Why we need to take our kids’ screen time seriously (and how to change it)

Life

A few days before her 61st birthday, writer Anne Lamott wrote down everything she knew for sure. She delivered her life-affirming wisdom at a must-watch TED talk. This was #2: Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes….including you.

In a recent Outside Magazine article dedicated to fuelling the movement to rewild our children, one sentence has stuck with me since reading it, “Today, America’s kids are caught up in one of the largest mass migrations in human history: the movement indoors.”

These are powerful statements. As a mother who believes that living life outdoors is simply better, the fact that we are migrating indoors is beyond disheartening.

Our children’s bodies need room to move, their souls need space to breathe and their spirits crave connection with a world that cannot be found inside four walls.

If my son’s generation follows in the footsteps of those lighting the path for them they are destined to face escalating physical and mental health issues coupled with an alarming dependence on devices.

Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University has been studying generational differences for over 25 years. In a recent Atlantic article, she says that “the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so.”

In 2012, however, Twenge noticed a dramatic shift in teen behaviors and emotional states. In all her analyses of generational data, dating back to the 1930’s, she had never seen such a sweeping change. What was the catalyst? Twenge traced the shift back to the fact that 2012 marked the tipping point in which more than 5o percent of Americans owned a smartphone. The internet, social media, smartphones and tablets have had such a profound influence on the generation born between 1995 and 2012, that she calls the generation iGen.

“The twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever.” Jean Twenge

iGen appears to be physically safer than Millenials – they are less likely to get into a car accident, drink alcohol, take up smoking or experience teen pregnancy. But, psychological issues are a different story. Teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. Twenge believes that “there is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.”

Reading these statistics as a mother of a young child is alarming. I feel the weight of responsibility resting squarely on my shoulders to find a path to protect and guide my growing son. At times I feel ill-equipped to deal with the complications of our overscheduled, app-obsessed, on-demand world. I’m an analog parent raising a digital child; this is unknown territory. I find myself craving the simplicity of the 80’s when we had one television, no remote control and four children to debate over the slim choices provided a handful of channels.

I don’t have all the answers but I am determined to find them. I am on this journey with you. So, here are a handful of ways we can protect our kids and leverage our influence to help them make positive decisions about using technology as they grow into independence.

1. Reverse the migration

Richard Louv, author of The Last Child in the Woods, believes that a major contributing factor to the rise of mental and physical health issues are a lack of time spent outside. He famously refers to a lack of time spent immersed in nature as nature-deficit disorder. When our children are mesmerized by screens what are they missing out on? What could they be spending their time doing rather than being glued to devices?

“When we truly let our children run free, the only guarantee is that they will surprise us.” Ben Hewitt

The antidote to the mass migration indoors is simple; we need to reverse it by actively prioritize getting our kids outside. That means we have to get outside too! But, I get it. Sometimes, there are complaints and excuses and Instagram posts that make it look easy and make you feel like a failure. But, believe me, those tiny squares never tell the whole story! Getting outside with kids isn’t always easy but it is ALWAYS worth it.

It doesn’t always have to be a grand experience – it can be as simple as stepping into your backyard, flying a kite at the park, going for a hike or throwing stones in your local creek. The effort you make now will help create a belief in your child’s subconscious that outside is safe. Outside is where we go to connect rather than looking to a device.

2. The Environment is the Third Parent

Mother Nature designed children and adolescents to spend most of their time playing. Rather than focusing on limiting screens, focus on providing boundless opportunities for young imaginations to run wild. Make real life more intriguing than virtual reality. Here are a few of my favourite ideas to encourage free play:

  • Create a movement zone: Kids have SO much energy that they need to let loose. When kids jump on the bed or climb on the sofa they are communicating that they have jumping energy or climbing energy. Their little bodies are skill building, developing proprioception and balance. So, provide materials that help them do just that. Some of my favourites are Wobbel Boards which you can see here and here, Swings like this cuddle hammock swing and these incredible gymnastic rings and Pikler Triangles for climbing.
  • Invite kids into the kitchen: Kids don’t distinguish between play and work. Invite your kids to get involved in the kitchen. To get their hands covered in flour, practice cutting bananas or washing the dishes. One of the best investments, hands down, we’ve made is our son’s learning tower. This is the one we have.
  • Create an art space: one of my favourite resources for creating creative spaces is The Art Pantry by Megan Schiller. The Art Pantry is loaded with resources to help you create the perfect art space for your kids. From her eBook, The New Playroom to her Design Camp E-Course, a 5-week online course that dives deeper into teaching parents how to set up an art space that is organised, inviting and builds creative confidence, Megan has you covered. Her next Design Camp is starting in the Fall and you can register here
  • Simplify: simplify your family time. Leave space with absolutely nothing to do so that you can follow your child’s lead, giving them the time they need to dive into their own imagination. Avoid over-scheduling – organized activities are over-rated!

3. Be the Change You Wish to See in Your Family

A recent study found that the average person struggles to go little more than 10 minutes without checking their phone. And of the 2,000 people surveyed, one in 10 check their phones on average once every four minutes.

So, if you don’t want your child to become addicted to screens, take a look at your own screen use – what behaviour are you modeling? Rather than feeling guilty about it, commit to changing it. As mothers with young children sometimes our phones provide an outlet; a means to connect. But, if you find it leads to mindlessly scrolling through social media, consider making changes.

Create some intentionality and boundaries around your phone use – your phone is a tool, not a master. Don’t reply to texts immediately unless it’s urgent. Put your phone out of sight when you’re connecting with your child. Leave your phone at home when you go out as a family. Have a social media free weekend. Delete apps if you need to!

4. Focus on Parent-Child Connection

Without connection, no matter how skilled you may be you will lose the power to parent. Connection is the only reason kids willingly give up what they want to do and do what we ask instead. When parents lose their influence they resort to coercive techniques like punishment, threats and rewards.

“The level of cooperation parents get from their children is usually equal to the level of connection children feel with their parents.” Pam Leo

Dr Gordon Neufeld, psychologist and author of Hold Onto Your Kids (one of my favourite parenting books ever!), eloquently describes that as our children grow they will either remain parent-oriented or become peer-oriented. What does that mean? Simply put, it refers to whether kids are more influenced by their peers or by us, their parents. It is normal and potentially lifesaving for children to remain parent-oriented throughout their teenage years and beyond but sadly it is becoming the exception to nature’s rule. We need to take connection seriously and always strive to strengthen it so that we maintain the ability to influence our children.

We have no idea what the future will hold, how devices will evolve and impact our lives; connection is the anchor, the compass that guides your children through the unknown.

I have a wonderful and FREE resource which you can claim here:5 Natural Parenting Secrets That Make Kids Want to Cooperate (No Time Outs, Threats or Punishment Required!)to help you strengthen your connection today.

5. Create an attitude of abundance

My approach to screen time is borne out of both an intense dislike for engaging in futile power struggles with my son and a personal desire to approach life with a healthy attitude of abundance. It has led our family to focus on the things that enrich our lives rather than giving attention and power to the things that take away from it.

Focus on your family. Make time to discuss your family values and then live them together.

And remember, a little technology can be amazing and life-enriching. This isn’t a black and white issue. A couple of episodes of Curious George isn’t going to rot my child’s brain and often buys me a shower or some downtime when I need it most. It connects us with family and friends on the other side of the globe. And one of our favourite things to do is to prepare a batch of popcorn and snuggle in for a family movie afternoon. I also appreciate that technology will undoubtedly become an invaluable tool as we enter into a natural learning path with our son. Intention is what makes all the difference. Make sure technology is a tool, not your master.

Let’s support each other as we find ways to manage consciously manage the technology we consume. What would you add to this list? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

COMMENTS
  • September 02, 2018

    What a wonderfully balanced and helpful post! I definitely agree with focusing on creating abundant opportunities for play and discovery so that technology is less appealing rather than the focus being more negative and limiting.

  • September 03, 2018
    Andrea Mast

    I think many people find it hard to enjoy what their children can do without having the TV on, but taking the time to see what they play with without any electronics has become a need for me. I truly enjoy listening to them! One of my boys’ love language is quality time and for him (he told my husband) he knows that mommy loves him because I get on the floor and play cars with him, while my other boy says: “mommy loves me because he gives me hugs and kisses”

    I spend time with the boys (cooking, playing pretending, playing soccer, etc) because I want to for me and for them! They make me forget about all the other problems that come with work and responsibilities.

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