Rethinking Screens, Reclaiming Kids and Reconnecting Families
Many parents are at a difficult crossroads regarding what screens to allow in their children’s’ lives. But, this decision doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it. Imagine no more arguing with your kids over screen time, no meltdowns about losing phone privileges, and no secret gaming until 3 a.m.
Next, imagine how peaceful it would be to never worry what your kids are posting or seeing on social media. Imagine how stress-free it would be for them never to worry about their “personal brand.” Wouldn’t it be nice to move past the daily screen drama in your home?
I know the reasons very well for giving children personal screens:
- “Screens are part of today’s youth culture, and we need to teach our kids how to manage them.”
- “Teens will be social outcasts without their games and social media.”
- “We moved recently and it is the only way for them to stay connected with their friends.”
- “I have to let him play his video game; he is very gifted and he is going to be a game designer when he grows up.”
- “Only overprotective parents restrict screens; if you do, your teen will overuse them in college.”
- “Screens make my kids smart.”
I now know that all these reasons are just dangerous myths.
We have made heart-wrenching screen mistakes in our home. Our family has lived through our oldest of four dropping out of college due to a gaming addiction. We made some changes with our second child, and now our youngest two are getting the benefit of our learning from previous mistakes. But beyond just learning through trial and error mistakes, getting our arms around this issue has required us to learn about the long-term physical and emotional effects of screens on child development.
Here are a few things that stand out:
- Screens are not a neutral activity for kids. Games and social media are designed to stimulate the “feel good” brain chemicals that kids will continue to crave. These chemicals are the same ones that lead to addiction. Over time, our kids’ developing brains will rewire themselves to need these chemicals more and more and thus, an addiction pathway is born.
- It takes 25 years for a child’s executive function to mature. I was setting my kids up for failure by expecting them to control their screen use, a task that they were not physically capable of doing. Don’t confuse “high grades” or “smart kids” as being mature. Maturity takes time and can not happen through a screen. That is a job for parents.
- Face-to-face communication and social skills are more important for our kids’ future success than screen skills. It is difficult (if not impossible) to teach these life skills when your child’s first love is a screen.
- Our screen culture is here to stay but childhood isn’t. Once that short window of time and great potential is closed in your child’s life, it can never be opened again. You don’t get a redo.
- Early exposure to adult themes and content will form lasting emotional scars on a child. As parents, we want to be the first ones to shape their hearts and values so we must be the first ones to protect them.
- Children (and teens) live fuller lives without video games or social media, which are simply a form of distracting entertainment. In fact, after a few weeks of detoxing, children are happier and less stressed because they are much more independent, confident and connected to their families.
We have a much higher calling than to lower the bar to keep up with every cultural norm. If we want the best for our children, then why do we keep putting the worst our culture has to offer in their pockets, hoping they won’t be harmed? Is it time to put your children’s devices down—because they can’t—and help them reclaim the life they are losing?
No trouble with screen overuse in your home? Great! But if you have trouble, let me encourage you. Do not allow a screen-stressed home environment or anxious children to become the new normal for your family. Instead, with a coach’s heart, go back to the basics: study, evaluate and learn from mistakes. Then adjust your game plan with confidence. If video games are causing conflict in your home, throw them out. If you gave that smartphone too early, acknowledge your mistake, take it away or replace it with a less addictive basic phone. (There are good reasons why you have to be 18 to even buy a smartphone from any phone company.) Finally, show your children how to have “in-person” social lives, real hobbies, and most importantly, a balanced childhood that includes plenty of free play, creativity, screenless down time, and connections with your family.
Today when our boys come home from school, I will not hear about their friend’s new video game. They will not be crushed over middle school social media drama. They will not run up to their room to watch two hours of mindless youtube videos, and they will not slip into a “phone” coma as they keep up their Snap-Streak. Best of all, there will be no arguments and no screen negotiating on my end; thankfully, those days are history. Instead, there will be lots of conversation as they pile into the kitchen. They will be hungry, they will have mud on their shoes, and they will be very loud as they explain all the stories from the day about who was the fastest at cross country and why a particular girl sat with them at lunch. (“Mom, FYI, she isn’t my girlfriend. She is “cool”— she likes football.”) They will jump on their bikes and head out to gather as many neighborhood friends as they can for a quick game of cul-de-sac football before heading to their baseball game.
When they get home tonight, they will throw in a load of their laundry, and finish their homework quickly (because there is no group text pinging for their attention). They might complete the crossword puzzle they started this morning or read a chapter in their new favorite book. Then they will fall into bed to get that 9 hours of sleep their brain needs.
While there is a lot to be gained in our adult world when technology is used responsibly as a tool, there is much to be lost in our kids’ world when we allow it to crowd out their childhood. Maybe it’s time for parents to rethink whether this is one of those times when less really is more. We’re so glad we did.
Melanie Hempe, R.N., is the founder of Families Managing Media. If you need help reducing the screen conflicts in your home, please reach out to us we can help. We have tips and solutions for fixing screen problems and reclaiming childhood. familiesmanagingmedia.com