Unplugged. I think that’s something we all need more of. But, let’s be honest, it’s a struggle to pull ourselves away from the lure of the shiny screen.
I like shiny things.
The other day, I finished a long day at work and picked the kids up from school. Both were in good moods and the heat had broken out of middle-earth territory. We decided to play outside. We were out there for over an hour playing games, racing and going for quick walks. And then a sudden wave of TIRED hit me. All I wanted to do was sit down and be completely void of thought. I had an intense urge to look at my phone for absolutely no reason. Meanwhile, two sweaty kids were staring at me waiting for me to purchase my wooden groceries and finish my doctor check-up.
The phone is where I go when I don’t want to think. I pretend there’s some brain activity because I’ll read an article with big words that sound smart. But there’s not. If I want stimulating brain activity, my phone is not where I go.
Screen Time: Creating New Habits
Statistics like this highlight a problem but don’t break down where you need to start to find a solution. “Electronics” can mean anything like video games, smartphones or TV. But it seems the knee-jerk reaction to hearing numbers like that is to immediately limit screen time to a number of minutes. That might work for some but my kids are too young to understand how to budget their time or what a time restriction actually means. Instead, we made these small changes which help us (the parents) separate our devices from our family time, setting a better example for the kids.
Small changes that lead to less screen time
- Identify your devices. No, I don’t mean get the label maker out. I mean know how you use the different electronics in your life and know where you need to watch yourself. My devices of choice are my computer, TV and iPhone. I use my computer for work, TV for my select shows and my iPhone as my time suck. Clearly, the iPhone is what I need to be most thoughtful about. This is what I’ve learned: it’s okay for me to watch Batdad’s new video. But when it’s over, I don’t need to scroll through the 723 comments. Knowing where that line is helps me stay in check.
- Create unplugged zones. For us, dinner time is unplugged. It’s enough of a rule that Buddy (almost 4) will correct my husband and me if we break it. Dinner time is our time to talk (or listen to Buddy tell a “really long story”, whichever the case may be).
- Keep it social. My opinion? The phone is the least social of all the screens. Sure I text, comment and “like” but if doing so means I’m ignoring humans in my presence, it’s not social. I have no interest in going completely unplugged but I hate when my kids “zone out” in front of a screen. So when the TV is on, we try to make it a social event. The shows the kids watch have interactive elements in them so I try to get into it. Together we answer Blaze’s questions, help Mickey select the right Mousekatool and help Team Umizoomi solve their problems. We talk about what we’re watching if it’s a video on the phone or laugh at pictures we’ve taken. We make it social so the kids don’t forget there are humans around them. (Note: This rule does not take into account those times when I need to get something done and use the TV as a child distraction technique. If that’s the case, I encourage zoning for my own benefit.)
- Make it a non-event. Who here likes to bribe their kids?? When Buddy asks to watch TV, it’s hard not to take that opportunity to withhold it as a reward for something. But I’ve found this kind of limitation only makes TV that much more enticing. Instead I treat it as I would any other request with a simple “yes” or “no.” He does needs to clean up the messes from whatever he was doing before turning on the TV. But this rule is the same for any other activity he does.
Granted, my kids are young. I know that creating these habits is far easier for a preschooler and toddler than it would be a tween or teen. This stuff is as much for me as it is the kids. I don’t want them to watch their mom stare at a screen slack-jawed and unresponsive and assume that’s acceptable. I want them to grow up understanding how to incorporate technology into their lives without it taking over.
Have an unplugged alternative
This one’s a bonus tip. If you want to reduce screen time in your house, you need to be ready with unplugged things your kids can be excited about. I’m not saying you need to go out a revamp your entire toy closet or invest in a ton of toys (because that’s kinda counterproductive anyway). But there’s got to be some sort of alternative besides screens to entertain. I’m a little bit partial to Discovery Toys and Usborne Books & More products because I think they’re great. I’ve never seen my kids get this excited about a TV show.
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Are you trying to cut back on screen time in your house? What has worked best for you?