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Why I Think Screen Time Limits Make Kids Happier

Why I Think Screen Time Limits Make Kids Happier

We used to take the approach that once the kids get their homeschool and chores done, they could do what they want with their free time. For a million reasons, that wasn’t working, so recently we had to tweak our policy on that a little and institute screen time limits. Before you tell me how scary that sounds, let me tell you that we all had a rough two days, as they had to redirect their free time focus from TV, tablets and video games (and I had to receive the grievances). But now we’re all better off.

Here’s how our day typically goes. When Mister leaves for work, we all go to the table and get our homeschool day situated. We do not break for summer, so this has been our weekday routine for years. That is, until we were all down with flu. Somehow, I got hit the hardest and I was sick longer than anyone else, so I relied heavily on screens when I needed to recover. (Thank goodness we go all summer!)

Once we recovered, we had a heck of a time getting back to our school flow. Learning time and chores started to be treated as an interruption to their day, and they reached for the remote or tablet as their default activity. Although we got back to our school time routine, the screen habit had taken root and there were fireworks every time I asked them to do something else.

We used to let the kids spend their free time how they wanted, but I found that screen time limits made them happier. Click through to read about what our balanced screen time approach looks like in our house. #parenting #kids #screentime #screentimelimits #kidsbehavior #add #adhd #tantrums #kidstv #tablets #happykids #discipline #happyfamily

Additionally, I saw subtle but building changes in their demeanor. My previously chill kids started to launch into full-throttle emotion at the teeniest issues, and we all took turns butting heads all day. It was not a happy time.

So, I saw three main problems in our house after our two weeks under the weather…
1. Reaching for screens to the exclusion of all else
2. A distorted sense of how daily responsibilities should be treated
3. Reduced emotional control

I figured #1 and #2 could be addressed with screen time limits. Another homeschool mom friend said she had to limit screen time to Friday through Sunday so that screen time would be completely off the table for those days. If it’s not an option, they will neither reach for it nor ask for it. Then, they would be forced to read, draw, play legos, pretend, kick the soccer ball…anything but sit there and vegetate in front of the TV or tablet. I borrowed her plan.

Imposing screen time limits also helped me start learning time and chores without much protest. I’m not saying the grumbles are gone–that’s just not realistic. But now it’s once again an assumed part of our day instead of an interruption to their Mario board or episode of Jessie.

As for emotional control, my chill kiddos have returned! I cannot say for sure whether or not their tantrums had anything to do with screen time, but I imagine the problem came from a combination of me nagging them to get through their to-do lists, from the overstimulation effects that electronics have on our neurons, and from the general sense that no matter what they were doing, they would rather be doing something else. The freakouts still happen, but the part of the brain that moderates all of that seems to have come out of its slumber.

Screen Time Limits – How We Do It

So, here’s what we’ve been doing for two weeks now, with more success than I could ever have imagined.

No screens before breakfast, ever. Mister and I recognized a year or two ago how much impact morning screen time has on our kids’ behavior.

No screens Sunday through Thursday. If it’s not an option, they don’t ask, I don’t have to say no, and there’s no negotiation and protest. It keeps things simple. We make exceptions for doctor’s waiting rooms and long car trips, because come on. Sanity.

Friday through Sunday screen time is earned throughout the week. We cannot do limitless, wild west style free time anymore, lest we end up re-training and pulling our hair out every Monday again. When school and chores go well, they can earn up to two hours per weekend day. When they do not go well, time goes down.

It may sound strict, but my kids are so much happier when they know what’s expected of them. Not to mention, as a homeschool family, we’re together a lot. Clearly defined expectations keep everything running much more smoothly.



Fear’s Place

Fear’s Place

This week, we did something that scared the daylights out of me.

I was thumbing through my favorite blogs on the way to Hoss’s wrestling tournament today, and I landed on a short and insightful piece on how physical and mental discomfort helps us grow. Since I was a nervous wreck about his first throwdown in a full-contact aggressive sport, it fit the day.

Wrestling was not at all my idea. In fact, we put him in not one, but two situations where we were sure he would get knocked around a little, then hate it. But it backfired, and here we are. It’s the first of my kids’ activities that I didn’t choose for them.

Could this be one of those times that marks the transition to big kid?

After a few weeks of him not hating practice, it came time to test his skills in a real match with kids he didn’t know. He paced the house all morning. I paced the house too, in different rooms, so he wouldn’t pick up on my nerves. We left, we arrived, and waited.

Me shredding a napkin, a full two hours before anything started. Mister noticed I was doing this without realizing it and thought it was funny so he took a pic.

When his number came up, he took the mat. I was sure he would freeze, or get a facefull of rubber, or come off bleeding. Instead, he pinned his opponent in 35 seconds. After that, my nervous energy changed to eager excitement, and of course Hoss was pumped.

His second match, he went hard but lost, during which his shoulder took a twist that didn’t jive with my understanding of human shoulder anatomy. He was fine, but the straining, the look of pain and panic on his face…moms don’t like that.

Back to shredding napkins for me, uncertainty for him.

He won his third, and based on a points and brackets system that I don’t yet understand, that landed him second place in his weight class, and a new love for a sport.

He was happy when he won, driven to give it a little more when he lost. He was thriving in an arena I hadn’t chosen for him.

There was some legit fear, literal discomfort, and a whole lot of growing happening in that gym that day.

On the other side of fear, Hoss found a challenge, a killer workout, a new sport to get excited about, effort rewarded, and a little more of his likes and himself revealed.

On the other side of fear, mom found a the sweet side of loosening the grip, of letting the kids grow up and start learning to fly.


How to Journal When Blank Space Is So Scary

How to Journal When Blank Space Is So Scary

All the cool kids are doing it. Michael Hyatt journals as part of his morning ritual. Seth Godin built his platform with often short, sometimes longer, always profound thoughts posted every day. Happiness guru Gretchen Rubin straight up tells us to keep a journal. I see over and over this unstructured writing time as the common thread between the big names in everything. If journaling is something all of these highly effective people do, isn’t it time I learned how to journal?

Sure, I’ve written online for a long time, namely as a brain exercise – it helps me notice things I’d otherwise pass by. But journaling is different – it’s not for public consumption. I’m talking about writing for nobody, writing for me. I could write about anything and nothing – no purpose, no goal, no judgment. No spell check! Though I wouldn’t dare err.


I’ve tried journaling experiments before. Blank page, I write a few paragraphs about how my day went. Day 1, then day 2, then day 3…by day 4 I usually decide my life isn’t interesting enough to write about and I quit.

You, too?

I liked Gretchen Rubin’s idea of a one-sentence journal, but I wanted a little more of a nudge than that. I was looking for direction – any direction. I could easily find a list of prompts, but we all know what happens if we make this too complicated.


So, I came up with a few things that I want to think about every day. Yeah, I’m adding a little structure to something that is supposed to be free, at least in the beginning. But if it gets me going, then direction works here. The writing can still go anywhere.

I even gave it a name! Enter [sound the royalty trumpets]…

Webenolo Journaling

I had to come up with a dumb nonsense name so I’m not flipping back to reference my four prompts every day. Remember, complicated, quitting, throwing the paper all around? Don’t want that.

So the made up word – it’s a mnemonic device that helps me remember what to write. It might look something like this…

Something that went well

We can call this the gratitude element, or noting the wins of the day. Go ahead, write out more than one.

My sweet girl was so brave during her ear piercing! She had a small panic moment as I was filling out the papers, but once she saw the sparkly blue flower studs she decided she was going for it. She was brave and she’s spreading her wings a little, but still wants mom for comfort. Can she stay this age forever?

Something that could be made better

Here, we decide that we want to improve something.

Went to bed after midnight. For what? It was SO not worth it. Did we really need to learn that fish have swim bladders to control their buoyancy? Your need for factoids is not filling your brain, it’s frying it, Court. GO TO BED. On time, please and thank you.

While we’re at it, let’s note second area to improve…stop disparaging yourself using the second person in your journal. That’s not what it’s for.

Something I noticed

This is the part where we stop and bounce something around that we might have otherwise passed by without internalizing at all.

I noticed that I notice so much more when I free-write even a few little meaningless bullets. It’s important to me to notice things. Now I’m noticing what helps me notice things. I’m glad I learned how to journal in a way that’s accessible to me.

Something I’m loving

Now, we bring it all home with something that just plain makes us happy.

I’m loving our “first snow of the season” traditions that have developed. We hold the door open and laugh at Bella dog as she goes outside and acts like she’s never seen snow even though she’s been through 11 winters. She leaps around like a little puppy, bulldozing a path with her nose and doing rolls in the fluff. We always have chili and cornbread on first snow day, and we wish each other a “bon iver” (bohn ee-VAIR, “good winter”) because that’s what they did in an episode of Northern Exposure and we liked it. How do people live in a place that doesn’t get snow?

That wasn’t so bad, was it? Of course you’re intimidated by a blank page expecting paragraphs of prose. Those things have teeth. But a few scribbles – we can all do that. Go buy a simple, pretty notebook (I use a sunshiny yellow Moleskine) and try it for a few days. After a while, you can write in the “no” section what you noticed it’s done to your brain.

The possibilities!


Why the KonMari Method Works, According to Science

Why the KonMari Method Works, According to Science

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a proselytizing believer of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. No sooner did I roll up my last pair of socks did I feel my mindset change. I knew I needed to be more intentional about what belongs in my home and around my family, but I couldn’t figure out how to go about weeding out the keeper items from the rejects. Until I read the book.

The KonMari method turned traditional decluttering methods upside-down and inside out, then rolled them into neat little categories that made perfect sense. But there was more to it than the categorization, and as I read, I started thinking about why this method worked.

Then, the aha! moment came. Remembering a college Behavioral Economics class that centered around consumer purchasing decisions, I began to think of our homes as tiny economies. As I read through the book, oddly I recalled names of Behavioral Economics principles as I came across them. (Amazing, what sticks with us and what dissipates once the exam is over.)

These ideas have been thoroughly researched and have made their way into commercial marketing methods. Now, if we are aware of them, we can balance our own mini-economies within our walls. No wonder the method works. Here are some of the concepts that Kondo takes on to break us from from our hyper-consuming and hoarding tendencies.


Diversification Bias

Before we left for our epic Vermont road trip, I loaded up my Kindle with everything I could possibly want to read. I needed a fiction option, a couple of business books, a few recommendations from my favorite personal development writers and two biographies. I was ready.

How much did I get through? About three-fourths of the fiction one.

When choosing items for future use, we tend to want variety. But when we choose items to use now, we are more sure of what we will actually use and we don’t look for an assortment.

Kondo encourages us to live in the present and select or keep items that we love and find useful today, not in the future. With that mindset, we don’t need nearly the quantity of items that we predict we need for some unnamed time period down the road. So, we give up the imagined need and keep items for now.

Decision Fatigue

Thinking about a decision even for a second seems like a nearly idle activity, but it requires effort. Think of decision-making as a fuel tank that can be depleted. Making too many decisions, or making few intense decisions throughout the day leads to an empty decision-making tank, and we run the risk of poor choices once we’re running on fumes. Self-control and self-regulation are the first to go once we’ve exhausted our decision-making reserves.

The KonMari method emphasizes the path of least resistance to get to your things. She recommends arranging clothing in a way that we can see everything, and we can what we want to wear is always in plain view. Similarly, she advises organizing our belongings in a way that we always know where everything we own is. If we do not have too much and it’s easy to put back in its place, we will not spend time and energy searching for things.

This eliminates the unnecessary decisions that we are not even aware we’re making. Sifting through clothing until we get to our garment of the day is like saying “no” to everything we move out of the way. When we lose our keys, we are essentially making a series of decisions about where to look before we find them. When we love everything in our closet, when everything has its place, we save our decision-making muscle

Loss Aversion

The idea behind loss aversion is that losing something has a much bigger psychological impact than gaining it. People are more likely to engage in risky behavior avoid loss than to gain something.

Kondo takes the sting out by telling us to thank the discarded item for its service. Even when that dress still has tags on it, you thank it for teaching you more about your own style and preferences. It feels strange at first, but it does change your thinking in a way that makes it easier to part with items.

Regret aversion

We humans go to great lenths to avoid the shoulda, woulda, couldas. As with fearing loss, we also fear regret. We don’t want to toss something that we might need again someday, or that we might purchase again in the future because we’ve made a mistake.

Kondo prepares us for the unpleasantness of regret. She acknowledges that we might make a mistake when discarding, but not to worry. The benefit we will have derived from all of the successful rejections will greatly outweigh any short bouts of regret we feel from making an oops.

Status Quo Bias

Status quo bias is related to loss aversion. Often, we know we should make a big decision but through inaction we show a preference for things to stay the same. This holds even when the cost (mental, monetary or other) of the change is small and the decision will make a substantial difference.

Sunk Cost Fallacy

We really, really don’t like to give up items once we’ve paid good money for them, nor do we like to change behaviors once we’ve invested lots of time or money into something. The sunk cost fallacy is the perception that we’ve made an investment and now we’re committed, even if it would benefit us to let go of an item or a goal.

The KonMari method tackles the sunk cost fallacy in two ways. First, she carefully explains the various costs of keeping something we don’t need, want or like. Second, her method first works on items easy to part with, gradually proceeding to difficult, effectively easing the pain of letting go.


Herbert Simon coined the fusion word “satisficing” to describe the tendency for people to choose the option that satisfies and suffices, rather than optimizes.

In other words, we say, “yup, that one is good enough.”

Marie Kondo tells us that we should keep only items that spark joy – quite a change if you’re a “good enougher” like me. A spark is abrupt and attention-grabbing, and joy is a feeling of nothing less than delight. Something that satisfices us doesn’t do those things, so we resist the urge to settle and purchase only the ideal.

With “does this spark joy” at the forefront, we more readily give up things that we don’t love, and we’re more conscious about what we bring into our homes.


The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up doesn’t introduce groundbreaking ideas. However, the book does frame known concepts in a new context. Generally speaking, people tend to share ways of thinking and behavioral tendencies. Those tendencies can be used in or favor or to fill up our homes with things we don’t need. Marie Kondo, whether she realized it or not, decided to use her knowledge for good.

My shrunken laundry pile couldn’t be more thankful.


Readings that informed this article

Read, D., & Loewenstein, G. (1995). Diversification bias: Explaining the discrepancy in variety seeking between combined and separated choices. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 1, 34-49.

Vohs, K. D., Baumeister, R. F., Schmeichel, B. J., Twenge, J. M., Nelson, N. M., & Tice, D. M. (2008). Making choices impairs subsequent self‐control: A limited‐resource account of decision making, self‐regulation, and active initiative. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 883‐898.

Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1979). Prospect theory: An analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica, 47, 263-291.

Seiler, M., Seiler, V., Traub, S., & Harrison, D. (2008). Regret aversion and false reference points in residential real estate. Journal of Real Estate Research, 30(4), 461-474.

Samuelson, W., & Zeckhauser, R. J. (1988). Status quo bias in decision making. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 1, 7-59.

Arkes, H. R., & Blumer, C. (1985), The psychology of sunk costs. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 35, 124-140.

Simon, H. A. (1956). Rational choice and the structure of the environment. Psychological Review 63(2), 129-138.

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