Screen time: Parents-to-be swear that they will never use it and parents of small children battle with a way to balance it. A quick google search will give you to an unlimited number of articles talking about guidelines to screen time, age restrictions and everything you need to know about #ScreenFreeWeek. There is no one-size-fits all method and every family does their best to juggle screen time. I have battled with the idea myself. I try to avoid handing my phone over at restaurants, but let’s be honest, sometimes is the easiest way to get a quiet meal. What I do monitor more consciously is screen time at home. We try to make TV a family experience. Either a movie night with popcorn, TV during dinner when mom is out on girls night, or an educational documentary on PBS.
A good friend used to talk about his family Friday movie nights, always asking for kid friendly recommendations. As my kids have gotten older, I have adopted this idea while limiting independent recreational screen time. This was always something I swore to restrict, but as parenting has taught me, things don’t usually go as originally intended and soon enough we had lost control over it. It took an expensive mistake to shake things up.
The day that changed everything
July 11, 2018 is a day that my kids will forever remember. Nothing special happened, other than mom forgot her iPad on the plane. We had landed from an overseas trip, passed-through immigration and baggage claim, and about to board our shuttle when I realized that the iPad was missing. We called the airline, filed a lost item form and followed up many times. The Ipad was never returned. Since we mostly used it for entertainment, I had little urge to replace it and found the perfect excuse to change our screen time habits.
Before we lost the iPad, we had unfortunately reached a point where it was used for watching cartoons after school or whenever we needed some quiet time. It was easy to hand-out the device, while we listened to music or watched a game on TV. An easy way to make everyone happy. I was never very comfortable with it but had very little willingness to go through the drama. Loosing the iPad was the easiest way to make a change.
Now, almost a year later I can say we have survived and found what I think is a healthy balance. We are flexible and talk about limits. There are weekends where we are completely screen free, and others where we watch more than I would like. I have survived three flights to Houston and many road trips screen free. As we now get close to another overseas trip, I am hesitant to replace the lost device.
My kids have complained about air travel and screen time. They are excited to know that our next flight will have built-in screens. I have checked the movie selection and know they have good options. I know it will be hard to limit how much they watch, but strongly believe that we are in a much better place than we were a year ago. What happens after we land is still a mystery.
Are you ready to change your screen time habits? If you want to avoid having to lose an expensive device, here are my:
5 recommendations to re-gain control over screen time
1. Visit your local library. School aged kids get extremely curious about movie and TV Characters. Our local library has a lot of books featuring a lot of those popular characters. While you’re there you can also check their movie selection to bring something home for the weekend.
2. Sing along in the car. Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Music and YouTube are great partners. Find a good playlist, roll-down the windows and have fun. My kids love to sing to the movie theme songs. I would like to thank Disney and Pixar for making music that suits all ages.
3. Keep coloring books and small toys handy. When we travel, our kids bring a backpack full of toys. I also have toy animals and cars in a small pouch in the car, and bring those when we travel. You can find these awesome toys at Costco (while you are there, check out their kids book collection). For my oldest, he has a journal notebook where he writes shorts paragraphs about our trips. This comes-in extremely handy when waiting at airports.
4. Keep screens away from their play area. We have our TV in the kitchen, It is on with the morning news and the kids like to watch the weather and traffic report, but that is the extent of it. Their play area is separate and we keep the music playlist on.
5. Find shows about things that can lead-into active time. We are a big sports family, so we watch the occasionally soccer game. We also watch Moto GP and the American Ninja Warrior competition. When my kids watch that, within minutes they will be playing-out what they just watched. A great way to make kids and adults happy.
I will never say that we are a screen-free family. That was never our objective. But we have come to what I think is a healthy balance for now, acknowledging that as the kids grow there will be adjustments. These may even include the purchase of a new device which will bring new challenges to our limits on screen time. I will report back if and when that happens to share how we’ve adapted. Just remember that if you are struggling with this issue, it is possible to make a change and find a suitable balance. Your kids will cry of boredom but don’t worry, they will survive.