I’ve been writing about (and wrestling with) screen time and TV viewing and what’s best for my kids for years.
I started paying attention when Ellie was two and Harper was a fresh little babe. Ellie just turned ten last month, so admitting I’ve been questioning and re-evaluating and changing our habits since then is encouraging…but also, parenting is exhausting and never-ending, geez.
The minute things feel comfortable, someone grows or changes or has different needs and we adapt again.
That’s not a complaint, just a fact.
We are doing electronics different in our home than we did last year, so I felt it was a good time to share what the Graham household is doing with electronics in this season.
(A quick recap: We suddenly went TV-free for a summer in 2015 and never really went back. In 2017, I shared our weekly routine for electronics, letting you in on the very limited access our daughters have to screens.)
We have a second grader and a fourth grader. Ellie spends a lot of her day on a Chromebook doing assignments, math programs, and research. Harper uses her Chromebook less, but still spends time most days on reading or math software.
I don’t mind at all that they’re spending time on computers at school. We live in a digital world and they need to know how to survive/work/learn on a computer. As a teacher, I understand the programs available to students that make learning more engaging, more individualized, and more accessible. I’m here for all of that.
But when they get home, things are different. The requirements of being an active, helpful, and kind participant in our family don’t really require electronics. They requires action, conversations, imagination, and paying attention–things electronics kill.
At the beginning of the school year, we were operating on 1.5 hours of tablet time a week. Each kid got three 30-minute chunks of iPad time they could use when they wanted to. But as winter approached, it felt off to me. They were always asking if they could use their time, always arguing about how much time they had left, telling on the other person for going over by two minutes, or complaining when they used all their time at the beginning of the week and then spent the weekend bored and without a reason to live. (Not a dramatization.)
So I changed the routine to 45 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays with no screen time during the week. It’s been a good transition. They spend a chunk of time watching YouTube videos on Minecraft or squishies (seriously, why?) then we move on with our lives. There’s no complaining during the week or worrying about how much time they have left.
My kids play better, get bored less, read more books, and are kinder to each other when electronics aren’t around. It’s probably the same for your kids, that’s not a special Graham family trait. The girls aren’t watching things on the iPad that promote violence or encourage you to be mean to your sibling, it’s just an added benefit no matter what they view.
So we turn electronics on less so we have a more enjoyable home life. They are allowed to listen to music or podcasts on tablets (or Echo Dots). If you walk into Ellie’s room, there’s a 99.99% chance she’ll be listening to a Harry Potter audiobook. Harper is obsessed with the Story Pirates podcast and loves to listen to their stories.
I’m not against technology. I love technology. Technology is what allows me to write things on the internet and make Instagram Stories. But we’ve tried enough things to know our kids don’t need time in front of a screen at home to learn or develop into decent humans. And, actually, they develop better when they don’t have much of it.
For TV viewing, the girls watch about an hour of Netflix after school on Wednesdays. On the weekends, things are more lax. Saturday morning cartoons and a Sunday night family movie are allowed if we’re home. The reality is maybe one of those happens each weekend and, some weekends, none of those things happen.
We check in often when our kids are on tablets or watching TV. No one is allowed to play on a tablet in their room. Echo Dots have parental controls on them and shut off at 8 PM. When the girls are doing their tablet time, they’re in a room with Chris or I. We talk often about what’s appropriate to see and what is not. We talk about what viewing things does to our hearts and our minds. We talk about sharing with Mommy or Daddy if they see something they’re not sure about. We make it clear they won’t get in trouble for it. We talk about what’s appropriate to see and share on the internet and what is not.
A few weeks ago when parents around the internet were clutching their pearls about the Momo Challenge and how people were out to kill our children and warp their minds, I was reminded again that children are only as safe as their parents want them to be. (Side note: Are we still, in 2019, sharing misinformation and hoaxes on the internet without first RESEARCHING WHAT WE’RE SHARING? No offense friends, but if you don’t know how to use the internet correctly, your kids never will either.)
It is no one’s job to keep our kids safe on the world wide web. It’s not Netflix’s job or YouTube’s job. It’s not search engines or parental control apps. It’s our job, our responsibility, our charge when we hand an electronic device to our children. If you’re worried about your toddler coming across something dangerous on the internet, maybe the answer is don’t leave them unattended with the internet? If you’re worried about what your kid is viewing on the TV, maybe start talking with them about their choices before it’s too late?
The internet does not care about keeping your kids safe. If you thought that, please read that sentence again. The internet does not care about our kids’ hearts, their innocence, or their relationships. It doesn’t care about their character, their growth, or their minds.
If you constantly complain about what’s influencing your kids, about their bad behavior, and their reliance on devices, but don’t think your actions, choices, or rules matter, you’re part of the problem.
None of this is easy. And none of this gets easier, from what I can tell. The kids just get older, and we get different struggles and problems. But if we’re using technology to parent our kids as opposed to actually parenting our kids, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Want your kids to play more? Put the electronics up.
Want your kids to read more books? Don’t make electronics as accessible.
Want your kids to get along better? Stop letting them avoid human interaction.
Want your kids’ imaginations to take off? Turn the TV off.
Want your kids to engage more? Stop giving them ways to hide from each other.
What about you? What are you doing or not doing in your house to keep electronics in check? What feels like it’s working? What doesn’t feel like it’s working?