When it comes to screens, I believe we need to keep the conversation open with our children and centre it not around how much time they should have on it but on these three things:
Guard your heart for from it flows the wellspring of life.
I ask my children often, “How is this game affecting your heart? What do you notice about your attitude or behaviour after playing it?” I ask the same regarding YouTube videos. I want to teach my children to think about how games and videos affect them, rather than me timing them or using an app that turns off all screens at a certain time. What are they noticing? At first my children didn’t notice anything. They didn’t care, they just wanted to play, but as I have consistently asked this question over the years, I’ve watched them become more aware. I have taught them not only by asking the question, but sharing what I notice as well. For example, my youngest loves retro games. I noticed after he would play the 90’s version of Street Fighter he would become more aggressive. I talked to him about this, and noticed the next time he went to play the game, he quit the game after 5 minutes and hasn’t played it since. We can help our children begin to notice for themselves how screens are impacting them so they can begin to make positive decisions for themselves. There has been an enormous difference in my boys since I have made the switch from barking about how much screen time they have had to focusing on their heart.
The responsibility screens require
To me, navigating screens is no different than the responsibility needed to drive a car. We wouldn’t hand our 5 year old the keys to our car and we certainly wouldn’t hand the keys to our 14 year old without taking a test to assure they will drive responsibly, I believe the same for navigating screens. We need to talk to our kids about the level of responsibility screens require. The limits we set for our 5 year old will be different than our 14 year old. Are they navigating screens wisely? With the introduction of the iPad and smart phones, we handed our children over to this new world rather quickly, not realizing what the potential impact could be. Now that we are further along and we see the affects screens have on children and youth, we need to avoid simply handing our children over to the screen to entertain them, but educate them on how to be responsible with screens. This includes how to search the internet, how to stay safe, online bullying, but also how much time they should spend on screens, and how to guard their heart.
Your expectations regarding screens
Have you been clear on your expectations regarding screens? Have you created a structure for your children around them? For example, in my home we keep our screens in the living room. I am also very clear about YouTube videos and memes that are not allowed to be watched because of content. When my oldest joined instagram, I was very clear about my expectations around its proper use and online bullying. One day my oldest was telling me about a group chat his class had on instagram that was making fun of one of the girls in school. I reminded him that this was not the proper use of the app and that he would either need to leave the group chat or I would be removing his phone. Whatever your expectations are around screens, make sure you have communicated these to your children. Think your expectations through and avoid creating random rules out of nowhere.
There have been a few times where I have had to intervene and remove my children’s screens from them. I do this when they are not using them responsibly or when I’m noticing negative patterns in their attitude or behaviour that they aren’t noticing themselves. You have every right to take away screens when they are not being used responsibly. My advice, don’t just take the screens away, talk to your child first about what your noticing and see if they notice it as well. I’ve surprised my children by taking their screens away while they were at school. It backfired on me. Instead of them thinking about how to use their screens more wisely, all they could think about was how ridiculous I was. When I talk to my boys about what I’m noticing and ask them if they are noticing it as well, we engage in eye opening conversations that are shaping the way they navigate screens for themselves.
No guilt needed. There’s no pat answer. Every child is different. You can teach your children to be masters of the screen, rather than the other way around. What’s at the centre of all addictions is, connection. You may have guessed that by now. With us by our children’s side, we can help them navigate screens and addictions. You’re not just a parent, you’re preventing addiction. Told you that you were a culture maker. With connection at the centre our children will discover a hopeful future again because they will have a secure base with us to navigate from.
If you are having a hard time figuring out how to navigate screens in your home I would love to help. I coach families how to transform their environment. Book a time with me here.