The following is a guest post by Valarie Budayr of Jump Into a Book. The topic of kids and screen time seems like the perfect compliment to our 31 Days of Unplugged Play series and I’m looking forward to hearing what Simple Kids readers have to say about balancing screen time in the home. – Kara
Over the past few years I’ve watched the screen debate evolve as families choose between having a “screen-free” or a “screen-filled” home. In our family we’ve carefully chosen what is watched on TV, what Internet sites can be accessed, and enforced a strict “no cellphone until you can drive” policy. Of course, every on-line safety precaution has been taken as well as placing a time-tracker on the family computer.
All of this is fine and good until schools and society started encroaching on my little domestic bubble. Our schools have chosen to embrace technology in a variety of ways from turning in term papers, taking tests, research, and in-school discussions forums.
Our children’s visiting friends come over to our house with a collection of electronic gadgets, and with them come their own rules. My first reaction was to say, “my house, my rules,” but then it dawned on me that the conversation that was not being had was the one about balance.
What does an electronically balanced family look like?
Technology, whether TV, computer, iPad, or cell phone, is a tool and a tool is only as good as the hand that guides it. That hand is only as good as the heart and mind that picks it up as well.
I decided I was tired of feeling like a “screen-cop” so I decided to sit down with my kids and come up with a set of guidelines that we could all agree to. I was really impressed with their perspective and how complete they were in coming up with guidelines for our family.
Photo by Valarie Budayr
Guidelines for Screen-Time:
Get On The Same Page
Begin the talk by discussing with your children why there needs to be limits and talk about computer and Internet safety.
Using computers, TVs, and electronic devices are wwwaaayy down on the priority list and can occur only after homework, music or sports practice, and family time. As one of my children put it, “screen time is a privilege and not a right.”
A point that is really important for my husband and myself is that screen time is often a passive activity. One of our Golden Rules of Home is that screen time must engage our children actively. Programs we value are Mind-craft (on our server), STEM computer activities which engage our children into building robots, airplanes, and creative computer games requesting kids to solve math problems, etc.
Must Add Value
Whether watching a good movie, playing an iPad game, or texting on a cell phone, everything must add value our lives. Is my child learning something? Are they texting for a purpose such as directions or meeting times? Is the screen time creating a problem solving moment such as building a STEM game? Is what they’re doing on the screen purposeful?
A wonderful way to connect with children and their friends is to set up a game night, and play along with them. We have a Wii and love to play the family-friendly games together. We add one half hour to our game nights so everyone gets a couple of turns and then we change the game to an off-screen one. It’s created a nice balance between on-screen and off -screen games.
Cell-phones and Friends
Many of my children’s friends are now carrying cell phones. Before they come to our house, I make sure their parents have our land-line and cell phone numbers in case they should need to speak with their child. Near our front door is the cell-phone basket where everyone’s cell phones are turned off, placed inside, and not retrieved until it’s time for our guests to head home.
Laptops and Friends
Many friends have laptops and iPads and are usually surprised when they are asked to leave them on the shelf inside our front door. It may sound odd, but I feel I have a responsibility to make sure our kids cannot access inappropriate websites at any time. Balanced screen time applies to everyone who enters our home. After the first couple of times visiting, friends begin automatically leaving their computers by the front door or in their backpacks which, to me, shows great understanding and support.
The best guide that we’ve found for balanced screen time is to model the behavior we want to see. One of the most important steps in creating balanced screen time is for your child to watch you turn off your devices. By creating a balance in your own habits you will help create a natural model for your children to pattern their behavior after. We’ve been very conscious to do this in our own home and have seen similar screen usage results in our growing extended family.
I’d love to hear from you: how do you balance screen time in your homes?
Valarie Budayr is mom to 3 uber- creative children, wife to one greatly supportive husband, and owner of 1 adoring cat. She is also the award winning author of The Ultimate Guide to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory enhanced digital e-book for kids. You can find Valarie on her site Jump into a Book where creating family-friendly book activities and adventures is a daily event.