I have to admit that I often wish my wife and I were raising our children before the digital age – before there were 6+ screens in each home, before people spent 7+ hours in front of a screen each day, before people’s conversations always got interrupted by the cell phone. I’m not at all against digital media, and I realize there have always been difficult areas of parenting, but digital media sure makes parenting tough (especially when “everyone else’s” kids have the best tablet, IPhone, or gaming system)!
On this topic, I’ve mentioned The Digital Invasion before here on the blog. This is an excellent resource for those of us trying to handle digital media in a wise, Christian way. Here’s one helpful section on how to keep a home from being consumed by digital media; in other words, here are some tips on helping avoid screen addiction in the home (I’ve edited them for length and added a few lines of personal observation/notes):
1) Be alert. Watch, listen, learn, and engage with your kids. When your kids are playing video games, watching TV, or engaging in some other digital activity, use these times as teachable moments. Don’t assume your kids are always going to make the right choices when using technology. Be aware of what your kids are doing in front of the screen. Also be alert to signs of too much media use – sleepiness, weight gain, sore necks/backs/wrists, irritability when asked about online habits, etc.
2) Create a safe home environment that makes it easy for your kids to share their concerns, fears, temptations, and experiences in their areas of technological use, even their mistakes. They must know it’s safe to discuss these things with you, and do it regularly.
3) Establish good media habits. Lead the way. Model a Christian perspective and attitude towards media in front of your kids. Don’t be a screen junkie yourself! Media should be a privilege instead of a constant activity that is simply taken for granted. Have your kids get into the habit of asking to use a screen (like they would ask to use matches, dad’s tools, or anything else that might be dangerous or that needs supervision). Take screen time away or limit it when disciplining kids. Contrary to popular beliefs, your 11-year-old is not legally entitled to own a digital device and use it for hours each day!
4) Attach all media to a system of accountability. Location is everything. Keep a common area. Never allow a computer or television in your child’s room. Have good filters, and require your children to share their passwords. You have the authority to look at their screens/tablets/phones, so do that to make sure your child isn’t using the device in a sinful way. Consider times during the week to have a “screen off” period. Also remember to use rating systems on apps, safe search options on YouTube and Google, and IMDB or pluggedin.com for movie reviews.
5) Determine a media diet and stick to it. Discuss this with the entire family, and hold one another accountable. Don’t be afraid to have time limits, and use blocks on devices so during certain times, they cannot use all the functions of the device (e.g. our devices use the Ubehind app which makes it so certain apps are blocked for a certain time).
6) Give your children alternative entertainment activities. Sports, hobbies, board games, and books are just a few of the myriad of nondigital activities that are very healthy for kids (mentally, socially, and physically!). In my family (SL), rather than purchasing an extra laptop, cellphone, or tablet, we used that money to get a small fishing boat, kayak equipment, some camping gear, and sports equipment so the kids had more options of things to do outside.) (see pages 183-184)
These are some helpful ways to keep our Christian homes from overuse, misuse, and unwise use of digital media. If you’re a parent who is growing more and more lenient about your children and their screen time, remember your God-given role and authority, and prayerfully and lovingly begin to “reign in” digital media in your home. It might be a tough job, but it will be good for you and your kids in the long run – spiritually, physically, mentally, and socially.
Here’s the book to help you: The Digital Invasion by A. Hart and S. Hart-Frejd.