Parenting

Common Sense Screen Time Tips for Kids and Parents

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One can only imagine how that conversation between the two boys went. Maybe something like, “I’ll chop a tunnel, and you reach in and grab him!”  The older boy, obviously the more responsible of the two, wielded the axe at the fallen tree where a mouse was trying to make his escape. It was his five-year-old little brother’s job to clear the wood chips out of the way. Then they could expose and grab the varmint.

The problem was clearly in their rhythm. Chop. Clear. Chop. Clear. Chop. Without warning their timing reversed.

Clear. Chop. In that instant my grandfather’s first two fingers were gone. Severed forever.

He always chuckled when he told that story to curious, wide-eyed grandchildren. Although, never once did he include the horror he must have felt seeing his fingers lying in a carved out old tree. Neither did he recount the frantic run the two barefoot boys made back to a house without 9-1-1.

Ah, the good old days when children had all day to play outside.

I, on the other hand, was among the first generation to grow up in front of a screen, Even though it was a black and white television with bunny ear antennas, it could keep a child in one spot for as many hours as an iPad.

Screens have been mesmerizing us since the 1930s. I’m sure there were families that kept to the family dinner table. Mine however, had more modern leanings. We had TV trays. I could spend my entire dinner hour watching a new episode of Gilligan’s Island, Green Acres, or my personal favorite, The Monkees. The only real danger our parents feared with the new technology was the fact that we could go blind sitting too close to the television screen. Which they warned us of repeatedly.   

Personally, I don’t have a problem with technology. It’s not good or evil. It will not ruin children’s lives or make them fat. Technology, like anything else, has to be viewed for what it is — exactly what you allow it to be in your life and in the lives of young children. It can be harmful or it can be a wonderful tool to build family relationships.

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I hear mothers fearing the impact of this new technological age, concerned it will harm their children’s ability to interact with humans. It can. That is true. If parents spend too much time with their faces in phone screens, children will suffer. A child has to be taught to prefer a screen over actual interaction.

Children are hardwired to connect with people, particularly their parents. They seek out mom’s face. It’s hard to be the epicenter of someone’s existence and it is exhausting to be needed every waking moment. We’re usually the ones who need to get away. We look for diversions.

When a child needs or just wants you, and you replace yourself with any object–a pacifier, a soft-blanket, or a toy–you are deflecting not only his attention but also his affection to an object. He will develop strong feeling for that object. I’m not saying anyone is wrong for doing it. I’m pointing out what happens everyday, whether we realize it or not.

It buys you time to do necessary things like drive, go to the store, or even go to work, but there is a price to pay. Ask any parent that has lost, or forgotten a security blanket, or left home on vacation without a pacifier. This quickly becomes a nightmare scenario.

What to do? Make rules. Set boundaries, beginning with yourself. Don’t use your phone to keep them quiet in a store, restaurant, or car if you don’t have a lot of meaningful interaction throughout the day. If they are begging for the screen rather than you, it could be a sign they’ve had too much of it.

This is not the first generation to grow up with its face planted in a screen, but it is the first generation to grow up with FaceTime and Skype– and I’m loving it.

Technology has allowed me to connect with babies that live far away. It’s given me the opportunity to develop good relationships, face to face, even though we’re miles apart. I’ve gotten tours of two-year-olds’ bedrooms, admired a new dress, and cheered for a lost tooth. It’s allowed me to give much needed sympathy for a skinned knee.

The same axe that chopped my grandfather’s fingers off was the same axe used on a daily basis throughout the summer to split the wood needed to keep their family warm the following winter.

Unlike my grandfather, children today don’t need to learn how to use an axe. It’s not a part of their everyday lives — but technology is.

Having several screens in the house is no more dangerous than having a drawer full of knives in the kitchen or an axe outside. The difference is that parents fully understand the benefits and dangers of a sharp edge and only grant access when it benefits the child, not the parent. They need to use the same discernment with technology.

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