This week is the last week of school for many of us here in Texas, and I for one could not be more excited! I talked about my love of the slower days and pace of summer in this past weekend’s newsletter and how it suits our family well. But, as many parents know all too well, lots of downtime leads to lots of requests for screen time. So today we are sharing six ways to think intentionally about screen time.
It’s important to be discerning and wise when it comes to screen time. The issue is more complex than screen-time limits (although that can be helpful, too!). Here are six questions to consider to help you as you think about screen time.
1. What are they missing out when they have too much screen time?
Are they missing out on normal childhood experiences like using independent play, spending time with neighborhood friends outside, reading, or exploring interests or a new hobby? Are they missing out on family time because they’re in the room on their game too much? Do they have enough down time to be alone and think? Thinking about it in these terms makes it easier to reduce screen time when we realize what children are missing by being on the screen too much. Children are only children once so don’t let them miss out on this precious time.
2. Are they simply consuming content or creating/adding something to their intellect?
We discuss this in our teen girl course, Etiquette Essentials. No one wants their child or teen to mindlessly scroll all day, consuming content (most of which is probably drivel and not adding anything to their life experience or intellect). But if your child is using a screen to create — perhaps drawing on an iPad, playing chess, using social media to promote their lawn business, etc. — that’s different. Not all screen time is created equal. When you look at screen time, think about it in this way and make sure their screen time is enriching and not draining their brains.
3. Is what they’re watching/playing controlled by an algorithm?
The more we learn about algorithms, the more we know they are not good for children — including tweens and teens. You’ve probably seen the articles about seemingly child-friendly YouTube Kids showing inappropriate content and we know it’s an issue with TikTok. You don’t have to give your children over to the algorithm. (And giving this perspective to tweens and teens can be helpful as they don’t want to be controlled by anything!) One tip: make your children’s screen-time algorithm-free. Watch an episode of a show or a movie, and then when that’s over have them go outside and play.
4. Do they throw a tantrum when you tell them to get off the screen?
That’s a sure sign that children are too attached to the screen. Don’t give them the screen so much that they can’t play independently or entertain themselves without it. Same with teens!
5. Is what they’re consuming bringing out or compounding negative thoughts or behaviors?
If we consume enough of something, our bodies and minds will start to show the effects. The normal tween and teen anxieties can be compounded by consuming content surrounding their concerns. Don’t let content like this affect your children.
6. Have they lost interest in other hobbies or friendships?
Another sign children have too much screen time. Also, ask your tweens and teens what they do when they’re at a friend’s house. If they’re playing video games or scrolling on their phones, they might be putting friendships in jeopardy. We talk about the importance of maintaining friendships in our on demand course, A Young Man’s Guide to Manners, and note letting screen time hinder those friendships and social skills. It’s so important to make sure children and teens have proper social skills so if you see they are in struggling in this area, maybe it’s time to reduce the screen and work on those this summer.
Parents, I hope you feel empowered to take charge of the screen time issue in your home. If you feel like you’ve already started on a path of too much screen time, don’t feel guilty but be encouraged that you can backtrack! It might be a bit painful at first but most parents don’t regret reducing screen time in children and teens.
For toddlers, preschool and elementary aged children try out our summer book club for simple, screen-free activity ideas. When your children moan, “I’m bored” send them to our printable pdf and have them pick out a craft, cooking, art or backyard activity to do by themselves. You don’t have to entertain them but you do need to retrain them to use their imaginations and creativity. Reading them great books help in that, too!
Tweens and teens might enjoy exploring a new hobby or a great book. If you have a tween or teen daughter this post has some sweet ideas for spending quality time together.