From Bedtime to Screen Time, Why Having No Rules Works For My Family

Why Having No Rules Works For My Family

Each morning when I open my inbox, I have at least 5 newsletters containing numerous stories about parenting. I click open to read what “experts” are saying, because I need to keep on top of what parents, researchers, and “experts” are talking about. I put “experts” in quotes, because I do believe the best “experts,” when it comes to our own children, are us.

As a mother, who also happens to work at THIS parenting site, I do sometimes completely ignore parenting studies and the latest research. I can almost feel the judgment, the wide eyes, the jaw drops, the daggers shooting, with what I’m about to share: In my house, there are no overly strict “rules,” for my kids when it comes to bedtime, screen time, homework,  junk food, and eating together. I know! I know! What kind of mother am I? How is it possible that, without these rules, my children have managed to thrive, let alone survive?

I dismiss most research and statistics because, frankly, I’m simply not convinced that all studies are entirely that helpful or impactful. No, I’m not a hippy-dippy mother with rude kids, rampantly running around doing anything they want. I simply believe, in my house, that by NOT placing “rules” around these constant hot parenting topics, that my kids are happier, healthier, and enjoying life. I’d even go as far as saying that having few “rules” has been actually beneficial to them.

Let’s tackle screen time and healthy digital habits first, shall we? I’ve never once told my kids to get off their devices or have threatened to take away their iPads, Xboxes, laptops, apple watches. Why? Mostly because, when my 16-year-old and 7-year-old are on their devices, they usually ARE spending time together, watching or making YouTube or TikTok videos. When I see my children laughing together, in front of some sort of screen, it melts my heart that they’re spending time together. I’ll take sibling bonding over the horrors of too much screen time.

(In fact, I’m pissed I paid for a second Xbox for my son, because he rarely uses it, and prefers to hang out, throwing basketballs into the net I have taped up on the kitchen wall like we live in a frat house.)

I’ve always felt that if you make something into a big deal then it will become a big deal. I think because I’ve never put a “limit” on screen time, my children actually care less than most kids apparently out there, according to research. Also, I’m not convinced that screen time is all that bad, truthfully.  Even researchers will say they are “still working out the long-term impact of devices on kids.” But, they also profess that, when it comes to screen time, “It’s undisputed when it comes to bedtime because it messes with sleep patterns.”

Well, I may just dispute that!

Which brings me to how much sleep a child really needs. I don’t have strict  “bedtime rules,” either. I’ve never demanded lights out. My teenager actually tells me, at 9 pm, that she’s going to bed, to which I think, “Do I have to teach you to be a teenager?” She’s learned, on her own, that she needs sleep more than others and is much more productive if she goes to sleep early. My 7-year-old son stays up until I go to sleep,  anywhere from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m, even on school nights. But, whether he goes to sleep at 8:30 or 11:30, it doesn’t really seem to affect him all that much the following day to be honest.

Whether my 7-year-old gets 9 hours or 12 hours of sleep, as experts profess school-aged children need, my son never seems to tire, even after playing outside in the snow for 5 hours. Like me, when I was a child, up until this day, I’ve just always had a hard time falling asleep. No matter what time he goes to bed, he’ll still get up at 7 am. He still functions, doesn’t act out or fall asleep in class. Just having spoken to his teacher, he’s keeping up with all his classmates in Grade Two, most, I’m assuming, who do have bedtimes. I believe he truly is just the type of human who can still function with little sleep. He’s been like that since the day he was born! Experts say, “Sleep-deprived kids can become hyper or irritable, and may have a hard time paying attention in school.”

Sure, my kid might not always pay attention, but that’s because he doesn’t like school, aside from recess, when he can wrestle with his friends. But I’ve never had to yell, beg or bribe him to go to school because he’s “too tired.” He knows he has to go. End. Of. Story.

Which leads me to homework. I know my 7-year-old gets homework, but aside from “tricking him” into reading at night (“I bet you can’t read this!”) I rarely even open his knapsack. I know my kid can read, write, add and subtract. I’d rather sign him up for a team sport after school, let him play with toys, or set up a playdate. The amount of homework he gets in Grade Two is too much. Mostly, I don’t have “homework time,” because I trust his teachers, and I’d like him to enjoy childhood as long as possible. We all know life just seems to get harder, for kids these days, not easier. “Kids today are overwhelmed!” one parent wrote to GreatSchools.org. “My first-grade son was required to research a significant person from history and write a paper of at least two pages about the person, with a bibliography…” EEK!

I know my son, soon enough, will be overwhelmed with homework, as I watch his sister do hours upon hours of homework each night, without me asking her to do so! Aside from reading and writing a few sentences, I’d rather he enjoy being a kid since childhood only occurs once.

When it comes to junk food? Well, I like junk food, so both my children have grown up seeing M&M’s or bags of chips in the cupboard, or ice cream in the freezer. My kids don’t think of junk food as a “treat” or something “special,” because I’ve never led them to believe it is. I can’t even bribe my son with a cupcake! My daughter demands a salad at every meal! Still, one professor said, in this article, that we need legislative change to get kids away from junk food, because “of the world we are now living in, where junk food is constant and pervasive and almost impossible to avoid.” Again, since I’ve never made it seem like junk food is a “treat,” neither care about junk food, even if it’s impossible to avoid.

And, finally, because we are speaking about food, we rarely eat as a family, not because it wouldn’t be nice, but because it’s completely unrealistic for my family, and I’m guessing most modern families. I got a little irked at this article, professing the benefits of eating together as a family. “These meal times offer teachable moments — time for learning to behave, take turns, be polite, not interrupt…Family meals are a strong predictor of academic success…” Gah! So now since we don’t have family meals my kids aren’t going to get into University? Seriously? My 16-year-old, eats dinner around 7, after homework, swim practice or tutoring, while my 7-year-old son, eats around 5 pm because he’s hungry and has to be at basketball by 6:45. We can’t even eat breakfast together. My daughter needs to be at school by 8 am, while my son, eats breakfast around 8:15 since his school doesn’t begin until 9 am.

What all this really is, is reverse psychology. And damn, it works. Shockingly, my kids (for the most part) are well behaved, polite, and aren’t falling behind.

Now, all this being said, I do follow some advice and tips, from experts, like “How saying ‘I get to,’ instead of ‘I have to’ has made me a better parent,’ or, trying out, ‘Yes Days‘, or even how to build resilience in your kids. But, for the most part, the experts I follow are actually just other mothers.  I would much rather read advice from another mother, than worry about statistics and research.

Aren’t we, as parents, the best “experts” out there?

 

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