As Millennial parents, my husband and I have grappled with the issue of moderating screen time for ourselves and our children. Whether we want to admit it or not, technology is inescapable, but that’s all the more reason to take seriously our responsibility to facilitate the safe use of screens and tech while our kids are under our roof.
This issue is so important to Dave and me that we’ve even incorporated some of the concepts below into our new book by EWTN Publishing, The Prayer Book for Tired Parents: Practical Ways to Grow in Love of God and Get Your Family to Heaven. It’s part of a larger strategy to regain control of family life, raise holy kids in a secular world, and experience God’s peace in our homes.
Are your kids getting too much tech?
Ask yourself these five questions:
Objectively, how much time are they using TV, tablets, computers, phones? Experts have consistently warned that too much screen time contributes to poor sleep quality, sedentary habits, and behavioral issues. I’m not going to argue against that at all, and I don’t think anyone would. Chances are, if you think your children have exceeded the generally accepted screen limits, it’s too much.
Am I using it as a crutch? Look, as a mom who’s been working full-time from home for nearly seven years, I get it. The TV can be a lifesaver during Zoom meetings, conference calls, and tight deadlines. But if you’re anything like me, you find there’s a temptation to leave the screens on a little bit longer – “Just one more show so I can get ahead on this project …” “I really need to finish this task while they’re quiet…” Sound familiar? If so, it’s too much.
Can I keep track of what they’re watching? Secular TV writers are getting bolder when it comes to sneaking in mature and downright ungodly references. Even well-intended Christian shows are guilty of preaching heresy, and we’ve had to turn them off. If you can’t stay apprised of what your kids are watching, it’s too much.
Are they showing signs of addiction? There was a time when my children shared a tablet – notice how that’s past tense? Even with firmly held “time limits,” limited apps, and no internet connectivity, my children were not ready for a tablet. How did I know? When the time limit came on (locking the screen so they couldn’t continue playing), or when it was time to pass the game to the next sibling, my mild-tempered children would erupt into terrible fits of rage. They would turn into what can only be described as “monsters.” When we took away the tablet “until further notice,” the fits persisted for several days, as though they were going through withdrawal. If your kids have visceral reactions to putting away technology, it’s too much.
Have they lost interest in other toys and activities? Anecdotally, there’s a negative correlation between screen time and the appeal of formerly beloved toys, in that, the more time kids spend on technology, the less interesting other stuff becomes. If you notice dust collecting on your kids’ belongings (literally or figuratively) while they’re absorbed in screen time, it’s too much.
So what do you do when you realize your kids are getting too much tech time?
Here are some practical strategies for taking back control of technology in your home, which you’ll find apply to EVERY member of the household, and not just the kids:
Do a “tech detox” – EVERYONE can stand to spend less time with screens during the day. Commit to putting away phones during meals, recreation, and after a certain hour in the evening.
Use it only as a “tool” – Technology is inescapable, but that doesn’t mean it has to control us. As part of the “tech detox,” commit to only using it as a tool instead of entertainment. For example, my daughter is in first grade, and we are instructing her on use of different technology – she uses our laptop to navigate the design software for our Cricut Maker; she can do some basic functions on my iPhone (in case of an emergency, she needs to know how to unlock my phone to call my husband or 911); and we’re giving her basic typing lessons. Recognizing its proper order in the home will decrease everyone’s dependence and will allow us to model for our children a healthy relationship with technology and screens.
Fiercely moderate TV shows, apps, and time spent – In The Prayer Book for Tired Parents, we explain that TV is not bad in and of itself, but it should not come at the expense of our spiritual lives and time spent together as a family. We have greatly restricted our kids’ TV options (pre-screened DVDs; EWTN Kids; specific educational videos on YouTube; and three shows on a specific Christian Kids streaming platform) and the time they are allowed to watch. They know the specific blocks of time they can watch TV, and when I say the time is up, the time is up.
Rekindle their love of toys – When we originally pulled back on screen time, I heard “I’m bored! There’s nothing to do!” about 8,000 times a day for the first week. Now, it’s amazing how my kids have rediscovered so many of their long-lost toys, books, and activities! To help with this process, I re-organized (“rotated”) the toys to call attention to ones they haven’t played with in a while. There are books in nearly every room of the house, and each kid has a “library” (small bookshelf) in their rooms. My first grader has developed a voracious appetite for reading, and all of them have blossoming imaginations (as I’m writing this, they’re playing “saints,” raiding their closets so they can dress as “saints who love Jesus in the Eucharist,” as they say). Turning off the TV has turned on their creativity, and it can do the same for your kids.
Engage with your kids – By slashing screen time, our family has experienced the freedom to love each other like never before. Our kids invite us to play with them; we do crafts together; they help us cook meals; we go to Daily Mass and adoration more frequently; and we can enjoy quiet time reading, praying, and talking together. Our kids now spend more time in family prayer than they do in front of the screen, and we all are better for it.
Seeing the change in our kids after curtailing technology sometimes makes me regret ever turning it on in the first place. Praise be to God that He’s given us the will and the intellect to get ourselves unstuck from technology and the grip the secular world had on us. He can do the same for you too! For more practical ways to grow in love of God and get your family to heaven, head over to tiredcatholicparents.com.