Tension and conflict around screens is one of the most common challenges we hear from parents. Parental outrage is high on this one and some parents have been known to say things like, “I’d love to take a hammer to all the screens!” Many parents report yelling, “Not in OUR house!” But the battle rages as kids find ways to defend their use of technology. If this sounds familiar, don’t lose hope. You CAN make progress.
It’s with good reason that parents want to respond with an emphatic, “No!”. Here are four of the most powerful reasons parents have such strong reactions:
- There’s research about what’s happening to kids’ brains on technology. A National Institute of Health report states, “Some of the investigators found a widespread reduction of cortical volume…” with heavy screen use (7 hours or more/day.)
- There’s the nature of the stuff they see. (“The under 10 age group is now accounting for one in 10 visitors to porn video sites.”)
- There’s the issue of who they connect with when they are online. (An estimated 500,000 online predators are active each day.)
- There’s the powerful allure of “pay for more power” games. (“…adolescents hooked on [pay for power] microtransactions can be a predictor for broader problems gambling in adulthood.”)
Statistics often give all kinds of detail about the ills of kids using too much technology. All of this gives good reason to “Just Say No!” We do encourage parents to keep firm limits on their kids’ technology use. But…
A funny thing happens when we just say, “No!”
We’ve learned from hundreds of coaching clients that when parents are forceful about just saying “No!!” it makes the denied privilege even more mysteriously desirable to their child. This is a key reason many families are stuck in angry power struggles over screens, as kids get the message, “I’m against you and what’s important to you.”
If you are forceful about just saying “No!!” it often makes the denied privilege even more mysteriously desirable to your child.
As much as parents are trying to say “No!” you’d think we’d have this problem under control by now. On the contrary – kids are spending more money than ever on technology. How can this be?
Several factors complicate the situation
The first is that technology is necessary. For kids to keep up in school they need (and in many cases are given) current technology. They are allowed access for school, but then we find ourselves fighting the lure of all the non-school-related uses that frequently distract them.
Secondly, tech companies are working hard to capture the attention of young minds. This might be one reason that there is a move among Silicon Valley executives to greatly limit or even ban their kids from technology at home. These parents are seeing firsthand how much time and effort goes into making digital technology irresistible. So they are making the conscious decision to keep their kids screen-free as much as possible.
Third, screens suck the joy out of other experiences. Dr. Jennifer F. Cross, attending pediatrician at New York-Presbyterian Komansky Children’s Hospital states, “If young children spend most of their time engaging with an iPad, smartphone, or the television, all of which are highly entertaining, it can be hard to get them engaged in non-electronic activities, such as playing with toys to foster imagination and creativity, exploring outdoors, and playing with other children to develop appropriate social skills.” Arlene Pellicane has stated simply, “Screens undermine wonder.”
Knowing this, how can you restore children’s wonder at the amazing life God has given us?
Good things happen when you have a bigger “Yes!”
We feel strongly that the answer is not just to say “No!” to technology but to offer your kids an appealing “Yes!” to three-dimensional experiences. This requires your whole family to slow down and think outside the box, as you engage with creativity and joy:
- Does your family have a board game night?
- Do you involve your kids in baking and cooking meals?
- Do you play outside most days, especially early in the day?
- Do you ask creative questions at dinner with all screens off?
- Do you invite other families to your home and teach your kids how to make others feel welcome?
The Screenagers website lists LOTS of creative ideas!
God designed our brains to thrive on 3-D fun and interaction. “Research shows that time outdoors, especially interacting with nature, can restore attention, lower stress, and reduce aggression.” Outdoor time helps offset some of the common impacts of screen time.
If you’re going to tackle this difficult issue of kids’ technology obsession and compete with the highly addictive quality of screens, it helps to have lots of creative ideas for engaging real-life activities for your kids. One family we know had a brainstorming session to come up with 30 screen-free ways to have fun, and they spent the summer checking items off the list.
When you say “No” to technology, working hard to enthusiastically say “Yes” to alternatives communicates the vital message: “I’m for you, not against you!” This helps keep your heart connected to your kids as you guide them through screen challenges. Instead of attempting to control through intimidation and punishment, you lead your family with grace.
The biggest YES is a sense of purpose
In Christ, you’re given a whole new reason to live – a purpose of destiny – to be a blessing to the world around you. This is the biggest “YES!” of all! This is why, at Connected Families, we encourage parents to help their kids discover and use their gifts to bless others. When kids discover their “Big YES!” they are far less enticed by the lure of their favorite screen. (Read how one family helped their son overcome a Minecraft addiction with thoughtful questions and the “bigger YES!”)
So, along with your kids, don’t settle for two-dimensional, pixelated life… “take hold of the life that is truly life!”
You’ll learn about the value of the Big YES in our Entitlement Fix online course (available for small groups too), which specifically addresses the Big YES for screens. When people live a life of purpose, they are more able to fight the distractions and temptations that are present around us every day, including smartphones and video games. They are living out who they were created to be!