Giving our children screen time is something we parents can feel uneasy about sometimes. Seeing my boys staring at a screen in that zoned-out state makes me uncomfortable. The media regularly reports on research that shows screen time can contribute to attention issues, obesity and violent behaviour, among other things. I take all this on board but I am of the opinion that there is very little in life that is all bad or all good. Most things have the potential to be both and it’s how we use them that is important.
The reality is that our children have been born into a screen-centric era. Technology is used to communicate, entertain, do business and so many other things. I think it is less important to raise our children screen-free than it is to raise them screen-savvy. Use of technology is unavoidable and as parents, we need to teach them to use it thoughtfully.
My boys, aged 3 and 5, only watch children’s programs. They don’t play games because they’ve never asked and I’ve never shown them. Sometimes, I’ll search the internet with my eldest because there’s something he’s interested to find out, – such as, the answer to a question that arose at school, or how much pocket money he needs to save for the Lego set he has his eye on. Since my boys are so young, I perhaps haven’t encountered yet some of the issues you may have if your children are older. Even so, I hope today to offer food for thought to help you determine whether the attitudes and behaviour around screentime in your home are right for your family or need adjusting.
GOOD USE OF SCREEN TIME
So, here are some of the good reasons for children to have screen time, taking into account the needs of the whole family.
The child is at ‘breaking point’ in some way. When I can see that one of my boys is exhausted and struggling to cope, I find a bit of screen time gives him a chance to rest physically and a break from coping with the day.
The parent is at ‘breaking point’ in some way. When I’m feeling that my resources for coping with my boys have run out (perhaps because I’m underslept or they’ve been bickering all day), screentime can give me a break to make sure I don’t take my mood out on my children. (This relates to a recent post, Why Am I Shouting At My Children?!)
For enjoyment. Amongst all the motivations we have for our parenting decisions, we can at times forget that enjoyment is important too. I love to cry over Long Lost Family and my boys love to join in with all the Paw Patrol songs and catchphrases.
For the parent to get stuff done. This is a practical one, especially for those with younger children. When I’m packing for our family to go away on holiday, for example, I find it almost impossible to get done with the boys around so they might get a bit more screentime than usual.
As a practical motivator. In the mornings, my boys are allowed to watch tv once they are completely ready for school or kindy, including bags packed and shoes ready at the door. It provides incentive to keep them moving so we can get out the door in time. I think screen time should be used for mutual advantage when possible.
As a point of discussion. Programs and movies especially provide good material for discussion and we can talk with our children about them just as we might when reading them a story. The possibilities are endless. For example, we can discuss characters’ motivations & emotions, ask our children what they would’ve done in the same situation or which character they would want to be friends with & why. As they get older and are using the internet & social media there will be lots to discuss about how to determine if information is valid, what advertising is trying to do and how to use social media positively (but this is a whole other post!).
REASONS NOT TO USE SCREENTIME
Before I write this list, I put my hand up to doing every single one of them…more than once.
To avoid dealing with difficult behaviour. Needing a break sometimes is one thing but avoiding dealing with real issues is another. Sometimes getting to the bottom of our children’s difficult behaviour or sibling arguments can feel too hard and we know a bit of screen time would diffuse the situation for now. But, for a long-term solution, we have to figure out what’s happening and provide the necessary guidance for our children.
To soothe an upset child. Sometimes I find it hard to deal with my youngest’s emotions because he doesn’t have the language to explain all that’s going on for him. It is tempting to turn the tv on to distract him and allow his emotions to settle. But, by doing this, I teach him to avoid his emotions. I don’t want to teach my boys to soothe or distract themselves with the screen (or other things like food). Our emotions are important indicators of what’s going on for us and I want my boys to have the strength to face theirs.
Instead of play, physical activity and quiet time. I’ve heard it said that play is the work of childhood. It has so many benefits to all aspects of a child’s development – physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual. No one can argue that screen time isn’t sedentary (that’s often part of the appeal!) so it needs to be balanced with activity. I also think it is essential for children to have quiet time alone each day to connect with themselves for their spiritual well-being (see my post Just Be: Presence and Stillness) Screen time should be as well as these things, not instead of them. If our children are bored, it is not the time to turn the tv on but to encourage one of these things.
TIPS FOR MANAGING SCREEN TIME
It’s all very well to be clear about when we’re happy for our children to have screen time and when we’re not but we parents are just one side of the equation. Our children have their own intentions around screen time and they often don’t match ours. This can result in some difficult behaviour. This is what works in our house…for now.
Have clear guidelines for when and how long children can have screen time. When the rules are clear, consistent and fair, there is less arguing over them, the children just accept them. My boys are allowed screen time twice a day for 30 minutes at a time. I expect this to change as they get older.
No fussing allowed when it’s time to turn the screen off. We used to have loud whining, stamping and crying whenever it was time to turn the tv off and I dreaded having to announce that time was up. So I explained to my son how unpleasant & disrespectful his behaviour was and asked him not to do it. He kept doing it so I introduced a new rule – if you fuss when it’s time to turn the tv off, there’s no tv the next day. He missed out once…no fussing since.
Monitor the content and how it impacts our children’s behaviour. When my eldest discovered Star Wars, he started wanting to watch it. I’ve never let him watch a real Star Wars movie but I figured the Lego Star Wars movies would be child-suitable. Well, they weren’t suitable for him. After watching them, every interaction with his poor little brother was a reinactment of what he had seen. He made violent threats, rough and tumble got too rough and he wasn’t respecting his brother’s requests for him to stop. We gave him the chance to improve his behaviour but he didn’t so he’s no longer allowed to watch Lego Star Wars.
Be the example of moderation. Nothing speaks louder to our children than our example. If they see us glued to our screens, unable to get out attention, they will consider that the norm.
IN SUMMARY: KEEPING SCREEN TIME IN PERSPECTIVE
I wrote this post because I don’t think we need to feel bad about screen time in our homes but we need to be intentional about it. My intention is for my boys to be able to use technology as one of many tools for enjoyment and learning in their lives. Because they are young right now, I mostly manage their screen time for them but, as they get older, I hope they will develop an attitude that helps them to manage it positively for themselves.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS:What are your tips for keeping screen time positive and manageable in your house? Share in the comments below.
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My boys are always glad to be home. Jake loves the prospect of a whole day at home, which we manage on the occasional weekend. Even after a fun outing that they wished would never end, they are both happy to arrive home. In fact, they argue over who gets to open the front door and be the first inside. Our house does have a pleasant, homely feel but it’s nothing out-of-the-ordinary. The kitchen needs updating and the carpet is threadbare in some places. We’ve made little effort to decorate because it makes sense to wait until the boys are older and gentler on the house. Watching Jake and Thomas squabble over opening the front door one afternoon, I wondered, “What makes our house their beloved home?” And “could the way we organise and use our homes have any impact on our children’s spiritual well-being?” The more I considered it, the more I realised there are lots of ways the physical environment of our house supports connection to love in our family. Here are some of the aspects that can make a house a spiritual home of sorts –
Home allows for the mess of life and some order too As a child, I observed how house-proud older generations of women in my family were. If a visitor was expected, there would be a flurry of cleaning & tidying in the hours before they arrived. When I moved into my first flat, I was the same way. However, having children has put a lot of perspective on things for me, including housework, and it has been a happy slide down to an easier place of “clean and tidy enough”. (Tip: I have found that if I leave housework long enough, I suddenly feel motivated to do it!) When I get the odd spare moment, I’m now more likely to do something important like play with my boys or sit for 10 minutes with a coffee than to whip around with the vacuum cleaner. As well as giving myself a break, I am showing my boys the importance of joy & rest – vital in a busy-bee world. It is also one of the many small ways I try to provide an alternative to the strong social message that we should aim for perfection in all things. I try not to refuse Jake and Thomas’ requests for messy activities because of the clean-up they’ll require. The sensory nature of painting and water play make them great ways for children to be present and to have fun – important spiritual practices. I want them to feel free to play as they wish at home.
The pendulum hasn’t swung entirely in the other direction, though. We have our own sense of order about the house. For example, there are certain spots for temporary dumping as an alternative to leaving things anywhere around the house. We are fortunate to have a playroom and it is the designated space for building train tracks and tipping out the blocks. Shoes go away as soon as we arrive home. Without order, life becomes more difficult – tripping over toys, standing on Lego (ouch!) and wasting time looking for lost items. When life has some order and is physically easier, we feel more ease within ourselves.
Home contains spaces for connecting with others For me, one aspect of spirituality is connecting with others. We learn to truly love through our interactions with each other. Much of the joy we experience in life is through time spent with others. The first people children experience this connection with are those they share their home with, likely their family. Having spaces that encourage spending time together is important. In our home, the dining table is a sacred space for connecting at meal times. All art supplies and toy trucks are cleared away. We don’t say grace and begin eating until everyone is seated. As much as is possible with a toddler at the table, we focus on being together. My husband and I have also made a number of changes to our outdoor space to make it more inviting for hanging out together. We’ve removed a deck to create more run-around space, built a simple treehouse and turned the vege patch into a play garden (we couldn’t give the poor veges the attention they needed). My husband involved Jake & Thomas in the building of the treehouse and I loved watching them all working on it together. We use the outside space in many ways to relax & play together.
Home contains spaces for connecting with ourselves Ideally, each person in the house would have their own space. Jake and Thomas are fortunate enough to each have their own bedroom. I have noticed that, after a day at school, the first thing Jake does is go to his room by himself. He puts his favourite hoody on and plays with his favourite toys, books and objects, which are kept in his room. This down time has so many spiritual benefits (see my post Just Be – Presence and Stillness) and I respect my boy’s bedrooms as their own. Jake was about 4 when he started spending time in his room other than just to sleep and I sensed it was becoming an important space to him. At that point, I began knocking if the door was closed and waiting for his consent before going in. I do not nag my boys to tidy their rooms, although I may ask them to do one quick job to keep on top of things (eg. put their clothes away before watching tv). By seeing me respect their space, I hope they’ll learn to value time spent on their own and to allow others their own time & space. They’re still learning – I often write this blog in bed in the mornings and they know not to interrupt me…but still come charging in, wanting my attention. We’ll get there.
We share the work around our home By each contributing to the care of our home and the routines of life within it, I am hoping Jake and Thomas will develop an attitude of collaboration. In a world that often feels more competitive than co-operative, our children need a place to learn the value of their contribution to the bigger picture. I believe humans are designed to collaborate in life & that everyone has a valuable part to play. Our house is a perfect place to practise living according to these beliefs. Jake has weeded between the paving stones. Thomas has watered the garden. They do chores around the house. Two-year-olds seem wired to help and imitate adults at work so Thomas is always keen. Jake can take a bit of coaxing but I can see a sense of satisfaction on his face when the job is done.
Our home can be a gallery of our values, memories and heart-treasures As I’ve said, we’ve not yet decorated our home but I look forward to doing so. I think the things we display around our homes can give messages to our children about what we value. For us, we value other people for the exchanges of love and joy we have with them. In our home, we have displayed photographs of my children and their extended family. Their Great- Grandad’s clock sits on the bookshelf in the lounge, even though it doesn’t work. Their Great-Nan’s wall plate with the dog painted on it is hung by the kitchen. In my post A Better Way to Teach Values, I suggested my idea of displaying the words “The Golden Rule” in golden writing somewhere around our home. It would be a bit of an eye-sore but I think it would be a great reminder of the importance of treating others with love, respect and compassion. I figure that, when they’re teenagers and not listening to me so much anymore, the things around our home will remind Jake and Thomas of what’s important.
IN SUMMARY: HOME AS OUR SANCTUARY
I love the idea of our homes being our sanctuaries. They may not look like sanctuaries – DIY half-finished, crumbs under the table, piles of unfolded washing… but they can still be places of spiritual learning and joy for ourselves and our children. I don’t like to create a separation between “our home” and “the real world”, I hope there is cross-over, but perhaps our home can provide some vision for the kind of world my boys can hope to be part of creating.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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