Kids and electronics seem to be a hot topic among my friends lately. Often when we get together we compare notes on how we struggle to limit the exposure of our kids to screen time. With a growing number of options for our kids to “plug-in” there needs to be a stronger game plan in place for us parents so that we don’t get overwhelmed or become complacent about how much exposure our kids get.
Don’t get me wrong, my kids get plenty of screen time. One may argue my kids get too much. Right now there is a Wii, Xbox, two TVs, four Gameboys, two Kindles, one iPad, three iPods, three iPhones and one somewhat dated cell phone under our roof. This doesn’t include the laptop and desktop that is used for homework and paying bills.
Here’s the thing, technology is not going away. Not only that, but the difference between parenting my younger boys now compared to ten years ago when my oldest was six is almost night and day. I was reminded of just how far things have changed when my sixteen year old sat down next to me with his phone out and told me the grade he got on his Spanish quiz that day. Our job as parents is to prepare our kids for the real world. Just as we spend time teaching our kids manners, how to be a good friend, how to get along with their siblings and the importance of writing thank you notes (yes I think that’s important), it is just as important to teach our kids how to live among this technological world. The real world includes technology; and lots of it. I continue to read articles about how socially stunted teenagers and young adults seem to be because they are more and more plugged in and spend less and less time with one on one interactions. So what do we do to prepare them for this life? How do we keep the balance ourselves?
So often in parenting we know that we model behavior for our kids (good and bad). If we don’t want our kids to be wrapped up in electronics then maybe they shouldn’t see us wrapped up ourselves. I myself find the ease in sending a quick text or email when a few years ago I would have picked up the phone and made a call. We constantly look at Face Book, Instagram, and Twitter whenever we get the least bit bored. My kids see me doing this. Not only that, but when I pick up my phone to take their picture they will ask, “Are you posting my picture on Face Book?” So where is the balance? If we find it can we help our kids find it as well?
My husband and I have set a few ground rules for our family that has helped. These rules apply to us as well as the kids. If they don’t see us doing it, they know they can’t get away with it themselves.
No phones at the dinner table or at a restaurant. If we are invited to a friend’s house for dinner our hosts will not see us with our phone out, nor will our children be allowed to bring any personal electronics with them. We are there to visit and interact with one another. Once we’re there if the hosts invite our kids to play Xbox with them, that is fine but the goal is to avoid the anti-social behavior of looking at one’s own device and ignoring what’s going on around us.
Make an effort every day to interact with one another. This one is sometimes the hardest for me. I will admit I am sometimes SO BORED sitting in the bathroom while my little guy takes a shower because he doesn’t want to be in the bathroom alone. I will force myself to not have my phone with me so that I can focus on the moment and listen to his singing instead. Someday these mind-numbing moments of parenting will pass and I will miss them. I want to make an effort to focus on the moment and what is going on around me rather than what is on my little screen.
Electronic entertainment is ALWAYS the last resort. On school days my kids often don’t have time for electronics. By the time they finish their after school activities, homework, practice an instrument and read (more on that later) there really isn’t much time for much else. If there is, we go outside. If it is crummy out, then we play a card game. And then, if there’s time, a little screen time is ok.
Read a book to earn screen time. I am not afraid of a little bribery/reward system for them to earn some screen time in the interest of boosting their reading skills. Before they can open an electronic device they must read for at least an hour. The bonus is that if they start to read a book, sometimes the reading lasts longer than an hour. I don’t know if there is a connection or not, but oftentimes my teenagers will actually choose a book over electronics because they have developed a love of books. I’m seeing my younger two going in that direction as well.
Hand in your technology at the end of the night. My fifth grader just can’t tear himself away from his kindle at bedtime so to make it easier, he hands it in to me every night. When he gets a phone next year he will do that as well as there is always someone out there who will text him at 2am. My husband and I try to plug in our phones in another room so we can focus on a rare conversation or some peace and quiet.
As my kids get older the regulating becomes less. Although I won’t budge on some rules, there are some that I have relaxed on as they’ve gotten older. My teenagers do not hand in their phones anymore as I simply expect them to start learning how to balance interacting with friends and getting homework done. If grades ever slip, they know the phone and other devices would be gone. As long as they get done what needs to be done, and they look me in the eye when they’re talking to me, we’re golden.
The best part of having electronics is the leverage it gives you. Any need for a punishment you can find in taking away a phone or whatever gadgets are loved the most.
I don’t claim to know all the answers when it comes to raising our kids in this technological world. There were days after school when it was so cold this winter that the TV stayed on from after school until bedtime just because I had lost my will to live (it was a really cold winter). And I will admit some days I still look at my phone way more than I should. So far though, I think we’ve found a pretty good balance both for the kids and my husband and I.
How about you? How do you find your balance? How do you help your kids find it?