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.
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.