I’ve seen many posts recently about parents struggling to limit screen time, or stop it altogether.
There’s a better option.
Children today are born into a digital world. Thirty years ago, we didn’t have smart phones, videos or music on demand, let alone instant information for any question we have. Most of us are embedded in artificial intelligence in our homes without even realizing it. We have Alexa, Siri, or our smart phones to query nearby.
We seem surprised when an ad pops up of exactly what we were just talking about or thinking. Every click we make, every text or message we send, is compiled and tracked as data. It is uploaded into algorithms of a profile of you and your habits. These include browsing, spending, entertainment, content preferences, type of posts viewed and liked, and more.
Every app you download and use does this. You accept the terms of this agreement when you sign in.
Many see this as an invasion of privacy, but in reality, it’s just making our lives easier. Let’s not forget this fact. I can have my groceries delivered within three hours of placing an order, without ever having to set foot in a grocery store.
But, that’s all just a reminder of how much the world has shifted to a digital world.
Most teens today spend four hours or more video chatting with friends. This is the new social norm. They have dinner together, do homework together, and even watch shows together. Even when a few are in person outside swimming, there is usually a friend on the other end who couldn’t be present interacting through a device.
Let’s not forget the pandemic forced most children who never even had a device to start using one all day for school. Talk about culture shock.
I haven’t even breached the topic of virtual reality, which is coming fast, but let’s skip that for now.
I certainly don’t like a total digital reality myself, as I’m most happy in the woods or by the ocean in silence. The world seems to be moving so fast lately.
However, I love the convenience of my smart phone and not being tied to a desk for work. I can work anywhere; at the beach, in line at the store, even while driving (hands free of course). I never get lost with GPS, and can pretty much reach anyone, anywhere, anytime. Especially my children and family.
Twenty years ago we had none of this convenience. I remember using a pager to send an alert just to have someone call. That felt incredible, I could get someone a message I needed. It seems like centuries ago.
In the last 10 years technology has outpaced our ability to even process it. To survive you just have to jump in. Half of the world doesn't even understand how code or algorithms work.
Now, imagine you were born into this reality. All the adults around you are tethered to their devices. If someone told you to put your device down and go play outside alone, it wouldn’t even make sense.
Trust me, I agree boredom is our friend. It stirs innovation and forces us to figure things out. But, why can’t you use a device to do that too?
The question a parent shouldn’t be asking themselves is how to limit screen time or stop it.
The right question is, how can I facilitate screen time to make it worthwhile, productive, or empowering.
I had to let go the ideal I had about running around outside, until the street lights came on, and that the world was better before. It really wasn’t. It was slow and boring. We wasted a lot of time on menial tasks.
So, when I realized it was a battle I couldn’t win, I became an observer.
I started watching what my now two teens (15 and 13), and preteen son (12), were doing online and why.
I quickly realized it wasn’t just brainless scrolling on Tik Tok like adults tend to. It wasn’t endless hours of gaming or binge-watching shows on YouTube. Although there are times that happens.
I found out it was a whole new world of socializing.
It was a whole new world of access to unlimited knowledge and information. They can learn anything they want, any second of the day, not just the core basics of Math and English at school.
I found out my daughter was learning a new language and watching videos to create and edit anime movies. How cool.
I found out my middle daughter was learning how to Crochet and do some insane crafting.
I found out my son was learning football and basketball stats, and how to shoot better. He also would come up from the basement hot and sweaty, as if he ran a marathon, after playing games on VR with his friends. He was exercising.
I also found out they all had met new friends around the world, who shared the same interests as them, because no one in school did.
How even cooler.
There was some educating about safety and who to trust and apps to avoid. But that is the parenting part.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I quickly realized facilitating their passions and things they like to do online with suggestions, was much more successful then unplugging the internet to get them off screen (yes, I tried that). I was able to facilitate buying a software for drawing, approve the purchase of an app to teach a new language, an app to learn the piano, and more.
And, in shifting my role, I actually found they spent more time off screen and outside than they did before. It created balance. They learned to self-regulate their own use.
In five years, they will be on their own. These skills matter for balance, and more so, mental wellness. Trying to stop the world from changing as fast as it is isn't going to help.
Do I think five-year-old’s are capable of this, absolutely not. Those are children. Screen-time should be limited as they are not old enough to make those types of decisions, but at eight and ten, yes. It’s a great time to begin facilitating self-regulation and empowerment.
So, I know it’s not easy. Navigating parenting is difficult enough without adding a whole new reality we are learning ourselves. There is no manual.
But, you got this. We, got this.