Live by the sword; die by the sword…

As you may know, I’ve implemented a new system for school nights.  The deal is — no screen time for the kids Monday through Thursday, regardless of whether or not homework is finished before bedtime.  Between snow days and holidays, the policy has been in effect for all of seven actual school nights.  But the system has been awesome!  Well, in my opinion, at least.

With our jobs — and the kids’ after-school, and activity schedule — homework often doesn’t get started until 6 p.m. or later.  Even if a lot of the work has been done before we get home, I still need to look it over and make sure everything is finished and that they’re not completely off-track on an assignment.  I used to think it was enough for them simply to get the work done, but a spate of bad grades has made me realize more quality control is needed.  Alexander, especially, has a habit of rushing and handing in sloppy work.  Under the old system, if homework was done by a certain time, the kids could watch a half hour of TV or play on the computer before reading/ bed time.  The problem was that they became obsessessed with reaching the “screen time” portion of the evening.  They hurried through their work and became agitated and angry if they thought they might not be able to have screen time.  I even found myself bending over backwards to ensure that they had this reward each night, because they would get so worked up about it.  (Another example of rewards backfiring.)

So far, the new system has worked exactly like I hoped it would.  The kids are much more low-key about their homework and more accepting of me checking it over.  The pace has slowed.  And, as an added bonus, we’ve had good times after the work is done.  One night (after Zander had initially been disgruntled about not watching TV), the three of us ended up on the floor together building with Legos.  It felt so relaxed and pleasant to me, and neither child seemed to remember that they had been deprived of television.

Here’s the rub.  Since last May, we’ve been having weekly family meetings.  I learned about family meetings in the book Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen.  The idea immediately spoke to me.  The family meeting, as described in Positive Discipline, offers a sort of family safe haven — a built in time for coming together each week to touch base, plan, anticipate, and problem solve.  The typical family meeting includes compliments, looking at what’s ahead for the week, meal planning, and discussing any issue that a family member puts on the agenda.

We’ve had great family meetings and cruddy ones.  Zoe has stormed off several times, and I think Alexander has stormed off at least once.  Often I feel like the “enforcer”, since I’m adamant about having the meetings every week unless we’re out of town.  The rest of the family is — to varying degrees — less enthusiastic about it than I am.  But I still feel strongly about sticking with it.  Looking ahead to the teen years especially inspires me to continue to work on and strengthen our family meeting ritual.

Still, it has been pretty much my deal — and I’m not sure anyone would notice — much less protest — if we just didn’t do it one weekend.  Until recently, that is.

Not too far into the new no-screen-time-on-school-nights policy, Alexander was struck with a brilliant idea:  I can put this on the family meeting agenda.  Suddenly, he was a child possessed.  He rushed to where the agenda was hanging on a bulletin board in the kitchen, armed with many colored pens and a determination to make this system work for him.  His agenda item for revisiting the screen time policy is circled, written in red, and highlighted with the word “urgent”.  Our meeting is tomorrow.

So, dear friends, what do I do?  I want to honor the process of joint problem solving — and not discredit the whole family meeting process as a sham — but I really really (I mean really!) want to keep the no-screen-time-policy in place.  Positive discipline promotes problem solving by consensus, making sure that solutions are related, respectful, reasonable, and helpful.  We have put these principles into action and seen them work.  But in this situation I just want to say, I’m the boss, and this is how it’s going to be.  Help!

Ideas and experiences welcome, please.

And I promise to let you know how it turns out!


11 thoughts on “Live by the sword; die by the sword…

  1. Obviously, the solution is to form a screen-time sub-committee to look into the issue and submit their findings to the executive in a report that is no less than 25 pages in length. That should buy you at least six months.

  2. I think you definitely should hear him out, but it is fair to say that one week is not enough time to give the new policy a fair trial. Maybe you could decide together some criteria by which you all agree that it is working and a point in in the future that has been given it an adequate test. In many jobs, a three month evaluation is standard, but six weeks might be more plausible. Also I think to be fair, the criteria need to include things the kids care about as well you. If Alexander really does want better grades, that could be one, but there should be other things. Maybe documented number of fewer fights? Earned greater autonomy over free time on the weekends?

    • Yes, yes — good approach and ideas! Thank you. Turns out that the family meeting was very low-key and, for now, we’re maintaining the status quo. Alexander presented his idea, which was that he and Zoe should be allowed to play on their ipods 10 or 15 minutes a day two school nights a week (Tuesday and Thursday) after finishing homework. My proposal was that we wait until at least the midterm progress report from school (which should be coming in about two weeks) before making any change. Alexander then suggested that we table the issue and consider it again next week. Umm… OK! I credit the fact that we’ve been having family meetings for almost nine months — and that the kids have come to see it as a legitimate process — with how this played out. Trust the process…

  3. So, how do the family meetings actually work? (I have this vision of everyone using the Robert’s Rules of Order and the children passing a resolution that the record show they love you.) It all seems so awkwardly FORMAL. Family life to me seems to be an intimate flow of things, a haven away from the formalities of business. Compliments are given throughout the day, issues are discussed as they arise. And meals are planned before heading to the grocery. I am glad this works for you, but it really, really seems very foreign to me.

    So I am curious. Does it ever seem weird? What benefits have you seen? And the one that pulls at me, “What was the thought process that led to doing this?” It seems to be working for you, which is great! Maybe something for our family to consider even. But from where I sit at the moment, I really don’t understand it.

  4. Hey Karla!
    I just read your whole documentation of your dilemma, and I have a quick thought. I do apologize if someone else has put forth the same idea (I didn’t read all of your other friends’ responses), but I’m thinking that maybe you should consider a compromise and bend on one school night a week (or maybe every two weeks or whatever seems reasonable). In other words, what if you maintained the tv/screen free policy for Sun–Wed, and if there were no homework battles, etc. that week let them have 1/2 hour of screen time on Thursday? There’s my two sense.
    All the best,

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