I’ve spent the last three weeks talking about screen time and technology. I tried to represent both negatives and positives, while offering some tactical advice on setting effective boundaries. There are so many articles, interviews and books available; each having a slightly different viewpoint on the issue.
If I had to boil it down to one pervasive truth – parents are afraid. We live in a time when the very thing we fear is also fueling the fear. We read article after article, weigh the pros and the cons and the pros again. We worry and feel guilty that no matter what side of the screen time/technology debate we fall on, it’s the wrong one. We have all the tools we’ll ever need to raise our kids and we don’t want to screw it up. So, we read and listen, taking it all in, making the best decisions we can. But I’m starting to think that this is building more fear in all of us instead of helping us.
One article I’ve seen in recent weeks was named “The scary truth about what is hurting our kids.” Sure titles are supposed to catch our attention but before we even read the story we already know it’s going to be bad. The article recapped a recent CNN interview with author Jean M. Twenge, PhD and author of the book iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood. Based on decades of research, the author has dubbed anyone born from 1995 – 2012 as the “iGen”, where “i” stands for Internet. (She states you could also associate it with the obvious iPhone and iPad.) The summary of this article and the CNN interview focuses on the pieces of the research showing the iGen is hanging out less with their friends, dating less and more likely to feel lonely. However, if you read the book, you will also find this generation (and the millennials before them) are waiting longer to drink alcohol, get their drivers license and have sex. Did you know the teen birth rate has dropped over 50% from 1992 to 2015! I can’t be the only one that thinks that is an important statistic, but yet, that part of the book is not talked about in the article. Hmmm?
I am not saying that one statistic is more important or more valid than another, but I do want to point out one important thing. I create graphs every day and cannot emphasize how important it is to look at the range of the numbers on the axis and the words used. It’s easy to assume that the lower corner is 0 and the numbers grow by 10 or by 100 or by 1,000, but that is not always the case. One of the graphs shared on CNN was “Times per week teenagers go out without their parents”. The scale starts at 1.9 times per week and goes to 2.9 times per week. The graph declines from 1976 – 2015, showing 12th grade kids are going out less without their parents. When the iPhone first came out, 12th graders averaged 2.7 times per week and then it declined to 2.3 times a week by 2015. Mathematically decreasing from 2.7 to 2.3 may be statistically significant, but in layman’s terms 12th grade kids today go out without their parents now about twice a week, compared to just over two and a half times a week before the iPhone. That doesn’t seem like a huge difference to me, sure it’s a change, but is it really the iPhone’s fault?
The question I want to ask is – how come they are going everywhere with their parents? I am as guilty as the next parent – there is no way my 8th grade daughter is going to the mall to hang out with her friends without a parent at the mall. Most of the other parents in our circle feel the same, we don’t trust other people, so we feel more comfortable if an adult is around. And you know what? Our kids are ok with this as a condition of going to the mall. The book also shows statistics that there are fewer latchkey kids, in other words, more parents are at home after school when the kids are. Another surprising statistic is that just over 70% of 12 graders had their drivers license in 2014 compared to almost 90% in 1979. Many kids are getting their drivers license at 18 only because their parents are pushing them to do so. The inherent desire for freedom and being out on their own has decreased significantly. All of these statistics looked at together make me wonder, is this solely a result of technology? Or have parents made it so comfortable for our children that they are in no hurry to take on adult responsibilities before they absolutely have to?
Here’s the thing – technology is not good and it’s not bad. Technology itself is a neutral tool. Yes, we have challenges right now in our society that are very serious, but so did the generations before us. In the end, it ultimately comes down to the relationship you have with your child. Do you take the time to talk to them about the things that matter to them? Do you take the time to play and be goofy and have fun? Do they know that you are there for them, that you see them for who they are and that they know they matter?
We put a lot of our time and trust into technology we cannot see –can you imagine a day without Wi-Fi? You can’t see it, but you depend on it every day.
I think it’s time that we put our trust into something else we cannot see. Something that we depend on every day, that we could not live without and that’s been around a lot longer than technology - love. Let’s put our trust in loving our children and the people they will grow up to be. With love at the forefront, all the external influences will have much less of an impact.
Those who know me, know I am a rule follower. From a young age I didn’t want to get in trouble, so if I knew there was a rule I would follow it. Over the years my thoughts about “rules” have changed, especially as it relates to my kids. Of course, you want to have “rules” about picking up after yourself, i.e. don’t leave your jacket on the floor or your shoes in the middle of the room. There are also “rules” around hygiene, like how many times you brush your teeth a day and how often you shower. Then of course there are rules about homework and how to behave to behave towards family, friends and in public. In many parenting circles, these aren’t called “rules” any more, they are called boundaries. Rules to me sound more black and white, you either do it or you don’t. There is no room for negotiation. Boundaries are a little more fluid, a little more negotiable, a little more room to move within them.
We’ve all heard parenting experts recommend setting boundaries as the best way to manage technology in our homes, but how do we do that? We all start out with the best intentions thinking the first step is to control the amount of time our children are on devices. Sure, it’s easy to say, “you get one hour of screen time”, but what happens when you go over the time limit? How do you handle that and still stay consistent? That’s where talking about and thinking through your boundaries come in. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to determine what your boundary will be:
When it comes to screen time, setting a time limit is like creating a rule, it’s black and white. When we set a boundary, we must look at the big picture of how we spend our time. We have to reflect on these questions and decide what is important to you and your child and why. By thoughtfully setting boundaries, we will help our children establish a healthy understanding of technology as a just a part of the bigger picture of their lives.
Last week we talked about “The Battle over Screen Time”. This week, let’s talk a little about how we can use screens to be our allies with our kids. You may remember a story I shared a little while ago, it bears repeating so I’ll share it again. One Friday night, I was on my computer catching up on a few things. My daughter, who was in 7th grade at the time, came into the room and started playing Minecraft (something she rarely does without coercion from her younger brother). As she was playing she started to explain to me what she was looking for and what she would build once she had gathered the correct materials. I closed my computer and watched her play, which I never do. As she played she described to me what she was doing and why. I asked a few questions but mostly listened. She was having so much fun, it was contagious. As she finished the game, she started telling me about her math class. She described in animated detail who sat where, said what, did what, then did that, made this face – “Mom, can you believe they did that?” Again, I asked a few questions, but mostly sat and listened. For weeks, I had been longing for her to give me details on what had been going on in Junior High and here, at the most unexpected time, she was started sharing. If I had known it would have been that easy, I would have sat with her a long time ago. The experience taught me so many things, but it reminded me that time with our kids doesn’t have to look a certain way. We need to let them lead, let them pull us into their world. Even if we can’t relate to what they are doing, connections are made just by our presence.
As parents, screen time is often the phrase that makes us feel defensive, worried and/or guilty. What if, we approached screen time as an opportunity? The obvious opportunity is the screen can occupy the child when we to do something else (whatever that might be). But what about beyond that? You can watch shows and movies with them to start conversations about what the characters are going through or talking about. Or if there is a video game they love so much, ask them to teach you how to play it. Sure, you may not be very good, but giving your child the opportunity to “teach” what they know is so beneficial. Screens give us the opportunity to learn new things and visit places we’ve never been to before. You can use the screen with your child to look up the city where you grew up or to research the next family vacation spot.
I think what happens is that when our children are young, many of us use the screens as a baby sitter out of necessity while we unload the dishwasher or take care of something else. As soon as we do that, “screen time” becomes time our child spends on the screen by themselves, while we do something else. It’s never seen as something we do with them. How do we re-integrate screen time as something we can do together?
Screens and technology are here to stay. No matter how restrictive we would like to be, screens will be part of our child’s everyday life. If we can connect with our kids through the things they are interested in, it will not only build our bonds with them, but it will ease our anxiety over the amount of time they spend on screens. If we are sitting right next to them, what is there to be worried about? We can also use the screens to create a dialogue and open up the lines of communication. Why do you like watching (fill in the blank)? Show me your favorite episode and tell me why you like it. Why do you like this game? What is the hardest thing about it? How have you gotten better? You’re helping them to learn how to express themselves, to associate words with the feelings they are having. And if you listen closely, they may just open up and tell you more details about what’s going on at school or how they are feeling about something. Screen time is not the enemy. We should certainly set boundaries, but it can also be a great opportunity to connect with our kids.
If you want to learn more about navigating screen time, my good friends Sue DeCaro and Erin Taylor, have created a new online summit, The Screen Machine: Navigating Technology in our Families. The Summit starts January 15th and will bring together 22 experts talking about technology and screen time in our families from 22 unique perspectives. The experts interviewed include New York Times Best Selling Authors Dr. Dan Siegal and Dr. Shefali! Best of all, the summit is FREE, just follow this link to sign up and the interviews will be delivered to your email starting on the 15th.
Chances are the topic of screen time has come up in your house this week. Did your child get a gift during the holidays that now you have to regulate the time they spend with it? Or is it so cold in your part of the country that there is no other choice but to stay inside? Or is screen time a hot topic in your house every week?
We are the first generation of parents raising “digital natives”. For those of you that have never heard the term, a digital native is defined as a person born or brought up during the age of digital technology and therefore familiar with computers and the internet from an early age. I know many parents would like to take a hard stance and say no technology, but the fact is that technology is a major part of their lives. I think of it a little like riding in a car – could you live your life without a car? Possibly, depending on what city you live in and how close you are to local stores. However, a time would come where you had to travel beyond the foot/bike radius and you’d give in to modern transportation. You may see this as an extreme example, but I would venture to say that when we restrict technology with our kids, it feels like a similar extreme to them.
We all have read the articles and heard the stories about how too much screen time can impact sleep and behavior. We also know as they grow older, technology becomes a major part of their social lives, with its own list of “rules”, both written and unwritten. And that’s just from the perspective of our kids. What about the parent’s perspective? We have more on our plates than ever before. We need the screens to help us out as we get dinner started or do “just one more thing”.
No matter what your stance is right now on screen time, I’m guessing that like me, you feel a little guilt with your decision. The debate in your head argues that if you restrict them too much, they could start sneaking around, trying to use it when you’re not looking. Or maybe you feel you are being too lenient, you know you need to crack down, but you just can’t deal with the aftermath when you take it away.
So, what’s a parent to do? How to we figure out if we are doing it “right”? I think there are a lot of factors that go into it and that’s why there is no one right way. First, you need to tune in to your child and see how the technology is impacting them. Do you see a difference in behavior or sleep patterns? If so, then changes are probably needed. Second, you need to have open dialogue with your child, so they fully understand the boundaries you are setting. Young children don’t have a strong concept of time, so counting down “5 more minutes” may be a difficult concept for them to grasp. Using a timer or visual indicator (i.e. the song at the end of a show that signals it’s over) can help. With older kids, the dialogue can expand to the reasons why you’ve set the boundaries. Encourage them to be active participants and be open to negotiation (i.e. asking for extra time on the weekends after chores are done).
The next thing you can do is to continue to educate yourself and get support. My good friends Sue DeCaro and Erin Taylor, co-founders of Building Connected Communities, have created a new online summit, The Screen Machine: Navigating Technology in our Families. They were inspired to get this conversation started to help parents and other caregivers learn how to navigate this often-tricky topic. The Summit starts January 15th and will bring together 22 experts talking about technology and screen time in our families from 22 unique perspectives. The experts interviewed include New York Times Best Selling Authors Dr. Dan Siegal and Dr. Shefali! Best of all, the summit is FREE, just follow this link to sign up and the interviews will be delivered to your email starting on the 15th.
In the end, we are all trying to do what is best for our own kids. There is no one size fits all. It involves a lot of trial and error to see what works. Just remember it’s never too late, you can always try something different and make a change.
I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.