Last summer I reached out to my internet buddy and running-mom extraordinaire Colleen Martin and beseeched her to impart some of her wisdom as a seasoned boy mom in the tech era. She’s not super seasoned as in old, mind you, but she is super seasoned as in holy 6 boys, batman! And one sweet girl sandwiched in the middle.
I’m bookmarking my own blog here to reference in a few short years when my kids reach phone hankering age (let’s be honest though, despite attending a low tech classical Catholic school with zero screens permitted among the student body, our 8 year old is already badgering us for a phone. Oy.)
Colleen, thanks so much for sharing how your family handles screens:
Jenny asked me to write this post awhile ago, before summer had even started, but I think having waited this long and made it through another summer (aka screen season) has given me more food for thought to write this now. So I guess procrastination does pay off sometimes!
But not when it comes to family rules about screen times.
It’s never too early to discuss expectations, set rules, and enforce them even if it means being the mean parent. I recently came across this quote:
Scary, isn’t it? These times we live in are full of screens. (Screen time, just to clarify, for us, is tv, movies, video games, tablets, computers and phones…anything with a screen.) It’s called social media because it’s literally how kids (and adults) have social lives. Gone are the days of bike riding through the neighborhood and ending up sleeping over at some friend’s house. We may feel like we can’t let our kids be kids like we were because of all the terrible and disgusting stories of abuse we hear from the people we trust most, that we have to keep them safe and a lot of time that means indoors … and if your kids are anything like mine, indoors = boredom = asking for screens. That’s the hardest part about summer, I think, the perpetual boredom unless we take them somewhere to do something. So we are a little more lax on the amount of time our children can be on screens, as long as they have been active for most of the day. Phil and I like to relax at the end of a long, busy day by watching a little TV, and I’m fine with my kids doing the same. We all need some downtime, ya know?
We have some great (pretty strict) screen rules during the school year for our kids:
Any school-aged kid gets ZERO screen time during the school week.
On weekends, they can have individual screen time during the baby’s nap time and then at night, we will let them watch a movie/tv show together.
The little preschool guys get a half hour show each evening, after dinner and bath time, and it’s something completely preschool appropriate.
The bigger kids can usually be found watching this with the little kids, but I’m cool with letting them all sit together if they want to see the same episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for the 17th time. We always say it’s time for a “little kid show” and make sure it’s nothing any of the school-aged kids would ever choose for themselves, though I often hear them trying to convince the 2 year old to pick Spongebob or Power Rangers. Umm, no, but nice try! We are not monsters and do allow exceptions to every rule when it comes to things like important sports games on tv, etc. The kids know what the standard rule is and enjoy the occasional treat.
Little kids are easy to deal with when it comes to screens. Just don’t give them free access to it. Be in control and get them into a good routine. Decide what you want to do for your family and that becomes the norm. There are going to be seasons in family life when the kids have more screen time due to whatever else is going on at home (illness, sports schedules, travelling, new baby, etc.) and as much as I have wanted the ideal screen time rules, flexibility is key to not feeling discouraged. There’s not one right way for every family, and little kids = little problems so they are a good “trial run” for what comes ahead.
Tweens and Teens, that’s what comes ahead. (And they are awesome!)
The hard part of policing screens in our house comes when they are tweens and teens. Our kids all go to school and are involved in tons of sports and lessons (which is also helpful in keeping them active and off screens). Because of this busy family life we lead, once a child reaches the age of 13, they become a babysitter. Since we have no home phone, this also means the 13 year old gets their own cell phone. With this phone comes a whole new set of rules (I swear we are fun parents, we just are really trying to get these kids to heaven!) We buy them an inexpensive smartphone but then make it dumb. Ha! We want our kids to be able to call, text, and have some apps on their phone, but we don’t give them any data so that they can only have internet access while at home on Wifi and we don’t give them our Wifi password. We also make all phones “live” on the kitchen counter, and they are never allowed to bring their phones upstairs.
My kids are far from perfect (like their mother) and get their phones taken away for any violations. The removal of individual screen time is actually a go-to punishment in our house, that way the kids lose the choice of what to watch/play but the parents aren’t punished because we can still put on a family movie when everybody just needs some chill time and forced family bonding.
Once our kids go to the Catholic high school, they are required to have a laptop because most of their books are electronic now. So not only are they reading textbooks online, but they are also writing their papers online, using Google Classroom, taking notes in class on their laptops, and communicating with teachers via the internet. It’s a whole new world and a whole new set of worries for parents. I can’t say “You’ve been on your laptop for three hours, get off!” because he is just doing his homework and studying. (But also fooling around and watching a dumb youtube video here, googling a sports score there, you get it.) As it is with adults, it’s hard for teens to stay focused on the task at hand (homework) when you have the whole wide world at your fingertips. So how do we try to watch everything they’re doing online?
I’ve written about why we started using Covenant Eyes before, but it has been a real lifesaver for us. It’s a tool that allows parents oversee what their children (and each other if desired) are doing online without actually having to stand over their shoulders. t’s a tool that opens the door for communication and also blocks dangerous sites. Kids just log in to Covenant Eyes before they can get online, and it tracks their usage, and sends a weekly report to the account user (the parents). Sometimes I dread opening the report on Tuesday morning to find out my teen has been watching dumb YouTube videos at 9 pm when he said he was studying, but honestly I’d rather know about his mistakes then have no clue what he’s doing online. At least this way, he knows he’s being checked in on, and that alone is an easy way for him to avoid temptation.
I definitely dragged my feet on this for too long, not wanting yet another issue to have to think about, but when one of our tweenage kids googled an inappropriate word on the iPad, we knew it was time to take the plunge. The monthly subscription for a family is $15.99, and even less for an individual or couple. It’s so much easier to never get hooked on pornography than to try and break the habit, and we want to give them their best chance at fighting that battle. Covenant Eyes gives them the freedom to be online while also helping them make good choices, and that’s priceless once you have kids on screens so often. Perhaps I should work in their Sales Department because I love them so much!
I feel that just like every parent, we are constantly trying to evaluate the new social media tools and keep up with current internet trends while also helping our kids get to Heaven. We don’t allow a few things that we feel can easily cause trouble, like sleepovers, hanging out at people’s homes we don’t know, and being online without supervision. We’re just doing our best to keep them safe and happy and holy, and our screen rules are part of the process. Like I said before, starting with screen rules when they’re young is easy, but it’s important, because it sets ground rules for the rest of their lives. Will they binge on video games while at a cousin’s house? Yup. Will they find disturbing images online when they’re at college. Of course. I can’t worry about all the possible scenarios that might occur, I’d go crazy.
I know they are human and all I can do is try to make them the best humans I can while they are under my roof. Lots of love and fun and freedom comes alongside rules and chores and boundaries. Communication is key and the ability to have fun together is huge as well. We try to be Yes parents whenever we can, so that our Nos are serious enough to be understood.
You need to decide what is important in your home, and start setting the ground rules now.
Don’t be afraid to go against the culture if it means raising quality adults, that’s literally our job.
Screens aren’t evil, so find a system that works for you and hopefully I’ve been able to share some good tips and tricks. I don’t have all the answers (I haven’t even had a college kid yet!) and I don’t pretend to. I’m just over here trying to raise good kids to survive this present world and to one day make it to heaven in the next, same as you.