Note From Keri Lyn ~ I just wanted to mention how thrilled I am to have Eileen guest posting this series on the blog! Eileen has been a dear friend for several years. She is an amazing mom and honestly THE very funnest person to visit Disneyland with. I love her passion for protecting our kids and families in social media and I am SO thrilled to have her sharing her expertise here weekly with all of us! Some of these topics are not the easiest, but they are definitely very timely and often eye-opening. I hope you will enjoy this series as much as I do!
This post is the eighth post in this series. Make sure to read Eileen’s other posts: How to Talk to Your Kids About Social Media, Questions to Help Start Social Media Conversations with Your Kids and Eileen’s other Smart Parenting articles here.
It seems screens are everywhere and parents struggle to create healthy limits on technology. We know our kids love social media (and we do, too!), but we also know balance is crucial. We try different ways to keep our kids from getting too much screen time and sometimes we feel we hit the mark. (Hooray! Go parents!)
Other times we feel we might not be doing the right thing, especially when we get judged by other parents, their own strategies, and watchful eyes. Sometimes we even get called out on our efforts by well-meaning “friends.”
The struggle is real!
We try our best and think things are going well, and then a fellow parent tries to take us down a few notches. This happened to me a while ago and I still remember it clearly:
Years ago, I sat at a high school sporting event watching my oldest son on the field. My two younger sons sat near me in the stands. (You can probably get an idea of what was happening: the brothers wanted to be somewhere else, but we all went to the game.) We’re hungry because the event started just a bit too early to get dinner and we’re cold. Any of you love sitting on frigid, hard, metal bleachers while watching kids on a field? Me neither.
Don’t get me wrong. Cheering on my child and the school is awesome, I just wish it could be warmer and more comfortable! But this is what we do as parents -we sit, we watch, we cheer, we support. Parents have done this forever! So we do it.
My youngest asked, “Mom, can I play a game on your phone?”
I answered my standard, “My phone is a tool, not a toy. You can go play on that other field if you don’t want to sit here.”
A friend (Acquaintance? Is that more accurate?) sitting in front of me turned around after hearing my “not a toy” answer and said something like this: “You don’t let your boys play on your phone? Let’s see how long that lasts! How’s that working for you?”
I just laughed with them as they laughed at themselves and let that be my answer. What else was I going to say? But I felt a bit uncomfortable. I felt like maybe my expectations weren’t reasonable. We were hungry. It was cold. My son wanted to be somewhere else. Maybe playing a game could make things more comfortable.
Did I need to change my position on this?
Here’s the thing: I don’t let my kids play on my phone. (Unless I’m really stuck on a level in Candy Crush, then I’ve been known to pass it on to my middle son who seems to have some wildly innate ability to win at all things gaming.) But the big, over-arching rule in our family is I just don’t let my kids use my phone that way.
I know a lot of parents do, and the person who made the comment that day clearly does, but I don’t.
And it’s working out just fine, thank you.
Sure, I have games on my phone and I play them sometimes, so clearly, this makes my phone a toy as well as a tool. It’s just not a toy to keep my children occupied. My children have devices where they play games, but they weren’t allowed to bring them to the game and I wasn’t going to let them use my phone during this time either. It just wasn’t how things were going to happen that evening.
Here’s the thing: I feel setting this limit on my phone removes it as an option in the “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.” situation. My phone isn’t used to entertain or distract my kids. That day at the game my sons went off and played with other friends who were there with their families watching their siblings play. My boys didn’t sit in the stands watching a screen and I think that’s important. Playing warmed them up and we ate dinner later. Problems solved.
Kids need to be comfortable with being a little uncomfortable and okay with that question of “what do I do next?” They need to figure it out instead of automatically reaching for some sort of screen. This exploration and downtime builds their creativity and connection to others and the world around them. It also helps kids become connected to themselves, to who they are, and what they enjoy.
Downtime isn’t something to be avoided, but instead, it can be welcomed. As a culture (and maybe as humans) we are losing our ability to just BE and this hurts us. As we feel compelled to constantly find something to occupy our minds and eyes and be entertained, we’re not looking up as much. We’re not looking at each other as much. We’re losing touch with the connectivity that’s crucial for us as human BEings (see what I did there?).
I’m sure my friend (let’s call them a friend) was just trying to be funny. Their kids went off to play with mine eventually and all was well. Their comment just assured me that as parents we’re all looking at ways to limit technology and screen time for our kids. We all know it’s important and we all know it’s not easy. They were feeling my pain.
Help your kids to look up, see you and your family and friends, to see that tree over there, and take their faces away from screens. And help yourself to do the same. (Yes. The irony that I’m putting this information on a screen is absolutely NOT lost on me!)
Hold fast to the limits you set for technology even when others try to question your methods. And laugh as much as possible.
Go out and play and know that you’re doing the right thing for you and your kids.
Keep being awesome parents and thanks for this terrific opportunity, Keri Lyn!
Connect with Eileen
Like what you’re reading here? Eileen writes how she talks and she teaches how she talks and writes. You can hire her to teach parenting classes and perform assemblies for your school and she would love to help your community. Be sure to check out her website for more information.