Frequently there are articles in my newsfeed regarding children and screen time. How much is too much? What effects does it have? Are we all turning into technological zombies? If our kids look at screens too much, are we setting them up for isolated lives like the character in the movie Her who documents a lonely man living in the future who falls in love with his OS?
I’ll admit, as summer wanes, my restless kids ask for screen time more and more. They always ask for video games first, iPad second and eBooks as a last resort (ha ha). So that’s about the extent of what they use screens for on a daily basis. That and doing their electronic homework.
The biggest screen users in the house really aren’t the kids, though, it’s their dad and me. We use electronic devices for nearly everything we do all day. We don’t get the cookbook out to make dinner, we search for recipes on our phones. We don’t read the newspaper, we read news online. We both worked from home all summer, which meant lots of phone or computer time, whether we were in the house or at the lake or the beach. So the biggest issue I’m facing as a parent is not how much screen time my kids use, it’s how often the kids see their parents staring at screens.
I like to think the trade-off is worth it. We’re home a lot and the kids see us looking at screens quite a bit. The issue isn’t a device separating us from the kids, it’s that they don’t know whether I’m using my phone as a cookbook or a newspaper, an encyclopedia or a pedometer, unless I tell them. So I’ve started periodically telling them what I’m using my phone or computer for, which is no easy feat for a busy, internal processor.
What if smartphones and other devices started conversations instead of putting up walls? I think they can, but I find it takes a lot of work. These days when the kids approach me and there is any kind of screen between us, I try to bring them into what I’m doing. “I’m writing an article.” “I’m emailing a colleague.” I bring them into my world a little bit, so instead of just seeing the back of a screen, they see the full, varied, relational reality of what I’m actually occupied with all day. If I need a block of uninterrupted time to complete a project, I tell them that and shut the door.
Imagine if technology actually brought people together. The Pokemon Go phenomenon has already proven this is possible. Gamers actually will get up out of a chair, leave the house and travel all over town if you give them a reason to (my husband and son are on level 18).
Screens aren’t going anywhere, and they aren’t inherently evil. We have access to all the known information in the world in the palms of our hands, and with a touch-screen no less! I’m committed to finding ways to make these tools work for my family, not against it. It’s my attempt to redeem the screen.
How do you make technology work for your family and not against it?