Technology allows extended family members to connect, students to attend class from home and work teams to keep projects moving forward without ever stepping foot in the office. Screens give us a window to the outside world but they can also distract kids and adults alike from enjoying the benefits of face-to-face time with others. Below are stories from 3 families that are successfully managing screen time at home and using healthy boundaries to maintain their most important relationships.
Meet Rebekah Glass – Bekah is a wife, a mom of four and also a teacher with some great insights to share on how she approaches screen time with her kids.
“My desire is for my kids is to learn how to be bored because boredom breeds creativity. I want them to choose in-person relationships over screens and not have screens control their lives. We decided to treat screen time with our kids as a privilege - one that is theirs to keep and also theirs to lose. For our younger children, especially when they were toddlers, we saw so many negative behaviors related to screen time.” The most prominent behavior they saw was “not being able to regulate anger when it was time to turn it off.” They also noticed that on a regular basis, the normal toddler battles were greater when the TV was on during the week. “We decided to eliminate TV and tablets for the kids during the week and we noticed the negative behaviors decrease.”
The Glass family no longer has toddlers, and with the changes that have come from Covid and distance learning, they have added 30 minutes of screen time into the daily schedule for the purpose of interaction with their friends. “Part of my goal is to teach them to recognize that their negative behaviors are connected to screen time. What is interesting is that we have seen these behaviors come back again – fighting, arguing. When that happens, I shut it all down for a week. It has been neat to see them start to learn to control themselves. Screens are a part of our life – but if we can recognize the behaviors and make a better choice, we can control ourselves and not let the screens control us. We have also put them in charge of keeping track of the 30 minutes, as well as making their own choice to turn it off when the time is over. A few times, they have not made good choices, and they lose the screens for a few days, but they are learning this skill of regulating time too, which we all know is extremely important.”
Bekah and her husband Cameron also foster teen girls and shared that the approach was very different in that situation. “The girls were older teens and always had their phones available before they moved in. We did have them charge their phones downstairs for the first few days, but then we gave them more freedom. We did let them have their phones and take them to bed with them, even though we feel it’s a bad idea. It is hard because they have no reason to trust you – you have no rapport with them at all. We chose to work on building a relationship rather than having so many rules.” She shared that if there was an issue with one of the girls and the screen time, it was an opportunity for a conversation which always fosters relationship.
Given the current state of things, she acknowledged it's a challenging season to make changes to screen time. “My advice to parents is to at least sit down and make a screen time plan even if you need to implement things slowly. Talk to people whose screen time rules you admire and find another parent you can be accountable with. Then, as kids go back to school, you can both encourage each other. Also, make sure to give yourself a break as managing kids and technology is no small task."
Meet Jennifer Brown - Jennifer is a communications consultant, teacher, and a mother of two. Here are some great parenting insights she shared with us recently about living well in a screen dominated world…
Jennifer shared that her top parenting tip for screen time begins with modeling. “The best thing I can do is model the habits and behavior I want to see in my kids. I remember a time when I constantly had my phone in my face.” As she became aware, she was able to shift and model being present. “Eye contact for a baby and small child is so fundamental to growth.” She emphasized the role of attention and connection in the parent child bond. “It has a profound impact on kids.”
“The other thing I learned in the last year that has been a game changer for me and my teenager is to have your phone charge outside of your room at night. Then, begin your day with your own thoughts, ideas, and quiet. Otherwise, the first thing we do when we wake up is pick up our phone and start scrolling. When we do that, our brains are immediately highjacked. It hampers both productivity and creativity.”
Jennifer would encourage parents to become aware and educated about what their kids are being exposed to online “We let kids have things without really knowing what they are. Grade school kids have smart phones and access to social media. There is no way to ‘unsee’ something. We should be informed about parental controls, and also have hard conversations with our kids about what they may come across. Even if they have parental locks, I can guarantee that 5 of their friends don’t.”
Jennifer highly recommends watching the documentary “Social Dilemma” and talking as a family about the implications. She shared that the way we use technology and allow it to use us is key. Instead of being manipulated or harmed by our devices, it’s critical to be aware of what you hold in your hands and use it for your benefit.
Meet Joanna Jullien - Joanna founded Core Connectivity, a non-profit whose focus is to restore parental confidence, inspire resilience and empower families to strengthen their bond in a world that’s oriented by devices. Joanna shared how she became passionate about technology and its impact on the family dynamic. “When my youngest hit middle school in 2004, I realized technology would be a serious problem for parenting. What kids would be exposed to and the dynamic of communication was concerning. The impact on the families broke my heart but at the same time gave me hope. I believe that kids are resilient and capable. When we show up strong and are confident in their ability to learn from experiences, we build trust.”
Joanna went on to share how the parent-child bond can actually be strengthened as a result of this disruption. “In a war, people who fight in battle together build bonds and I want to help people learn how to respond well and bring hope.” “The most important thing that you can do,” Joanna said, “is get interested in who your child is and what interests them online and off-line.” She encourages parents to spend time with their kids ON screens. “We want to be there when they encounter things. Our goal is not to control the device or the child, but to open up dialogue as they encounter stuff.” When asked for advice during this very different year, Joanna said “Let go of the expectation that you will be able to run the house as before.” She reiterated the need for connection in families. “I would look for opportunities to have your kids download to you what they like best and least about this new experience.” If you are interested in more resources from Joanna check out https://coreconnectivity.org