A Conversation with Asher About Managing and Tracking Screen Time

Following is a conversation I had with my (then) 11-year-old son (ADHD, Asperger’s, giftedness) about our how we deal with all the aspects of SCREEN TIME in our world—the good, the bad, and the not-so bad.

This is an edited transcription of Episode 12 of the TiLT Parenting Podcast. To listen to the full episode, click here: Episode 12: A Conversation with 11-year-old Asher About Managing and Tracking Screen Time.

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Debbie; Maybe a month or so ago, Asher, we started using a new screen time planning worksheet.

Asher: Yep. It was new back then.

Debbie: And as we explained on a previous podcast, we were using the bubble system which I’m kind of borrowing from the “pomodoro method” featured in a productivity planner I use. However, I noticed that our screen time planning worksheet was starting to be less and less effective. Do, you remember why that was the case?

Asher: That was because I got bored. I didn’t really want to reflect on what I was going to do with my time. Like for example, if I was playing Kerbal Space Program and I was in the middle of a mission and my timer went off, I would immediately reset the timer and jump back on to make sure I hadn’t missed my maneuver.

So, in another conversation Asher and I had about DISTRACTION, we talked about the screen time planning worksheet he was using at that time. [Click here if you’d like to see that worksheet.] Our deal was that Asher would set his own timer for a set period of time and then when the timer went off, he’d fill in a “bubble,” determine how he wanted to spend his next chunk of time (if he had any time left), and then set a new timer. The goal was both to keep him focused on what he wanted to achieve during his screen time so he wouldn’t get upset if he squandered his time, as well as put the onus on him to manage his time.

The key piece was to reflect. When I already know what I’m going to do with my next block of time, then it’s fine. But if I don’t know how I want to spend it and I jump back on without reflecting, I take a portal to the universe of distraction.

Debbie: So, I think what was happening was we were both getting lazy. And what I noticed was starting to happen was that your timer was going off, you were acknowledging it, you were setting another timer, and you were diving right back in. So, what was the key piece you were missing?

Asher: The key piece was to reflect. When I already know what I’m going to do with my next block of time, then it’s fine. But if I don’t know how I want to spend it and I jump back on without reflecting, I take a portal to the universe of distraction.

Debbie: So, maybe we could talk about how we adapted our original screen time planner and by adding some content at the bottom as a visual reminder for you, so you can remember what you need to do every time your alarm goes off. Do you want to walk us through what those things are?

Asher: First, when my alarm goes off, I take a pause from what I’m doing. And then I do some sort of activity, usually jumping jacks to get my head out of the world of screen time. Then I fill in a bubble on my sheet and I take ten deep breaths. Then I see if I have enough time on my sheet to have another thirty more minutes of screen time. If I do, I think about how I’ll spend that time and I set another thirty-minute timer.

Debbie: We just added the material to the screen time planner about what happens in between those thirty-minute chunks about three weeks ago. We added it because what we realized was things were starting to slip back to a not-so-great space with regards to screen time in general. So we had an emergency meeting, right?

Asher: Yeah. We were like: Hey, these OLD screen time planners worked. Maybe we could revise them.

Debbie: Right. What I specifically remember about that conversation is that we realized this will work if we follow it, right?

Asher: Yes. I mean, I have to form a habit, right? We’re going to keep using this strategy until it stops working.

Debbie: Yes, I would agree that it’s working for now. But do you feel like you’re actually forming new habits?

Asher: Yeah, definitely.

Debbie: That’s great. Because one of our things that we’ve been working on this year is you becoming responsible for tracking for your own screen time. Because it used to be all on me or your dad to monitor it.

Asher: And then when something happened that I didn’t like, I would blame you.

Debbie: Right. We were like the time police and we were always having to be: Hey, time’s up! Hey, time’s up!

Asher: Bad cop! Bad cop!

Debbie: Yes, we were being the bad cop and we were bearing the brunt of your dissatisfaction with that turn of events. When really, we know that it’s important for you to start managing your own screen time.

Asher: Yeah, because then I’m responsible and I don’t take out my annoyance on anybody else.

Debbie: Exactly. And that’s what we want. But let me ask you this. Probably two-and-a-half years ago, we bought a special timer that is just for kids who struggle with time management. I don’t know if you remember it—it’s in your closet somewhere.

Asher: I do.

Debbie: You do? What I remember is that you really disliked this timer…

Asher: It’s really intrusive.

Debbie: It’s intrusive?

Asher: Yeah, it feels a bit intrusive.

Debbie: Why?

Asher: And it feels a little bit babyish.

Debbie: Okay, you didn’t like the design?

Asher: Not at all. And I can’t have a dissatisfactorily-designed timer, can I?

Debbie: Well, another thing I know about you, and this might be true for other kids too, is that you don’t like it your timers to be visible.

Asher: YES, because that makes me ridiculously stressed. I’m like: Oh, crap am I going to be able to finish this in this much time? Ahhh! Ahhhhh! I spend all the time stressing out instead of actually doing what I’m meant to. And I’m like: Oh, it all happened like I thought it would. It just completely throws me off.

Debbie: So, you get really anxious about time?

Asher: Yes! I’m like, Oh crap, I have to to finish launching this rocket so I can watch this video that is really funny.

Debbie: So, you are someone who likes to have the alarm going off hit you as a surprise, because that’s better than looking at the timer and seeing how many minutes you have left?

Asher: Yes, because that makes me ridiculously stressed. And ridiculously stressed is not really the best of feelings.

Debbie: No. So, that’s why the visual timer didn’t work for you. That makes perfect sense.

Asher: Especially because I’m using a limited commodity. Otherwise known as screen time.

First, when my alarm goes off, I take a pause from what I’m doing. And then I do some sort of activity, usually jumping jacks to get my head out of the world of screen time. Then I fill in a bubble on my sheet and I take ten deep breaths. Then I see if I have enough time on my sheet to have another thirty more minutes of screen time. If I do, I think about how I’ll spend that time and I set another thirty-minute timer.

Debbie: So do you feel like managing your screen time is getting easier?

Asher: It’s getting easier, definitely. It’s awesome, though I do forget occasionally. Like one time I was doing something on my computer that involved alarms and my timer went off, but I didn’t hear it because I was already previewing alarm sounds. It was like beeping, and I was thinking, No, I don’t like that sound. It sounds like there are two alarms going off at once. I’ll try another one out. And by the time I listened to the next one, my first alarm had stopped. And then later I realized that my actual alarm had been going off but I didn’t know it. And I was like: Ahhhhh, why?

Debbie: Yeah, but you took responsibility for that extra time, which I think is great. In fact, in my opinion, you’re being very responsible with your time. I’ve noticed a big difference. I would say I think this is working, and I appreciate that you asked me to help support you in remembering to do these steps like taking ten deep breaths and taking a pause and all that during our “emergency meeting.” So what I’ve been doing is setting my timer at the same time you do and I just inconspicuously check in…

Asher: Ah, you’re so smart!

Debbie: Well, I have my tricks. But that way even if I’m working in another room or doing something else, I can be aware of what’s happening with you. And if a few minutes have gone by after your timer’s gone off, I can just poke my head in and say: “Hey, what’s going on?” And then you’ll realize, Oops…time to get off… And I feel comfortable doing that because that’s not me pestering you—that’s me being your back up. Because I feel like if you can really form this new habit, it’s going to just get easier and easier, right?

Asher: Right.

Debbie: Awesome. Thanks so much for the chat today!

Asher: You’re welcome!

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Want to get learn more? Here are links to the resources mentioned in the article:

 

About Debbie and Asher: Debbie Reber is the founder of TiLT and the host of the TiLT Parenting Podcast. 11-year-old Asher is Debbie’s son and is regularly featured on the podcast. Find out more about Debbie and Asher by visiting the About Page.

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