These past few weeks, I’ve been kind of down. I shouldn’t be. I have a wonderful life with a loving husband and two awesome sons. Our boys went back to school a few weeks ago and are having a great experience so far this year. But this depressing feeling keeps coming back.
Why do I feel down?
I keep seeing the same thing in our community, over and over again: We go out to dinner at a local restaurant and I see a 4 year old walk in with his family, carrying an iPad. Everyone sits down and he just tunes into his game, and everyone else talks over his head. I go to the grocery store and see a mom pushing a grocery cart with her toddler in the front, holding her mom’s iPhone and playing with it. I read articles about how students aren’t as ready for school as they once were, and technology is partly to blame. I read other articles that suggest a solution to help struggling readers, and the solution is apps.
The problem isn’t just local. The problem is world-wide. And the feeling won’t go away. I am down about the future of our children growing up in such an all-consuming technological age. I am genuinely worried for our children and what they are missing out on. We are living lives disconnected from each other.
Call me old school, or a traditionalist (as my husband often does), but all of these amazing gadgets and apps we have at our fingertips are causing a problem. What problem is that, you may ask? The problem is this: As we get more and more comfortable with the technology in our lives, we are becoming desensitized to the effect this technology is having on our lives. We feel it sometimes, and realize with an awful feeling in the pit of our stomach that we should put down our phone, stop checking Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, stop playing Candy Crush or Clash of Clans or whatever it is we’re doing. We put the phone down and go outside and breathe some fresh air and feel a little better. We realize that it is good to sometimes be unplugged, but we don’t make unplugging a priority or a regular occurrence.
But what could we be doing instead with the time that we are spending on our phones?
What are we giving up in exchange for the time we spend on our phones?
What isn’t happening that used to be a part of our lives?
Maybe you are disciplined, and the time you spend on your device is really only taking over the time you used to spend watching TV. But is that really true? Or is it encroaching into the time you could be spending with members of your family? Is it invading the conversations you should be having? Is it disengaging you from the life you could be living?
Is it disconnecting you from your life?
And on top of that, we are handing devices to our kids. We are handing our devices to toddlers. We are giving devices that we have a tough time putting down as adults to little ones who don’t yet know how to self-regulate. Time spent playing on a device every once in a while isn’t that bad, but we are consistently using them and consistently giving them to our kids. It is becoming a habit. We are often choosing to use these devices as babysitters. Sometimes we justify it by saying that our kids are using a “learning app.” Other times, we acknowledge that “it’s just easier to let her watch YouTube while we eat at a restaurant, that way everyone enjoys the meal more.” We say, our son “just gets bored easily and the iPad is the only thing that keeps him entertained.” But in doing this, we are using devices to replace real-life interactions—with us.
We are disconnecting from our children and they are disconnecting from us.
Our young children are missing out on learning necessary skills because they aren’t experiencing as much interaction with their parents as they should be experiencing. Kids are learning to rely on devices as entertainment, and aren’t learning to entertain themselves. They are relying on devices as companions, and aren’t developing deep relationships with the people in their lives or the social skills they need to interact with those people. They are relying on devices to learn yet aren’t really learning all that they need to learn. Devices are keeping these kids inside, less active, and isolating them from the world around them.
We are on our devices more than we should be, and our kids are on devices more than they should be. This makes me sad. This makes me worry. This makes me want to raise awareness and shout from the rooftops to parents everywhere: “Think about what you are doing! Is this what you really want to be doing? Is this how you want to raise your children?”
Life is Too Busy
But here’s the thing. Everyone is so busy. Life is crazy. Everyone is trying to jam work and school and multiple activities into each and every single day. We are exhausted. We are running on empty. And when we are tired, we switch to survival mode and do whatever we have to do to get through the day. Often that means that we hand our child our phone to get through the traffic on the car ride home, to entertain when we are too tired to creatively think of another solution.
The problem is that there is no end in sight. Our lives are overscheduled, and tomorrow is going to be just as busy as today. I know. I get it. I’ve been there.
So what can we do? Here at Bookity Split, I want things to be positive, I want to keep things upbeat. I don’t want to go on and on about something as depressing as this. I want to talk about what we CAN do, steps we CAN take, to be proactive and work towards reducing the amount of screentime dependence in our families. We all want our children to grow up happy and healthy and well-adjusted. So let’s take a deep breath, pause, and start working on it.
Intentional Steps You Can Take Now to Reduce Screentime Dependence:
1. Set screentime guidelines for your kids and yourself.
- For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
- For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
- For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
- Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
- Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
Keep these guidelines in mind and discuss as a family: When is it OK to be on a device? When is it not allowed? Read a book like Screen-Smart Parenting or go here and make a family plan that works for your family. Don’t forget to set limits for yourself as well as your children. Then, after you’ve made a plan, FOLLOW THROUGH!
2. Designate Quality Time each week with each child to play, chat, and connect.
This can be once a day or once a week, whatever your schedule allows, but schedule it and make it happen so your child can count on it. Let your child lead the decision on what to do during the time you spend together. You will both feel more connected, and your child’s behavior will improve.
3. Read aloud.
Read aloud to your children. Start when your children are young, and keep reading aloud to them as long as you can. If you didn’t start when they were small, start now. It is never too late. The benefits of reading aloud are too numerous to count. Make it a habit in your home if you haven’t already.
4. Plan for Wait Times
Make a plan ahead of time when you know you or your children will have to wait somewhere. During wait times we often depend on devices to entertain us, and we don’t have to depend on them. I’ve listed ideas here.
5. Train for Boredom
Train your children what to do when they are bored or have to wait. Suggest ideas of what they could do and how they can handle it. Post a list of ideas like this somewhere they can find it. Don’t feel like you always have to entertain them.
6. Unstructured Play
Allow time for unstructured play. Don’t overschedule activities! Let your child get bored and solve the problem without electronics. Read more about unstructured play and ideas here.
7. Go outside.
Go on a nature walk, explore a park, take a hike, rest on your backs and watch the clouds or the stars. Enjoy the outdoors together.
Are you wondering how will you find the time to do all of this? I think if we are intentional, we can use some of the time we usually spend on our screens each day, and transfer it towards taking steps in creating a new plan for your family. Instead of scrolling for 20 minutes: read aloud to your child, play a game with the whole family, or outline a family technology plan and set some limits for yourself and your children. It’s doable.
We are overwhelmed, but we can try one new thing at a time and slowly we will begin to see some changes. It is better to start small than to never start at all. If we implement these strategies, we will be preparing our children for their future and helping them to learn to be resilient and un-dependent on technology. We can all learn to use technology in moderation and enjoy the many benefits it can provide while having a balanced experience in life.