I’ve got enough working against me to let this one be a problem, too. Check out these tips to limit screen time and get kids to obey.
She was probably about 4. I watched as her grandma pulled her into the restaurant and sat her at the table. Grandma opened the tablet and started a game before heading to the line. It was a Wednesday afternoon and Firehouse Subs wasn’t really all that busy. Grandma waited behind one person, ordered, and then sat down. Their food was delivered about two minutes later and that was when the scene got ugly.
In an effort to limit screen time and enjoy their lunch together, Grandma took the tablet away and the little girl let out a squeal that I’m sure could be heard down the street. “I was playing with that!” She spat at the poor lady. “Your food is here. Don’t you want to eat?” her grandma desperately pleaded. “Not now,” she barked back.
The rest of the lunch went much like you would expect. Grandma gave the tablet back and ate her lunch while the kid’s meal sat untouched.
Now before we jump to any conclusions, I won’t even pretend to know the circumstances of this little girl’s life and what could be behind Grandma’s motives to allow her to behave that way. Her daddy might have left her mom the day before. Or perhaps her parents were killed in a tragic car accident. Perhaps there are some special needs that I am not aware of. As parents (and grandparents) there are sometimes situations that lead us to overlook behavior.
I would never judge based on the observations made from afar. But it did make me think about what electronics are doing to my own parenting. It made me think of how I limit screen time (or sometimes don’t limit it enough).
Maybe you are like me and purposely avoided video games from the beginning, but somehow never considered the “tablet” a danger. I have to admit that it seems silly now, but at first it just didn’t come across as a big deal. I didn’t spend much time thinking about it. They seemed like a great idea.
The longer we’ve had these little tablets, the peskier they have become. They cause fights among siblings, create some sort of “selective hearing vacuum” for the user, and that’s just the beginning.
So the question seems fair. Why should we limit screen time? And how do we even do it without constant battles?
Why Limit Screen Time
Electronics lead to disobedience.
Have you ever told a child to do something and gotten this response: “In a minute… I need to finish this level”? If you let your kids play video games or small electronic devices, then I know you have. On the surface, it doesn’t seem all that harmful. They just asked for an extra minute, right? But it doesn’t usually end up this way. We find ourselves hollering again several times in the minutes that follow. Trust me, I’m guilty too.
The trouble is, these subtle little times of disobedience snowball into that nasty “teenage beast” that we are all trying to avoid. It doesn’t happen all at once, but these electronic devices begin to seep into all areas of our kids’ lives. One day we wake up and realize that somewhere between Minecraft and Madden, we gave up our most important job as parents – teaching our kids to obey!
Electronics lead to addictions and an even deeper loss of self-control.
Once, when my youngest child (age 5 at the time) was out of town, he called to say hello. While we were talking he asked me if I would grab his iPad and check on his dragons because if he didn’t feed them, they would die. I’ll admit, it was cute and funny.
But it once again reminded me of the goal of the app developers. They aren’t seeking to just entertain my child while I am sitting in the doctor’s office or driving on a long trip. They are aiming for that “can’t-put-this-game-down” syndrome. And they have succeeded. Here my son was, far away from the house, and all he could think about was feeding those imaginary dragons.
If you think I’m being a little overdramatic here, consider Candy Crush or Farmville from years ago. I’ve actually had many adult friends who have canceled their Facebook pages because they couldn’t stop playing these games and it was affecting their ability to parent.
Trust me, this is exactly the intention of the game makers. Well, not so much the limiting screen time part. They want people to play non-stop at any cost to themselves. Just think for a second about the message this sends to our kids regarding what is important in life and how to resist temptation.
Electronics make us feel entitled.
Yeah, I know that just about any possession can do this, but for some reason, the iPad in our home is the main nemesis. I can’t help but think about the story If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. The mouse just gets a little cookie and before long he is ready to take over the whole house. He can’t get enough and this causes him to lose his place as a guest.
I think electronics have this same impact. Kids get one game and suddenly they are entitled to an entire arsenal of instant entertainment. And it doesn’t stop there. Without limits on screen time, entitlement reigns.
Electronics stifle our thinking.
So I had to throw this one in here just in case you weren’t aware. Researchers have proven time and time again that this type of visual stimulation stifles our thinking. It hinders our ability to sleep well and it has been linked over and over again to hyperactivity in children, as well as lower IQs.
According to Dr. Christakis, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, the rapidly moving images on TV and in video games may rewire the brains of very young children, making it difficult for them to focus on slower tasks that require more thought (Pediatrics, April 2004). And that’s just one of many many studies done on the topic. Just think, if we don’t limit screen time, we may actually be hindering our kids’ intellect!
Electronics cause us to feel as though we must be entertained.
I saved the worst for last. Mostly because this is such an issue in our society. People are walking away from the church in droves because it’s “boring.” Children fail to focus in school and struggle to graduate because it’s, again, “boring.” This is our fault. Ahem. (Yeah, me too.)
For decades we have been increasing the level of “entertainment” given to children. Our toddlers are spending 6-8 hours (or more) in front of a screen because our lives are too full to tend to them. And it’s OK because there are plenty of educational options, right?
Wrong. Just because TV or electronics have educational value does not make them the answer. They quickly cause one or maybe all of the above issues and we are then back at square one. And on top of that, we’ve now taught our children that our primary job as their parent is to entertain them when they are bored or when we think they might be incapable of sitting still.
Oh, I’m so guilty of this and it makes me mad at myself for giving in. Left to themselves, kids can and will find ways to entertain themselves. And their ways are usually so much more profitable, educational, and healthy than an iPad app. As a parent, I greatly desire this for them, which is why I want to limit screen time in a healthy way.
How to Limit Screen Time?
So maybe I’ve convinced you that we need to limit screen time, but the thought of the battle that will ensue with your kids gives you hives. I get it. But these tips, applied consistently, can help our kids learn to set their own limits and battle those pitfalls noted above.
Teach that screens are a privilege. Unloving words or actions means the privilege is taken away. This could be a natural consequence for kids especially if unloving words were said to a sibling while playing the video game or if unloving words were said to you as the parent when you asked for screens to be turned off.
Only allow screens after chores or schoolwork are finished. Setting this expectation up front helps teach the above, that screens are a privilege.
Have kids earn screen time in relation to how much time they spend reading or creating. If we give our kids space to create, they will create. They may build a fort with sticks in the backyard or blankets in the living room. Taking away screens for a specified time of creation or reading is a good exchange for screen time minutes.
Verbalize a daily time limit. Verbalizing to the kids how much time they get on screens each day lets them know the expectation. Once they reach the limit, it’s time to turn it off. Done and done. Sure there’s space for grace, but only if the other expectations have been met and they’ve appropriately asked.
Set time limits on the actual device. Many devices these days have time limits you can set directly on the device. Once the time limit is met, the device stops working without a parental code. Research your child’s particular device to see how to set parental limits.
Have an electronics “lock-box.” This is particularly good for mealtimes. If your child is tempted to bring their device to the table, have a box that all the electronics get put into during the meal. Then you can have a family conversation at the dinner table – a novel idea.
Shut off the internet in your house during certain times of day. This may be the last resort to limit screen time but one option is to turn off the internet in your house. This way, even you won’t be as tempted to scroll the internet.
Use apps or software to help set limits. There are many options on the market to help parents limit and/or control screen time. You could utilize the device’s built-in restrictions settings to create downtime or to block certain sites. You could also use something like Disney’s Circle to help set limits.
The answer seems obvious: All forms of electronics (TV, video games, tablets, and computers) should be VERY carefully limited and monitored. Instead of mindlessly agreeing, as parents, we need to calculate the cost.
I know it’s hard. Kids love their screens (and parents like the peace it gives us). But setting appropriate and thoughtful limits on screen time will help them in the long run. They may even thank you one day.
How do you limit screen time with your kids? I’d love to hear more ideas!
Resource for Teaching Obedience
If you’re struggling with your kids in their obedience, one key is teaching them why they need to obey. Because I Said So is a Bible study for kids that teaches them the why and the how of obedience. Click the image below for all the details.