They wake up and immediately reach for their phones. They get in the car and immediately pull out their DS. Their faces are aglow, and you can see the reflection of their devices in their dilated pupils. Screen time for kids has been a hot topic ever since the first handheld device came out almost half a century ago. We still struggle every day with our children's faces glued to the screen. Sometimes we may even find; we're guilty of that as well!
American family values are diminishing because of these devices. We fight with our kids over when and where they can be playing Angry Birds. Often resulting in children feeling resentful and misunderstood, so they sink deeper and deeper into their pixelated universe and float further and further away from us. At this point, you may feel as if you've lost your child and failed as a parent. Being a parent is a full-time job whether you're a stay at home dad or a working mother. We do our best, but we are our children's role models whether they tell us or not. We do what we think is best for them and best for us. When our kids begin to resent us, that's a feeling we know isn't right. At times, we may feel like just letting go and freeing our child to the whims of the digital age. It's okay to feel frustrated and helpless when you're trying to manage the lives of more than one human being.
What May or May Not Have Worked
Limiting screen time each day. "You have 2 hours of screen time today." This solution may be great for some families, but often it results in children valuing their devices even more.
Taking away their devices as a punishment. Taking away things from a child to discipline them puts the thought in their heads that they can do the same if they want to hurt or punish someone. Forming healthy conflict resolution is imperative to children.
Banning devices from the household. Might very well be a fit for some, but for the majority of the population, it's a bit difficult to go off-grid. Completely giving in and letting them do whatever they want. On the other hand, banning devices may be an easy solution for some. It would mean trading being present and attentive in exchange for being worry free.
Why Do Kids Love Their Devices?
Before we get into fixing all this, you'll first need to understand why children value their screen time so much.
It's genuinely a rich environment. The evolution of the internet has made it possible to access any information in the history of time within seconds. Memes are the culture of today's generation, knowing the latest update in League of Legends is equivalent to celebrity gossip of the 90s.
In almost every area of our lives, we seek instant gratification. Kids find it through their devices. Just with the click of a button or running through a 30-second map, they'll achieve a shiny new trophy. Granted, games such as Minecraft require an enormous amount of patience and planning.
Variety and novelty are available with new Pokemon coming out every year. New champions come out every month and brand new gaming trends flood the marketplace each day.
I grew up in the 90s and may have been on a device every single day of my childhood whether it be a computer, Gameboy, or Playstation. My parents struggled with the inattentiveness to my school work. Even though I played educational games on the computer like Jumpstart, it was still disconnected from the traditional educational values of my parents. I've come to realize that each generation will be brought up with their unique generational values that the next generation and preceding generation may not necessarily understand. Part of becoming a good parent requires understanding your children.
So What Do I Do?
Find learning opportunities. It may be difficult at times in the midst of your frustrations to see them but try really really really hard. Instead of dismissing games as being childish, try observing the problem-solving skills and creativity your child utilizes while they play.
Promote relationships. Instead of forcing your children to get off their devices to spend time with you, why not make it part of spending time together. You could play games together, watch movies together, or research funny things online. Investing time into your child's interests, helps them to feel valued and in doing so, you've set that example for them. The next time you want to play scrabble or take a walk, you may find that they're more amicable towards that idea.
Build a rich environment. Sometimes the environment a child is in, to be honest, is kinda boring. Children need a balance of stimulation and tranquility. This balance can vary from child to child, but if it's 100 percent on either side, they could turn into a couch potato or the vegetative state of an overly stimulated gamer. If you feel that your home isn't stimulating enough, get plugged into a community of self-directed learning like Makarios Community School. At MCS there are plenty of times when we relax and have conversations, and other times we're venturing through creeks in search of edible plants.
It is so important to understand your children and their needs to create healthy relationships with them. Belittling them or dismissing their interests is one of the worst things you can do. But if you're actively working towards cultivating a good relationship with your children, then you may not end up in a nursing home after all :P.
Alt Ed Director