It’s Saturday and you know it’s an ideal day to ride bikes together, or visit that new museum the kids have been talking about. But the day gets off to a slow start. The kids flip on the TV after breakfast and you end up watching a movie. After three hours of watching television, you feel lethargic and it seems like way too much work to get everyone out the door.
What happened to your Saturday?
Your plans for a great day out got hijacked by the convenience of staying in. The remote control was just seconds away but the new museum was a whole twenty miles away. Turning on screens – whether it’s the phone, computer, tablet, or TV – has become a default activity for many families. It requires no extra effort and is as ingrained as brushing one’s teeth in the morning.
Maybe your weekend is too packed with activities and sports for hours of TV watching. But on weeknights, instead of reading together or doing a family activity, each member of the family retreats to their own gadgets to be entertained or catch up on social media.
Have you ever heard the phrase, environment is stronger than willpower?
That’s true when it comes to eating (it’s hard to have willpower in a bakery) and it’s also true when it comes to screen time. If we say to our kids, “We should not spend so much time on screens,” but we have screens accessible from any room in the house, we are setting our kids up to fail.
It’s awfully hard to resist play a favorite video game when the tablet is just two feet away on the countertop. It’s like trying to resist eating sweets with a big plate of freshly baked cookies sitting on the table in front of you. That kind of tempting environment would quickly drain a person’s self-control, regardless of willpower.
One way you can help your child practice self-control with screens is by creating digital free zones in the home. Here are a few ideas to choose from:
Make your child’s bedroom a digital free zone. Don’t place a television in your child’s room. Collect all devices such as phones and tablets at nighttime for safekeeping. Set a time such as 7:30 p.m. to gather up all portable electronics. Be purposeful to do this for one month; after that time period, it will become an automatic habit that is easy to perform for the whole family.
No phones or screens allowed during mealtimes. Family meal time is a powerful time to regularly connect emotionally with your child. Don’t allow digital distractions like answering a text or watching a television show in the background rob your family of this quality time. If your child is in school, they are probably spending more hours a day away from you than with you. With limited time in each day, meal time with your family becomes even more important.
Car rides are for conversation, not for ear buds, movies or video games. How many times have you seen parents in the front seat of a car and children in the backseat either watching a screen or using ear buds? That commute is a gift – time alone with your child in a busy world – don’t waste it by letting your children zone out with their devices. Use your drive to talk about the day. Or you can turn your car into a mobile university by listening to audio books or podcasts together that would be a positive influence. My family has thoroughly enjoyed audio books about missionaries like Bruchko by Bruce Olson and God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew.
Schedule your child’s free time with non-screen activities. Every day your child can engage in healthy activities such as play time, reading time, homework time, conversation time, and physical activity. If your child doesn’t participate in a sport, make sure to set aside time for outdoor play. If that’s not possible in your neighborhood, you can create an indoor gym with stations for jumping jacks, push-ups, sit ups, etc. Insist on a daily reading time and get your child books from the library that will interest him or her. If kids can get in the daily routine of reading, doing homework, playing, and exercising, then screen time can be scheduled in to become a part of their life, but not the main part.
What digital free zones and times have worked well in your family?
Based on the book Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World by Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane.
Arlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Wife. She has been featured on the Today Show, Family Life Today, K-LOVE, and The Better Show. She lives in San Diego with her husband James and three children. Visit Arlene at www.ArlenePellicane.com for free family resources including a monthly Happy Home podcast.
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