I don’t think any of us start off with the goal of allowing electronic devices to rule our lives. None of us intended to be texting when our son or daughter hit a home run or shot the winning basket.
We all got here somehow. Now even the young kids are on board, too.
I see kids playing with their electronic devices everywhere I go… I see parents and caregivers playing/checking/reading too.
My house and my life were controlled by electronic devices for a while, too. It all started about 6 years ago on my first son’s 7th birthday. I ran out a half an hour before his party and bought him the D.S. that he wanted so badly. I had decided he was too young for video games but, at the last minute, felt severe mommy guilt and bought the stupid thing. He was SO happy when he opened it. He was the only kid in his class who didn’t have one until then.
I didn’t feel right about it, though.
Fast forward a few years and playing video games is all that he, his younger brother, and their friends want to do. It blew my mind that a huge group of boys just want to sit in a room and stare at screens.
What happened to kickball, dodge ball, hide and go seek, tag, red rover, and the other outdoor games we used to play? What happened to Lincoln Logs, Legos, train sets, and board games?
In my house they all seemed to be replaced by either playing video games or “the want” to play video games.
By the time my son’s fourth grade parent teacher conferences rolled around, I learned that he was flunking most of his classes. This was SO unlike him. He is/was such a sweet, kind, SMART young boy, I couldn’t understand what was going wrong. I did some investigating and realized he was flunking 4th grade because he was playing video games AT SCHOOL!! (While he was supposed to be doing work on the computer) He was also playing video games at home when we thought he was doing his homework. I could see we had a problem, and it was a big one.
We banned all screen time at that point. No TV, no video games- nothing. Indefinitely.
That was when we got our lives back. My children (four of them, by then) woke up on Saturday and Sunday mornings and pulled out legos or put together race track sets and played with them. Coloring books and crayons were used and books were read. They spent hours outside playing, running and having fun. My house was filled with laughter and talking, not the silence that comes with having a screen in your hand.
Does the story end here? Absolutely not. I did not learn my lesson there. (It got worse but that is a story for next time.) This is when I discovered that our family needed balance and I had to provide that. We had to completely eliminate screens in order to see that.
I have since become a “go to” person for helping other parents with screen time problems. Here are some tips I often give when asked for advice:
1. Go cold turkey for a week or two or more. Zero screen time really brings back imaginative play and will allow everyone involved some time to figure out what the screen time rules should be.
2. Have serious, sit down conversations with your kids (regardless of age) when you are not upset. Really listen to their opinions about what they think is fair when it comes to screen time. Be SUPER clear with your ideas and expectations. You might be surprised just how easy it is to be on the same page rather quickly.
3. Parents should keep the electronics out of sight and out of reach from day one. “Out of site, out of mind” really comes into play with electronics. If the child has to ask for screen time, it’s easier for you both to track how much time is spent on it.
4. Check their history often. I don’t care how old they are. All it takes is an accidental tap on the side bar and your child can be taken on an electronic porn ride that would horrify both of you.
Yes, it rocks for the parent when your child is playing on that device- it gives you time to clean, work, or whatever you need to do, with some peace and quiet. I understand that completely and I don’t judge. I am sharing what I learned the hard way and what has worked for our family. We need balance, time restrictions, and to check in to see what our kids are doing and how often.
Jenn- A non judgmental, concerned mom who just asked her 7 year old to leave the room so she could have some screen time to write this. 🙁
*image credit from shutterstock.com