I have always struggled with staying focused, myself–I started freelancing when my son was small, and honestly, I don’t think could have EVER done it without kids–if all my time were my own, I know I would procrastinate until I went bankrupt. Having only a few set hours of babysitting a week meant I had set hours where I had to work–I just couldn’t put things off. Now that they’re older, and don’t need me on top of them (or a sitter), I find myself falling into terrible procrastination habits again. So the list is as much for me as it is for them. In fact, this blog is my reward for getting my work done–and I’ve been so behind that I haven’t tended to it for weeks!

  4. I love this. My kids are too little to use screens, but I need to apply your rules to myself. I see Joanne, the commenter above, has had success with it. I am just not sure where to begin.. Perhaps I need to make my list of personal priorities that must occur before I have screen time. That said, so often, I need to check my email to follow up on time sensitive correspondence, then one thing leads to another, and I am down the rabbit hole… I am not productive as I want to be and I am not a great example for my kids!

  5. Pingback: Reducing Screen Time: One Mom's Clever System - e-Quipped | e-Quipped

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