Are you feeling a little fear and trepidation about your kids’ free time this summer and the issues it brings?
Summertime means long stretches of downtime. It also means that computer, television, and smartphone screens are an appealing way to fill that time for most children. Maybe you are a little worried about the seemingly inevitable clashes over technology and screen use. It can be hard to know how to pull little (and big) eyes away from the draw of the flickering screen and how to create some memories that will last and be more meaningful than anything an online experience can offer. Managing screen time is a challenge for many families.
Brenda is a mom of three who follows our teaching closely. She shared this great story about how she dealt with technology obsession with the kids in her home.
Two summers ago we had such conflicts over screen time in our home it drove me crazy. My kids were determined to get their hands on some manner of glowing device – no matter what. I was equally determined they not rot their young brains with it, and the battle was on. So last summer I tried something bold. I told the kids there were no specific technology time limits for the summer. (Could that really work?!) You may even have a knot in your stomach reading about such a reckless plan. But it did indeed work incredibly well, and it’s our plan again this summer!
What were the secrets that made for such an amazing turn-around in this family’s screen time power-struggles using such a counter-intuitive approach? They are listed here in order of increasing importance:
Our guidelines for managing screen time were simple but clear. Kids could use technology (TV, iPads….) when they wanted after their jobs/chores were done and they were ready for the day – breakfast, dressed, teeth brushed. This first step communicated an important message to the kids: “You are capable and expected to be responsible.”
We also started the day with joy, connection, and outdoor fun. I had read somewhere that how you start your day sets the tone and determines how the rest of the day goes. Starting the day with a fun outdoor activity was tough to stick to at first – especially for me because I’m not a morning person. (And sometimes it was really early – holy cow!!!) But we did it, and after that first week of getting ready and going outside together in the morning, it was really quite easy. I found it totally worked. We didn’t start our day with screen time and therefore, the kids didn’t choose those activities as their primary entertainment. I don’t think there was one day when the kids used technology more than 1 hour total, unless possibly on a rainy day.
Here are examples of what we did in our outdoor morning times:
- Go on a walk with a specific destination in mind
- Walk Kyle (my oldest) to school
- Go on a bike ride
- Play with chalk on the driveway
- Play hide and go seek (outside or inside)
Our morning connection times were so helpful for us last summer we kept it up all winter. Before school we all took the time to get dressed and play in the snow outside together. One day we were having a really disrespectful morning, but I bundled everyone up and even just 15 minutes of laughing and making snow angels completely reset our day together.
Whether winter or summer – this is a hard thing to do with so much going on in the morning but it is the single difference maker in how we connect as a family and how our days go.
Brenda’s kids knew full well Mom would rather sip a latte in her slippers late into the morning, but she was outside drawing chalk pictures or playing in the snow before she even wanted to be out of bed, because of her deep love for them and desire to help them. She communicated another important message to her kids: “I love you and enjoy you. You are worth the sacrifice to help you.”
As for Managing Screen Time, Let’s see what else Brenda did…
Finally, I also intentionally built values and helpful thinking at the start of our day. Here are some examples of how I did that:
- We talked about how whatever we fix our eyes on first will lead how our day goes; and we talked about how helpful this outdoor time is for us!
- I would come up with 1-3 questions that we would discuss while we were walking.
- We would sometimes discuss or sing a song on the way and talk about its impact on our day. (One of our favorites: “This is the day, this is the day, that the Lord has made… I will rejoice and be glad in it.”)
- I asked each person to name something they like about someone in our family.
- We talked about a goal each of us has and how we can help each other.
- We discussed the scripture that was taught in Sunday School.
Brenda’s third step communicated to her kids, “Expressing your opinions and ideas helps you grow in wisdom.”
This entire process clearly took intentionality, leadership and sacrifice to replace Brenda’s previous micro-management of her kids’ screen use. But those are important ingredients in really helping our kids. So especially if you have younger kids who haven’t gotten locked onto screen addictive behaviors yet, consider these ideas and give them a try! (If you have older kids, look for our post on technology, which will deal with an older child who needed stronger limits, but with an equally positive, loving approach.)
- How might I apply this principle of togetherness and intentionality about how our family starts its day?
- How might I build the connection and values that help my child not to gravitate so strongly toward their screens? (For more ideas of fun “real life” activities check our our list of screen alternatives.)