Not long ago, over the Christmas holidays, I felt bombarded with posts and articles, blog posts and Insta stories criticising parents who allow daily screen time. Or regular screen time. Or screen time in the morning, or the afternoon, or the evening. They all seemed to be telling me that I need to rein in my kids’ viewing habits, minimise their digital lives and reassert my parental role in curbing their screen use.
I’ve read so many articles from both sides of the debate and I understand the implications. I don’t want my girls glued to a screen 24/7/365.
And of course I am not talking about toddlers or babies here. Our girls are all aged between 5-16.
I equally understand and respect that we live in a digital age. Heck, right at this moment in time our family’s income is solely earned online!
Interestingly the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) published their latest research in January 2019, which found that there is a “lack of evidence that suggests that screen time is actually detrimental to your child’s health”.
As a result of their research, they found that four key questions were better indicators of successful screen use in families:
1. Is screen time in your household controlled?
2. Does screen use interfere with what your family want to do?
3. Does screen use interfere with sleep?
4. Are you able to control snacking during screen time?
Great questions, I’m sure many of you will agree!
I don’t cite this article as a cover all for unlimited, unstructured, unsupervised screen time being allowed to absorb every other part of family life. I simply share it as an example of the way research is being carried out into 21st century screen use.
But do you know what?
I love screens!
I love watching tv. I love movies. I love connecting with people online, learning from people on social media. I rely on using a laptop to earn my salary.
As an introvert, online connections are amazing and somehow way less draining than face to face interactions.
As an adopter, digital friendships have sustained us these last four years. We simply wouldn’t be where we are today without learning from the amazing online adoption community.
As a parent, the internet both terrifies me and excites me. The pitfalls may be huge, but the opportunities are immense.
As a digital contractor, I love the convenience, learning opportunities and growing skill set that my job both offers and requires.
As a blogger, the internet offers me both a place to share and a place to absorb the stories of others.
As a hands on, face to face learner, I value, for example, being able to learn Mandarin from a real live native speaker, teaching me through my computer screen, correcting my pronunciation and laughing with me about how similar and yet how different our lives are.
I love that my own children are fascinated by my job.
I love that they understand that they can do anything, start over or totally change direction. Be that online or offline.
I love that we are creating ground rules within our family, in order to help each other monitor and use wisely our time in front of a screen.
I love that they are beginning to understand the opportunities afforded to them by this digital age.
I also love and appreciate that they understand that screens are only one part of our lives. That they will also require other skills to survive!
Creators, not simply consumers
My girls attend online classes that would not be so easily available to them in the outside world. They are also learning how to create online, be that using words or images or code.
This digital world is not going away. Nor is the physical world. So what is so wrong with maximising our learning and finding our own balance between the screen and the outdoors?
My Mum always used to tell me that everything in moderation is a good thing.
I am of a generation that did not have free access to computers in school. I predate the Internet! But I am loving learning how to make this digital behemoth work for me. How to give, as well as gain from this online beast. How to withdraw when I need to, but maximise my online presence accordingly.
So how do we manage screens in the Six house?
1. No screens in bedrooms. Any of the screens that we own are only used downstairs in the main communal areas of the house. We operate on a trust basis beyond that. We’re also fortunate that we effectively have two living room spaces, with a fairly open plan kitchen/dining room in between.
We have a charging dock (similar to this one) in our main central room downstairs that all of the devices in our house (except our two mobile phones) charge in, both during the day and overnight. This helps to keep us all accountable about where the devices are and ensures that we can see clearly that all devices are away and charging when they are meant to be.
2. Mobile phones. Our two older girls both have their own (new to us) smartphone that we set up for them around the time when they turned eleven. They have a phone contract each that James created, that outlines the expectations that we have about them and their phone. Their passwords are ones that we set and they know that we can (and do) look at their phones and messages at any time. They have no access to google or the internet on their phones. They have no social media accounts, which they are currently not even bothered about. Their phones are switched on at 8am and off at 8pm.
3. Tablets. Our younger two girls both have a Kindle Fire. These are locked down and again only for use downstairs. They have access to educational games and content, as well as the more run of the mill games. They don’t have set time that they are allowed each day, or that they have to earn. They have access to their tablets between 8am and around 7pm.
4. Conversation. We talk to them about the realities of the internet. About its power and potential, but also about its darker side. About the reality that not everything or everybody is what or who they seem. We work hard to keep communication open. We sit down together every so often to review how things are going, to check up on how they’re feeling about their apps and their online interaction with their friends.
5. Mistakes. We accept that there will be mistakes, errors of judgment and rule breaking. Our kids are not saints. They will make mistakes, just as we did (and still do). They will see things they wish they hadn’t. And they will learn lessons the hard way. Our hope and prayer is that by working within the framework that we currently have in place, we will be able to mop up the mess alongside them and support them to move on and learn from each opportunity.
Ultimately it comes down to choice
We will never get rid of all our screens.
We won’t demand they come off screens immediately without warning. It would really tick me off if someone walked in and took my laptop off me without warning! Or counted to three and then turned off the tv in the middle of the programme I’m watching 😉
Of course there are consequences to online misdemeanours. Where a line has been overstepped, or a rule broken, then there will be a clearly related consequence.
Sure, we love to get out and about. We love to walk, go to the beach, ride our bikes together and have adventures. Of course we do.
We have a house full of books that we read. Lots.
But screens are here to stay. And we’re ok with that.
We are not perfect and we do not have this nailed! We will get it wrong. We do have to work stuff through at times. But we are working hard and trying systems that are (so far) working for our family.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic! We’re all unique and our families are made up of different personalities with such a wide range of likes and dislikes. What works for you or your family?
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