In Part 1 of “Screen Time for Kids”, we started a discussion on the uniqueness of being the first generation to parent kids after the Digital Revolution. Through the difficulty of navigating screen time, given the enormous amount of content available for kids today, we all want to make wise choices. We want to make sure that our kids are equipped to mature and self regulate in a new digital world. So, how do we do help our children without falling into the negative effects of too much screen time?
When tackling an issue with my kids, I tend to think of the analogous oxygen mask on a plane. I ask myself: “do I have my own oxygen mask on before I can help them”? I’ve learned too many times that if I haven’t gotten to the root of the issue for myself, I likely won’t teach it well to them. Therefore, what is it that makes me want to space out on a screen? Why do I endlessly scroll social media or how come it’s so easy to knock out a new ENTIRE series of a show on Netflix? If I’m really honest with myself, it’s because life can be hard and I’m looking for comfort. I don’t like to feel uncomfortable or even bored
I make fun of myself every time my husband gets up to go to the bathroom in a restaurant and my first instinct is to grab my phone. And honestly, I’ve judged others for doing the same. We turn to this little device because it gives us small dopamine hits. We get the very same dopamine release in our bodies when we eat sugar, drink alcohol, or use drugs. We also get small hits of dopamine when we meditate, get enough sleep, and spend more time in the sun. Dopamine is powerful and when we understand it, we can see why kids fall into gaming addiction just like adults fall into alcoholism.
As a mom navigating this world, I must understand that just like me, my kids want to space out too. They are living in this fast-paced society right along with us and they work hard all day at school. They are looking for comfort and don’t want to get bored. Boredom for kids (and adults) is simply a normal human discomfort. I’ve heard it said that a big key in maturity is being able to delay gratification. The ability to wait for the better thing. And we all want to become more mature and teach our children to mature. If that’s the case, we could all benefit from experiencing a little more boredom, sit in it, and learn to navigate life more creatively. So, how do we help navigate screen time? Just like with almost everything else in life, balance is key.
Here are a few things we’ve tried over the years as a family:
Having a Routine
Plain and simple. Every day after school, we all take 20 minutes of quiet time as soon as we get home. It used to be that our afternoons were super random and chaotic. I was constantly being asked, “Can we get on our iPads?” Then I realized, I have been at work all day and they have been in a classroom with 20+ people for 7 hours straight. We all need a minute to just breathe and decompress. I tell them they can grab a book, or their homework, or some blocks and we all take quiet time with no interaction. It completely changes the atmosphere when we are consistent. There is less fighting, less chaos and everyone is able to regroup. Then, they need to finish homework before anything else, which includes screen time.
Designated Screen Time
Setting a specific time ( i.e. 4:30pm) for their screen time has also been successful. We are all much calmer when we know what to expect. Additionally, incorporating designated screen time for the entire family can allow for family bonding. For example, choosing a tv show we can all watch together for 30 mins and then have fun conversations about it.
Screen Time Boundaries
In our household, we’ve set up time limits on our kid’s iPads and tried a rotation of different apps and games. We don’t allow certain video apps on their iPads (especially if the apps allow for kids to freely search through a lot of content that could be inappropriate). This one makes us kind of unpopular with our kids and some of their friends who visit.
Screen Time is a Privilege
I’m great with screen time being something my kids can occasionally earn for doing chores or for not fighting in the store. We all tend to treat ourselves after a long week of work, or accomplishing something we’re proud of- so why not recognize their efforts as well. Allowing them choice in their reward, which should include their pick at screen time, will cause them to feel less entitled to it and provide more human interaction. Likewise, taking away screen time can serve as a logical consequence when the best choices were not made. Side note: We have learned the hard way that the parent who won’t be at home later to administer such a sentence does not get to be the one to take it away. Trust me, that’ll save your marriage.
Giving Myself Grace
Some days are better than others. And some seasons are just hard. Like when our 3rd baby was colicky and born just before Texas went into 4 months of 100 degree weather… yeah the summer of 2019 went down as the most screen time ever for my kids. We reboot and I give myself grace for it. I also tried to pay attention to the consequences I saw in the kids because of it. I see a definite change in their attention spans, an increase in fighting and my own lowered tolerance for loud kids playing. So, we re-up and try again. And we show our kids that messing up is a part of life and resilience is everything.
Lead by Example
My husband has now put his phone and watch charger in the kitchen so it’s not in our room at night. He chooses to be completely screen-free for over an hour before bed. He’s noticed he’s much calmer and goes to sleep much faster than before. He is able to sit and reflect on the day… like in the old days. While, I’ve only joined him in that for short intervals, I really see the benefit. It takes a few days to calm my mind but once I do, I find myself reading a book or just sitting. Peaceful. It’s definitely something to try and a way to show your kids that you’re not attached to your devices.
Have honest conversations with your kids. We have had very honest conversations about some of the online dangers with our kids. We’ve also educated them about what the latest research is teaching us about kids getting too much screen time. When we tell them that “doctors” are saying that too much screen time isn’t good for their brains and could affect how they learn, they seem to get that idea and want to do what is good for themselves. But I also know that left to their own devices, pun intended, they would be on them all the time. And eating cookies. Because they are 9 and 6 years-old. Because they can’t yet self-regulate. They need us to do it for them and be modeling and teaching along the way. It’s okay to be in charge and set limits. It’s okay for them to throw fits. I tell my son all the time, “When you’re 30, you’ll thank me.” He doesn’t get that at all right now. But he will.
None of these are magic bullets or cure-alls, but taken together they’ve definitely helped. Please let us know if they help you, and we’d love for you to share any things you’ve tried with your family. We’re all in this together!