Jan 1, 2024
I believe that screentime is not a one-size-fits-all issue. Families with different values will have different rules – and that’s a good thing!
However, there are traits that I see consistently in families who have the screentime thing figured out. Previously, we covered why embracing “Good Enough” is important, why changing with baby steps is more sustainable, and why integrating family values is essential. To read more about these traits, check out my previous blog article.
Here are a few more of the common habits I see often in Tech-Intentional™ families:
Habit #1: Avoid Comparing Yourself with Others
Social media increases our fear of missing out or FOMO. But it also increases our concern that other families might be doing things better than we are.
Keeping up with the family next door is hard enough. Keeping up with all the “Joneses” on Instagram is impossible. Worrying about what other parents and families are doing increases our anxiety.
I often say, “Twitter before bed messes with your head”-- doomscrolling through social media before bed never helps anyone sleep better. As the saying goes, “Don’t let comparison be the thief of joy.” Modified to reflect our increasingly digital lives, we might now say, “Don’t let that one parent on Instagram make you feel bad about your kid’s non-monochromatic birthday party.”
We aren’t going to do the same thing as other families. That’s okay. Celebrate the differences, and reinforce why your family does things the way you do.
Habit #2: Take It Slow and Steady
In a TEDx Talk titled “Children and Media,” screentime expert and pediatrician Dr. Dimitri Christakis discusses how the pacing of children’s television programming has changed significantly during the past few decades.
Many parents of my generation grew up with Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (you can still watch reruns of these classic children’s shows on YouTube– it’s fascinating to look back!). As Christakis points out, the pace of an old Mister Rogers episode feels painfully slow today, but it is developmentally the pacing a young child needs.
Today, children’s shows, by contrast, move much quicker, jumping between scenes and characters with rapid-fire dialogue and flashing images and colors. Christakis points out that when children engage with this faster-paced media for long enough, they expect the real world to move at that pace too. And when it doesn’t, they are bored.
As I’ve expressed before, boredom is an opportunity. But, as Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting and a former professor of mine from grad school, has noted, in our tech-saturated world, we start to shift the environment to fit our children’s need for speed rather than slowing the environment down so that they can take the time they need to process information in a way that matches their development.
This makes managing screentime even more difficult.
So instead of allowing tech-based media to shape our children’s and our own realities, we may have to make different choices about how we fill afternoons and weekends, say no more than we say yes, and build tech-free downtime into our schedules. This will allow us to adapt to our children’s changing needs as they develop on their timeline – not your streaming device’s timeline.
Habit #3: Delay, Delay, Delay
If you are still in the early stages of parenting or if you are wondering what the next steps are in getting children smart devices, let me share one comment that parents who’ve crossed that threshold never tell me:
“I wish I had given my child a smartphone or social media sooner.”
Not a single parent has told me this. It is always the opposite.
“I wish I had waited. I wish I had known then what I know now.”
If you’re the parent of older children, you can share this message with those who have yet to hand over those devices or make the social media leap. And if you’re the parent of younger children, ask those who’ve gone before you: “What do you wish you had known when you were in my position?”
Becoming Tech-Intentional™ is child-specific and development-dependent. What works for one family will not necessarily work for other families. But we all want to see our children grow, mature, and develop skills that will help them manage the inevitable stress that comes with having unlimited access to the internet and social media.
Setting them up for healthy maturing and skill-building means starting when our kids are young. That’s because, from a big-picture perspective, childhood is brief—as the mother of a high schooler, I can certainly attest to the adage, “The days are long, but the years are short.”
What children need most are loving relationships with adults they trust, safe places to play outdoors, and opportunities to engage in creative play with other children—at all ages. Through these experiences, they will build skills and resilience to better prepare for a future with digital devices—not through early access to or use of technology.