Screen time. It’s a hot topic to be sure. And, if I’m honest, those two little words make my heart rate spike and induce feelings of frustration and failure.
Can you relate to this scenario?
It’s Tuesday night, “Taco Tuesday” to be exact, and you are trying to get all the taco fixings in order. With a Zoom call scheduled for 7 p.m., the clock is ticking and you feel the pressure to get everyone fed. One child is playing fetch with the dog. Someone is hollering in the other room. And another child is doing the thing, you know, talking your ear off while you are desperately trying to get dinner on the table. The child is asking questions, wants you to look at another funny meme, and is generally adding to your stress level! When the question “Can I watch another Dude Perfect?” comes your way, you feel a sense of relief (and guilt) as you say “YES.”
Like many of you, I often feel the pull to choose what is easiest in the moment. I don’t need to convince you that screens are all around us. Screens for school, screens for work, screens for entertainment, screens for reading, and screens for art. Now we even need screens for friends and family! It can be tempting to complain about the need for devices in our lives and to romanticize the days of old. “If only we didn’t have all this technology, my kids would play like I did…” The reality is that this is our world. This is the issue we face as modern-day families. And we must navigate this issue just as the generations before us navigated the issues of their time. So, where do we begin?
Wisdom from God
James 1:5 tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. ” Job 12:13 says, “With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding.”
What a relief! Parents, we can turn to the One who has all wisdom for guidance—even for screen time. God’s Word is a treasure trove of wisdom, encouragement, and guidance for all our needs. We can be encouraged that God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3) and that God’s Word “is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105). God is faithful to provide what we need, for each moment and each decision. We only have to ask.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Keep in mind, it’s not one size fits all. Just as each of our children are special and unique, so are our families and our circumstances. I encourage you to take inventory of your family’s needs and abilities. Ask God for wisdom and then begin making a flexible plan. Let go of the pressure to have the perfect plan like so-and-so seems to. Prayerfully consider these questions regarding your family:
- When do we turn to screens?
- What negative results do we see from screen time?
- What positive results do we see from screen time?
- Are certain types of technology life-giving to my children?
- How are my children different in their responses to screen time?
- What changes could or should be made as my children grow?
Outline a Plan
Make a simple plan. Even baby steps are steps. Any progress is just that, progress! Consider starting small and adding more changes later. Implement new family rhythms in steps or phases in order to have time to adjust. Use these suggestions as a starting point for discussion with or for your family.
- Say no to screens for entertainment on a school day
- Make mealtimes screen-free
- Use screen time as a possible reward for completion of daily chores
- Remove screen time privileges as a disciplinary action
- Set automatic time limits on all your devices
- “Parent” your phones! Rise before them and put them to bed early
- Keep electronics out of all bedrooms! Use old-fashioned alarms to rise and shine
- Schedule a family digital detox for a 24-hour period, then work your way up to a weekend
- Remove certain types of entertainment for an extended period of time (i.e. delete apps, pull the plug on the PS4, etc.)
Remember that the goal of any plan is that it brings positive change. If you find your plan is not working for your family, change it! Give grace to yourself and to your family! Missteps and rerouting are a part of life. But as you model healthy screen time habits for your children, your family can and will make progress.
Fill in the Gaps
Replace, don’t remove. Inevitably there will be gaps of free time where screens once lived. But don’t let boredom fill those gaps. Instead, sit down with your family and brainstorm family and individual activities to choose from. Be creative! Reading, cooking, arts, crafts, sports, picnics, games, and walks can all go on the list. Consider helping a neighbor or writing notes to send through snail mail! Put the list on the fridge or put the ideas on popsicle sticks and place them in a jar. Have your options ready and convenient to turn to when the gaps occur!
Taco Tuesday, bring it on!