The slippery slope of smartphones and screen time

Screen time is great! It immediately distracts my kids and gets them to stay still. They love the screen so much that they’ll watch videos in languages they don’t know just to have the right to the screen. For me, when I’m standing in line at the grocery, I can check my emails or run through my grocery list. I can leave work early and be with my kids more often since I have email and text access to stay caught up with the office. It’s so efficient, time is never wasted, and dealing with the kids could never be easier, but. . .

The unfortunate truth

The ugly truth is that I’ve seen my kids become monsters with terrible moods once I remove the screen. I’ve seen them so absorbed in the screen that they can’t see or hear anything that’s going around them. I’ve seen the red, glazed eyes after the screen is switched off.

As for myself, to be on a call with my kids around, I have to shush my kids repeatedly. Writing work emails and texts actually require a significant amount of concentration so that I have to step away from my kids or just plain ignore them since they don’t seem to understand when I tell them that I need to focus for a few moments on my phone. In those moments, I must seem obsessed with my phone and I have to completely disengage with my kids. Working while out with my kids or being “available for work” when I was with them is actually stressful and brings down the quality of my time with them. 

I’m not alone

From my personal experience, I realized that the detriments of screen time outweighed its benefits in my household. Then I saw that I wasn’t alone. An article in The Atlantic pointed out that screen time was enabling “tuned out parents” and that the dangers of screen time ran both ways. The New York Times featured a piece on how even some people who work in the industry of producing smartphones and their apps are wary enough to place very strict rules around their kids’ exposure to screen time. 

My takeaway

It starts with us! Parents on the phone while pushing their kids in the stroller. Reading phones while at sport practices or at the park and playground. We have to learn to put the screens aside as well.

  • At kids’ activities: I’m going to watch my child play, chat with another parent, play with my child, or do some exercises myself! I should be in the moment and pay attention when I can. 
  • If I absolutely have to be on the phone, I’m going to explain to them why it’s so important that I need to be using my phone at that time. 
  • During wait times with bored kids at the restaurant, grocery, or waiting room: I’m not going to use my phone as a first resort. Instead, I’ll play a game with the kids. Have a conversation. Find out about their days. Talk about something interesting. Teach them about something. What did parents do before the age of smartphones? This is an opportunity for kids to practice self-discipline and good behavior. Right, rolling your eyes? I know it’s hard work and I want to tear my hair out too sometimes, but I’ve seen parents do it well – bringing non-screen activities or chatting with kids happily. 

As for the kids’ screen time, we’ve minimized this to almost none. Any screen time is supervised. Other parents will sometimes tell me that their kids spend all their time on the iPad or watching TV and that nothing else will satisfy them while at home since they began allowing screen time. As I mentioned earlier, I found watching Netflix videos, playing video games, and using other phones/tablets to be a slippery slope in my household. Kids were inevitably unhappy when the screen time ended. Their brains and eyes seem fried from the other world that they had been sucked into and their moods were just plain nasty. It happened every time. 

So we removed anything that resembled routine screen time. It was hard at first but then they eventually found other things to do. And we had less tantrums and bad moods to deal with too! As they get into their teens, though, this probably becomes even trickier, but it is worth it to me.

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