I’ve recently come across an honest account of a fellow mom who was wondering how long is too long when it comes to screen time, and how to balance the parent’s desire for peace and the children’s well-being. Before you continue reading this post, I need to underline something important. There’s no holy bible when it comes to parenting and I don’t claim I have the solution. If I had it, I would be selling it for $$$ instead of sharing it on a blog. While reading our experience, keep in mind you know what’s best for your own sanity, for your family to thrive, and for your children’s health. My goal here is merely to share some practical advice for those who may be looking for it and to show how our family functions. Let’s get into it, then.
We are strict parents when it comes to digital entertainment. I don’t believe in giving up screens or technology, as I feel it would mean depriving my children of something which will surely part of their lives. I’m taking the harder path of trying to teach them how to deal with digital tools in a healthy way, which means:
- to use technology and not be used by it, recognising all red flags that scream “addiction”,
- to identify and to own feelings which arise in the domain of technology (for instance if a game makes you nervous instead of entertaining you, be in charge and stop playing),
- to peacefully co-exist with boredom and not need immediate solace in technology.
Why do I bother
Historically, we are living in unprecedented times in terms of scientific and technological development. The rhetoric “it worked for our parents, it will for us” fails for us. When it comes to digital parenting, we are faced with unpredictable challenges and, mind the dramatic tone, serious risks for our children’s well-being, mental development, even humanity. I have witnessed someone close struggling with a videogame addiction which was not tackled by her parents. She lost the most precious years of development, social experiences, and even health, to a screen. I’ve always thought it was sad and her parents should have done more. I’m not against videogames, I’m a gamer myself! My claim is that tech happened so quickly to all of us that we didn’t have time to process, learn, adjust. We adults are victims ourselves to smartphone or social media addiction. The only difference is that our generation still had a quite balanced and normal upbringing. If we don’t react and learn as parents, our children won’t have the same luxury and may fall prey of all the negative sides of technology.
Our set of rules
Are you still with me after that heavy and dramatic section? Wow, you are a loyal reader. I appreciate that. I’m ready to take a lighter tone and share how we do it in practice. Small note, our children are currently 5 and 2 and a half. Some of these rules will not be applicable to older kids, but most are quite universal or easy to adjust.
Rule #1: no digital device owned.
Toddlers cannot own tablets, smartphones, gaming devices. It’s much easier to set rules on their use of your device. “Why can’t I use my tablet? It’s mine!”. That. You don’t want that. They can borrow our tablets if we explicitly agree. They cannot touch our smartphones.
Rule #2: maximum daily screen time.
As recommended by pediatricians, we allow maximum 1 hour a day, inclusive of all screens. Usually this means TV and happens in the morning before going to school, allowing us parents to get ready after they got dressed and washed. Tablet time is more restricted and I give them freedom to switch some TV time with tablet time which is an additional lesson on self-control and self-discipline. Our only exception has been when either the parent in charge or one child has been sick. Then it’s survival mode, folks, which may mean How to train your dragon savage binge-watching.
Rule #3: total parental control on contents.
I cannot stress this enough (sorry, another tiny bit of apocalypse-tone coming), you need to know exactly what your kids are watching or playing with. I play myself with all apps before allowing them to. I always turn on parental controls on my IPad to avoid accidental (?) purchases. Check the age rating and avoid apps which allow chatting with other players (at least for toddlers and school-age kids!). I created a dedicated Netflix kids profile for them and they need to ask us before watching a new show (sorry Barbie, you won’t body-shame my daughter). I don’t want them to be exposed to advertising. Nowadays with streaming platforms every parent is capable to limit or fully discard ads. Be very critical of open content platforms: have you read what happened with YouTube Kids? Just be in control. For once, you are allowed to micromanage.
Rule #4: no devices at the table.
This starts from the parents. No smartphones or tablet at the table, even better if they are left in another room. No TV on while dining. The table is for conversation or, if there’s nothing to talk about, sacred silence. Even learning to appreciate social silence is a better life lesson than to be rude or absent or self-focused in presence of others. Demand that guests do the same (it’s your house and this is a reasonable request). The rule stands when dining out.
Rule #5: build barriers to be present.
My husband and I have one simple yet hard goal: to make the effort to dedicate our full attention to our children. Think how rude and hurting it is be to be on a date with someone, and while you are talking they constantly look away and give you the impression they’d rather be miles away. This is how your child feels every time you gets distracted by your phone while engaged in play or conversation. As a fellow parent, I’m sympathetic. Maybe you are listening to a toddler blabbering the very same story for the 53rd time this week and you indeed wish you were somewhere else. But surely your wouldn’t consciously give your child that impression, as you know it’d hurt their self-confidence. You want them to feel smart and awesome.
We are working on this and putting some small rules in place to help ourselves through our resolution. Our phones are constantly on silent mode and almost all notifications are off. When playing, we try to place our devices far or in another room. We try to define clear time barriers for play and for our digital relax. “Now mommy wants to check her phone for a while, can you sit here with me and read your book?”. Be sure they’ll interrupt me a thousands time in five minutes, but at least I have been conscious and clear about taking time off to use my smartphone. I’m showing them I’m in control and they can notice the difference in how I handle my focus. This is not about giving up device usage, but partitioning your time and be aware of how you handle your focus.
Another good one, our TV is never on in the background. We turn it on only when actively watching something. This goes hand in hand with being in control of contents and in charge of technology usage.
Wow. To think I had a short list in mind and I ended up lecturing you. Sorry about that, I’m very vocal about digital parenting. I work as a developer and I am tech-savvy. I enjoy, even love, technology and progress. I want our children to be fully in control of their digital life. As a parent, it’s a lot of information to take in and process. It can be discouraging and tough, I know. However, by being aligned with digital progress, I believe we’re making a significant investment in our children’s well-being.
If by any chance you got through my digression, I know you are strong enough – maybe even interested?! – to read more on digital parenting. Here are some more posts you may appreciate: