Does this title surprise you? That's okay, I think it surprises most people who read it! But here's why I wrote it—and also why I'm keeping it—this way!
Every once in awhile I get inundated with, as my husband would say, a disturbance in the force.
Oftentimes it happens during summer break, when long uninterrupted days leave you at a loss for how to fill the time.
Sometimes it happens when you're heading off for vacation, long flights and seemingly never-ending car rides bringing on a sense of anxiety about keeping your kids entertained and, if you’re honest, maintaining a semblance of peace and calm—for all of you.
And sometimes it just happens on a regular day when I’m out with a friend or hosting a play date or even minding my own business at the store.
Do you know where I’m going with this yet?
It’s the worries, stress and anxiety about your child spending too much time on devices.
How much access to her device should she have?
Is it really constant use? Because it sure seems like it!
The constant allure of the online world is … intoxicating. It's scary!
There's also the layered in guilt factor associated with giving your child screen time in lieu of something else that you’ve imagined and decided she they should be doing.
Go outside! Your mothering heart yells.
But just one more peek at Facebook, your own scrolling fingers decide.
You should know that this article isn't about keeping your child off line.
It’s not even about the detriments of letting your child have a little screen time in exchange for some coveted quiet.
So if you're looking for that, you can probably find about a gazillion well meaning posts that will say these things to you. In bold. With bullet points. If this is what you need to hear today, you can head right over to one of those posts; no hard feelings.
Because what I want to talk about today is redefining the guilt associated with screen time, burst a few assumption bubbles around this topic, and reimagine how you treat the topic of kids and technology.
If you're interested in these topics, welcome. I'm so glad you're here.
And because there's nothing like starting things out with transparency ...
Confession: I was once there, too.
As a work-at-home mom, not a whole lot changes for me in terms of assignments and deadlines when my kids are home for breaks. And I, of course, reach my limits when my kids are fighting because that’s what they’re supposed to do; grumpy because we stayed up too late the night before; or asking me what they should do for the 100th time (since waking up an hour beforehand) because they really and truly aren’t sure what to do. They’re kids and they’re doing everything right; but that doesn’t make it easier to handle and manage!
So like you, I used to have high imagined hopes of pancakes and play times, creative crafts and full days at the beach. And some days are like that.
But some days definitely aren’t. And on those days, I used to guiltily say yes to movies and iPhone games; apps and iPads; brushing away the dreaded “how much is too much tech time” worries and guilt every single time. I bet this sounds familiar!
But what if it didn’t have to be this way?
What if you could confidently say, “yes” to tech time for your child? No guilt. No averted glances. No apologetic smiles at the stranger sitting next to you at the restaurant or standing behind you in line at the store.
That's what we're going to take the first steps toward today.
First things first
Technology isn’t all bad. Just like off line activities aren’t all good.
There are SO MANY well meaning posters on Pinterest with messages like this:
Do your chores
… And then you can play on the iPad!
Do your chores!
Finish your homework!
… And then you can have the Internet password!
Or even this:
No cell phone.
Well actually …
Mama’s super tired! Here you go!
Even though implementing the rules and values that these posters imply (“real life” before “tech time”; or pretty much anything before tech time) are 100% well meaning, what messages are you really sending your child by setting things up this way?
Well, I'll tell you. She ends up hearing that:
· Tech time is bad
· Or at the very least “not as good” as these other activities
· That it’s something negative
· Or something to binge on
· Or on the flipside, that it’s a reward
· Or the be all, end all coveted activity
And yet she sees you, her friends, and other trusted adults consume media and she enjoys consuming media as well. And she should! There are amazing opportunities available to her (and you!) online. But the mix of these truths, sends confusing messages.
I’m going to show you what that right way is, how to find and teach the tech balance that you're looking for, and I’m also going to burst one teeny tiny bubble about the tech worries that you have.
Let’s dig in.
You want your child to:
· Know that there are so many benefits to the online world
· See that there are really cool ways to be creative, smart, and leaders right at her (literal) fingertips
· And to learn how to use the Internet the way that it was meant to be used
Which means that you need to:
· Recognize that technology is a part of her life
· Let her know that it’s a part of yours, too
· Show her that it’s actually something that you can learn and use together
· Teach her how to use the Internet the way it was meant to be used
So you're going to:
· Meet your child where she is
· Integrate tech into the everyday
· Directly teach your child the right way to use the Internet
· Keep her so busy + used to using the Internet in a good, balanced way, that it would never occur to her to use it in the negative ways
So how are you going to do this?
Well, instead of the messages like the ones we looked at above, “If you do real life, then you can have tech time” or “No tech. No tech. No tech." —> [Insert mama trigger] —> "Fine, go to town,” you’re going to do something different.
You’re going to flip to a system like this:
The verbal or non-verbal What can I do?-s are going to be answered with a checklist like this (preferably written down as a list, a chart, in a notebook, on a poster, in a shared calendar, etc.).
And the key to making this system work for you is this:
Here’s how these lists might look:
Write a story
Do Math problems
Try a coding app
Watch a Bill Nye video
Replicate one of his or any other experiments
Learn a language
Check out the NASA site
Try a Trivia app
This is the list that my kids and I came up with. I bolded the examples that could be considered tech time for you to see how they’re integrated with the other choices. Below is another example.
Make a comic strip
Make a newspaper
Write a play
Make a movie
Listen to music
Learn something about the musician and/or the style of music
Make ice cream
Only good things can come from a system like this. No binging, no guilt, no accidental messages.
You might be wondering about games or things like that, that you know your child loves but that might not be on these lists.
The truth is that this kind of use is 100% normal, too!
Think about how you consume media—the bulk of the time it's for reasons like searching for a recipe, connecting with friends near and far, learning something new, etc.
But some of the time, you want—and I'd argue need—to relax. For me, this used to be watching reality TV and now it's scrolling through Pinterest or Instagram.
For your child, it might be games and that's 100% okay.
Here’s how I set this up. I add "Something Relaxing" to the checklist and, just like all of the other sections, we decide together what this part of the checklist includes.
Keys to making this work for you:
1. Choose the games together.
2. Your child asks before she tries a new game. (I have a super helpful "hack" that I use to ease the "can I have a new app?" overwhelm. Get it by clicking right here!)
3. Depending on what makes your child tick, you may want to make it a rule to choose one thing to do from each category/day.
4. This rule might not be necessary for your child, if her brain works this way on its own. But if it's helpful to use this strategy, use it.
5. Watch + decide + let her know why you're asking her to move from activity to activity.
The basic idea is if she's using her heart, mind, and body everyday and she's happy, engaged, and not grumpy, she's great. She's balanced even. :)
This topic is super nuanced and layered.
Many parents start out worrying about the too much tech time dilemma—you're definitely not alone here! The struggle to figure out what kind of access to give your child to her device is very common. You worry about the constant use, the undeniably constant allure, and you struggle to limit your child's screen time when you have constant access to it, and she (obviously) sees that.
But here’s what I know to be true:
· There is a right way to use the Internet
· It's definitely NOT all bad
· There a million (and one!) great uses of the online world
Remember I told you that I was going to do a little bubble bursting today? Well here it is. Buckle up and hang on tight. This may feel like a doozy at first, but I’ve got you, I promise.
When my kids were really little and we’d be out at places like the park, the grocery store, or the library, someone, usually an older, grandmotherly type with grown kids and possibly grandkids, would put her hand on my arm and say, “listen to your kids tell you the little things now, so they’ll be used to talking to you about the big things when they come up. Because to your kids, those little things are the big things in the moment!”
Well, I'll admit that in the moment I didn’t really know what these women meant! I was so tired and overwhelmed and yes, admittedly, a little bit tired of hearing about Legos and Peppa Pig and what my kids' lovies would be having for dinner that night.
But now that my kids are older, and now that I’ve been studying kids, cell phones, and social media for several years, I understand exactly what these women meant, and I’ll be honest and say that I wish I had listened to them sooner!
Because only preparing yourself for the “Are they spending too much time on devices?” question right now is short sighted.
Your child needs to be taught what she should post and what she definitely shouldn’t.
What to share with friends.
How quickly friendships and inner circles change.
And how heart-skippingly fast what she shares online can spread and be misinterpreted.
And how impossible it is to take a post back once it’s out there—in a post, a text, or in a private message.
Because the ramifications of not teaching your child how permanent her posts are, are long term.
Then you keep those conversation doors wide open so that they’re there when you need them.
I'm talking about staying one step ahead of your child, being prepared, ready, and calm so that you’re ready to meet her where she is.
Not chasing after her frantically only once something bad happens (misuse, over sharing, bullying, harassment, hackers, falling for a scam or a predator—these are all examples of “something bad” that parents with school age kids send me questions about every single day.)
So why do you do this? Because your child needs you to and if you don't teach her what she needs to know, who will?
My course Raise Your Digital Kid™ is parents of young kids friendly and parents of school-age kids equipped.
Start now, you won’t regret it. I promise.
Note: Make sure that you download these checklists! You can take the first step in doing all of this for — and with — your child and start using them today!
AUTHOR: GALIT BREEN
Hi, I'm Galit. (*My name is pronounced guh-leet + means little waves, like in the ocean.) I give you the tools you need to let your kids benefit from the amazing things the online world has to offer them and create a popsicle dripping, chapter book reading (in one sitting!), leaf crunching childhood that they deserve. Welcome, I'm so glad you're here. What can you expect from me? I spill it all right here.