One of my favorite book series is George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones.” (Yes, I know I’m a huge nerd.) If you’re aware of the story, then you know the ominous words that are uttered by the members of House Stark: “Winter Is Coming.”
I echo the sentiment of that foreboding motto, but would add one word to it: “Winter Break is Coming.”
Don’t get me wrong; I love spending the holidays with my family. However, after the stratospheric highs have been reached, we enter what I call the “holiday hangover” period. The kids are worn out from festivities. Boredom sets in, the bickering begins, and then the inevitable battles over screen time.
I remember the first time we took our kids to the Apple Store. Without any prior instruction, they instinctively understood a gentle swipe of their finger could make a screen come to life. Most of our kids won’t remember a time when smartphones and social networks didn’t exist. I know some parents bemoan the advent of this technology, but I firmly believe these devices and social platforms have the potential to enhance our existence for the better.
Having said that, I do have concerns about the amount of time my kids spend on electronic devices. I certainly don’t believe in an all-out ban of screen time, and I am constantly working to find an appropriate balance. This is easier said than done, since there’s no clear-cut answer either way.
Documentation & Photo Sharing
It’s hard to believe, but four of my children were born well before the era of widespread smartphone/social media use. As such, the photo collections of my 13-, 11- and 8-year-old boys as infants are very limited. My daughter was born in 2007, when iPhones were still new, so we don’t have many more of her in early infancy.
Conversely, I have hundreds of photos and videos of my now 9-month-old. With my phone at my fingertips, I am able to capture adorable images anytime, anywhere and text them to family members almost every day. My mother-in-law has printed several of our Instagram photos and has them framed around her house. This is social media & smartphone use at its best—enhancing connections with family and friends.
Creativity & Learning
“If kids are in front of screens all the time, they don’t play or interact with their peers!”
Not so in our house. My oldest son has found boundless avenues of creativity because of his devices. He’s downloaded several filmmaking apps on his iPad Mini and has spent countless hours creating stop motion animations & “TV shows” with complex storylines. He has written scripts and built props & costumes. He has budgeted allowance money for building materials and has spent time scouting specific filming locations around town. He has collaborated with friends and younger siblings to perform in his productions.
I especially love the very first video he created. It was a school assignment based on “The Tao of Pooh.” Instead of writing a traditional book report, he put together a short stop-motion animation distilling the message of the book.
Minecraft is Cool!
My kids are so obsessed with this game I decided I needed to learn more about it. I asked them to walk me through the basics.
I learned there is no such thing as the basics when it comes to Minecraft. My tired old brain could only manage five minutes in Creative Mode before I turned it over to the youngsters. They had a blast leading me through the various “worlds” they had created, and I was impressed by the intricacies of their digital landscapes.
Peace & Quiet
Childcare is very hard to come by for our family, and as such I don’t often get a break. Sometimes I desperately need the guaranteed peace and quiet these devices allow. When the voices of guilt start in my head (“You’re a bad mom, using the iPad as a babysitter! Your kids should be able to entertain themselves the old-fashioned way!”) I remind myself that it’s far more damaging for my kids to have an emotionally fried, exhausted mom on the brink of a meltdown. If extra screen time buys me more sanity or a few minutes of rest, then so be it.
Distraction & Addiction
“Hey! Stop texting and pay attention to me!”
This is a frequent reprimand issued to ME, by my 8-year-old.
I admit my husband and I don’t set a great example with this one. If I don’t have my phone, I feel like a part of me is missing. Remember all those adorable photos I have of my baby? Sometimes in my haste to capture all those moments, I realize I’m actually missing the moments as they happen. I make a conscious effort to shut my phone off and focus on just being present with him.
Minecraft drives me nuts!
The fights. Oh, the fights Minecraft causes in our house. First it’s the injustice of someone getting to play longer. Then there’s the shocking discovery that someone has been interloping in his or her private world. Or, the most egregious, terrible, Minecraft-related crime—someone has gone in their world and MESSED STUFF UP. Cue me having to swoop in before someone needs stitches.
Setting Boundaries is Tough
I tried this summer. I really did. And I will try again during winter break.
“Turn the devices in after lunch!” That’s the rule I try to enforce.
It works maybe two or three times. (See above under “Peace & Quiet.”)
Regardless of your feelings about smartphones and social networking, there’s no doubt they’re here to stay. This certainly isn’t the first time in history parents have worried about how new technology will impact the next generation. Ultimately, you have to do what’s best for your family.
How does your family manage screen time? Do you have any special rules you follow, or boundaries you set?