By Jaime Jo Wright, Crosswalk.com
It’s no secret that trying to compete with our kid’s screens is like trying to win an Olympic gold medal. We are outperformed, outnumbered, and without some fierce training and experience, we won’t become more interesting to our kids than their streaming videos and games.
That being said, we have to admit that including screen time into daily life isn’t all bad. Some kids have now grown into adulthood and are making whole careers out of just that! So putting the kibosh on screens isn’t necessarily the healthiest reaction if your child shows an affinity for game development, app development, graphic arts, social media, journalism, etc. Most of our world is now based on that tiny little thing that has infiltrated our homes: the screen. It has become necessary not just for entertainment and communication purposes but actually to function in life.
It’s important to categorize their screen time usage. These days, even school is on screens, so it’s hardly fair to tell your child no more screen time when what’s been used throughout the day is almost 100% schoolwork. Nor is it necessarily healthy for the child to have more screen time when they’ve already been on the computer for hours at a time doing virtual learning.
So how do we keep a balance for our kids and for ourselves? How do we encourage other forms of entertainment and interests without discouraging our children to the point of daily battles and frustrations? How do we protect our kids from that inevitable addiction that comes from the unfettered use of Wi-Fi?
The reality is, you’ll need to identify what is the best balance for your home and child. Each child will be different, each scenario is different, and so on. So what are some ways we can refocus our kids on something other than their screens when their screens are simply becoming too dominant for the sake of entertainment?
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Photo credit: © GettyImages/МихаилРуденко
1. Trade Reading for Playing
I may not have been the most popular parent when I initiated this little practice (especially after a summer screentime free-for-all), but it’s become a great way to moderate how much time is spent on their screens.
The general rule is that they need to read for every minute they want to spend on their devices. It’s a 1:1 ratio. One hour of screentime means they need to have banked one hour of reading time. The only exception to this rule is that it does not include any virtual schooling or video chatting with family members or friends in my kids’ case. We mainly do that because the kids are homeschooled, and with pandemic restrictions, we still feel socialization is critical for their development.
How you keep track of this is up to you. I have the kid hash mark a chart for every fifteen minutes they’ve read. When they do their screen time, they cross off the appropriate amount of hash marks. Archaic recordkeeping? Probably. There’s probably an app for that!
2. Double Weekend Freebies
Another way to moderate is to give the kids hope. I say that with tongue-in-cheek, but mostly because we all need something to look forward to that comes with a modicum of freedom. My kids know that two weekends a month is their “free time,” so to speak. In other words, these two weekends, they do not have to earn any screen time. They can go unfettered into the world of the electronic device without me harping about their reading time or telling them to get off their devices.
Granted, there are a few caveats to this. The specific weekends need to be mutually agreed upon. It does no one any good to have daughter Megan playing Among Us for four hours during Cousin Jenny’s wedding and reception. So, a little planning ahead is wise. Also, ground rules can still apply. The simple ones like no phones during dinner, no phones after bedtime, no phones during church, etc. Let’s be real; a free-for-all still has boundaries - we just call it a free-for-all ’cause it sounds good.
Photo credit: ©Unsplash/Josh Applegate
3. Weekday Round-Ups
We like to set limits on phone usage in our homes, but we also don’t like the idea of all the phones going into a communal basket and being left by the front door or on the kitchen counter. The fact of the matter is, we also rely on the phones for communication purposes (who would’ve guessed!), so having daughter Megan’s phone sitting on the kitchen counter during the night doesn’t help her if she spots a fire coming from sister Katie’s room. We want the kids to have access to their phones.
So there are a few ways we can weekday round-up the phones without physically removing the device. There are apps available that give parental control to the parent, allowing you to lock down the device after a specific time, permit only educational sites and apps after a specific time, or if you want to show trust in your kid, leaves the phone wide open but does allow you to do a spot check from time to time to make sure they’re obeying the rules. In short, a log of their phone activity is made available for you to review periodically.
In addition to an app, there’s also the concept of building trust. Some kids are actually trustworthy—gasp!—and trustworthiness is only enhanced when you show them you trust them. My daughter sleeps with her phone right by her bed. We’ve checked her phone logs on occasion and for fun, and she’s yet to deviate from the rules. But that’s my daughter. She’s a Type-A personality, so rules are revered, hallowed, and sacred. On the other hand, my son can always find a justification as to why a rule needs to be adjusted. But curiously, having set these firm rules and then given him the trust to honor them with the consequences of losing phone privileges and our trust has kept him in line. So in a way, your own kid can be in charge of their weekday round-up and put that device in for the night without any help from you.
The reality is, devices aren’t going away, and in fact, they’re becoming more integral in daily life. So finding ways to moderate versus dispose of is probably wiser. It’s nirvana to think that will happen easily. No matter what you choose to help remove your child’s face from their device, conflict is bound to rear its ugly head. That’s because these things are addictive.
So last but not least, I’m a huge proponent of including your child in the process of determining what you’re going to do to set limits in your household. Including them doesn’t mean you’re lessening your authority, but you are teaching them self-discipline and determination. Teaching them the value of face-to-face conversations, respect by uninterrupted socialization, and good old-fashioned reading is never a bad thing, but including your child in that process of creating boundaries is even better. It’s habit making, and it will serve them well long into their future.
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