How much is too much screen time? This question is like asking how tall your kid is going to be – it can vary a bit for every child and be an unpredictable moving target. However, a few things can help wherever you land on the digital continuum. Whether you are a smartphone-free household or are afraid to admit that you employed 7 straight hours of Paddington Bear on repeat on the way to Grandma’s in the car, we’ve got you!
So much of life is about asking the right question. We want a concrete answer to that modern question: “How much is too much?”. But what if we asked a different question? “How can we secure non-optional family interaction?” What if the question was more about what we wanted to bring to our families instead of what we wanted to limit? Use this as a time to identify who you are as a family. “Connection is so important to US. What can we do at dinner to make sure we enjoy this amazing group of goofballs we call family?” When we engage kids as fellow problem solvers – they are more invested in the solution. And before you know it, they are saying, “Mom, no phones at the dinner table – this is connection time!”
Employ practicality with screen time. Let’s face it – phones are easy. We are busy, and entertainment is a very effective distraction for kids. The problem is guilt builds up over time. There is that nagging voice inside our heads that, on the one hand, needs five more minutes to complete a task, but on the other, we know that our kid has been attached to a screen for about 20 minutes more than we intended. Striking that balance in the modern day is not easy. Here are a few tips for those who know the struggle is real.
Have a holder – where the technology is stored. This can be a craft day where you decorate a digi-box. They made it, and it can fit all the digital stuff and close (with a lid)– out of sight. And if you have one too – you can set the example.
Set up the fence – As parents, we get to decide how and when tech is accessed. In order to meet our family goals of good health, great sleep, and being on the top of our game, there are ways we make tech serve our lives. Tech is a tool – we don’t serve it. It serves us. We can use it to find stuff to do together, connect with people we all know, and as a tool to help with some school stuff. And, as with everything that has the ability to entertain us, we have to set some limits to get the best out of it. Some possible ground rules:
Tech does not own us. We can put it down when asked.
Tech is not the enemy. The desire to be entertained all the time is. But tech gives us an opportunity to build self-control at every age.
Here are the things tech won’t take from us:
Sleep – No tech between 8 pm and 7 am.
Kindness – If you use that ugly tone, I take the phone.
Fresh Air – Put it away and enjoy outdoor play.
Establish Contact. Our phones do tons of stuff, but there are two important things they cannot do that we want to ensure are part of your everyday. They cannot smile, and they cannot high-five you at the door. High-fives and genuine smiles are just some of the ways we can engage our kids. It is a natural expression of how excited we are to have more friends to play at our house.
Be aware of the ‘resting digital concentration face.’ This is a real thing. Watch your friends and family. The faces we all make when reading our phones are often double-chinned scowl. (And if you just tilted your chin up a bit while reading that sentence, your neck thanks you.) Here are a few digital resting faces we have observed:
The digital grunt –This happens when you see something online that you clearly disagree with. It is an indignant gesture that piques the interest of those around you and occasionally leads to a conversation that begins with “Can you believe…??!!”
Phone snort – Ever send someone a funny meme as a way to share an inside joke? We do! This is how they may respond. If your kids have phones, then this week, send something funny and ask your kids, “Did that make your Phone Snort?”.
The ‘saw my grandchildren’ pride flash – This is the face someone makes when they see something they are proud of. Watch closely – you may miss it. But some pics just hit you in the “I’m taking credit for all that cuteness” spot.
The eyebrow lift of disbelief – Have friends who make questionable choices and then brag about it online? This is the classic expression of “trying not to judge you, but you are making it really difficult.”
There are many different ways to engage screen time as a tool for family interaction. Make up some of your own faces. You may notice that your kids take notice of your resting digital face and point it out – bringing you out of that digital realm, making eye contact, and employing the “we are family, and we understand each other in our own way” face that makes us all feel connected.
Screen time will continually offer ever-changing guidelines. But parents are here to stay. You are the voice that matters; you are always rendered in 3D, and nothing will ever replace the magic that happens when you wrap your arms around your kid, kiss their forehead, and speak life into their heart.