I honestly don’t remember what it was that was finally the straw that broke the camel’s back and convinced me that I needed to manage screen time. I’m not certain if it was some sort of content that drove me over the edge, or just the fact that my family was drawn to it like insects to a light. Whatever that last straw was, it was significant. Unhooking the digital satellite receiver from my television box, I tossed it in the top of my closet. I was determined that I was finished allowing television to rule the roost in my household.
This was two years before my family would even begin our homeschool journey. Over the next ten years our family size would grow to six, and a lot of thing would change. Looking back, I can see clearly that one step changed the way I would view screen time forever. Over time, instead of being ‘done forever’ with screens as I demanded I was, my stance on screen time has softened and reconstructed. I have come to a place of peace and rest and have put the screen time in its proper place in our home. I am intentional to make media a tool for us to build into our lives rather than a problem used to distract us. That moment made me become intentional about screen time.
Now I’ll also be the first to admit that when homeschooling, this is a really important issue to tackle. We as homeschoolers spend more time at home than most families. We have easier access to the many, many screens that exist in our life. Media can be wonderful and helpful in our homeschool if used appropriately. However, it can also be overused just as easily. I wanted to take the time today and share some helpful tips that have helped our family to navigate this digital world, and put it in its place in our home.
Don’t allow screens to be taken into your children’s bedrooms.
Just a word of caution, this isn’t going to go over well with some of your smartphone yielding teenagers. One rule we are very intentional about is that all digital devices cannot be taken into the children’s bedrooms. The smartphones, tablets and handheld gaming devices must be used in the common areas of our home.
This doesn’t completely protect our kids from the content readily available to them at their fingertips. However, it does offer our kids a healthy dose of accountability. This also keeps children from getting text messages late into the evening. This is common and can disrupt their sleep, which is so important for all of us, especially children.
This rule has also helped us to control the amount of time our children spend on their devices. Kids sometimes can lose track of time and not notice if a long period of time passes while they are staring at a screen. By moving the screens into a common room, Mom and Dad can pay closer attention. This rule has helped us to control their screen time. It has also decreased the moments we have found our kids ‘vegging out’ on hand-held screens. Rather than being alone in their rooms, they are in a room with others while playing with their devices. This makes it less likely for my kids to get lost in their digital worlds.
Control the content of what your family is consuming
You would never allow your child to live on a diet of cookies and candy, but they would probably be just fine with this arrangement! We are in control of our children’s physical diet because they have not developed the skills to control it themselves. We must also mentor them just as closely concerning their media choices.
In our family, we have not revisited the world of satellite or cable since that fateful day when I packed it away. Surprisingly we have not missed it. Our family loves to use Netflix, Amazon Prime, and JellyTelly for entertainment. We also have an antenna that picks up a handful of channels which we mostly use to enjoy the occasional sporting event. However, all of these are used on the television that we have in the living room, not on several screens throughout the household. The content that is brought to our family is easily observed by their father and myself.
One thing in particular I enjoy about Netflix is their family profiles. You can set up a profile for each family member and adjust the content available to them on demand. I have found that if you do enough searching, most forms of media have some sort of age-appropriate content monitor available. Although the scope of media has changed, sometimes for the worse, it is without argument far more customizable than in years past. My family is a big fan of Common Sense Media and PluggedIn and I generally consult it whenever making a choice of movies for our family to watch. It’s so important at young ages to protect the hearts and minds of our children. Set your own standards and stick by them, and more than anything know what you are welcoming into your home.
Learn to manage your own personal screen time
This is perhaps the hardest tip to swallow. In the world of social networking, face time and text messaging, it’s very easy to allow those mediums to control you. Unfortunately, sometimes even the rules that we impede on our children to control their media consumption seems lost on us. I’ve been the Mom who insist the children spend less time on the tablets as I scrolled through my social media feed for the tenth time that morning. Guilty as charged! Our children will learn far more from what we do than they will from what we say.
Once during a conversation with my daughter, the realization hit me that I had spent the entire time she was talking staring at the screen in the palm of my hand. It broke my heart to look up and see her imploring eyes. I was showing her where my value was, and that she was not as valuable to me as whatever happened to be on my phone at the time. It was most Pinterest or Instagram, or something not even close to being as important as my sweet little girl with the freckles on her nose. Our children will hear us, but they will spend more time emulating us, so we must get our own screen time under control before we can effectively expect to see that in our children.
You have to take your own media consumption on a very personal level. I’ve found that some people are affected greatly by a specific sort of media, whereas some can navigate it and separate themselves from it without much effort. In my own personal experience, I have found that I get drawn into social media easily and cannot detach myself from it very well. I carry it along with me throughout my day, and allow the negative aspects to affect me far longer than I should. Personally, I no longer use Facebook or Instagram, and I also turned off email notifications on my phone. Although it took me awhile to stop looking down at my phone every free moment just out of sheer habit, it’s a very freeing thing to be able to control that rather than allowing it to control me.
Not everyone has the same issues with social media. Many people don’t have to go as far as removing themselves from social media. Some are fine with simply deleting the app from their devices so they are only able to look at it during the time they are seated in front of the computer. There are also some people out there who can see that little number beside the app and leave it alone for the remainder of the day and never be bothered by it. A personal evaluation will speak volumes to you about your social media use, and how you can control it in your own personal life. It’s important to take time and do this for yourself, and for your family.
Take a break and re-evaluate
Distance makes everything smaller. It changes your perspective and helps you to make better decisions based on the fact that you can see different sides of the story. I think that it is important for all of us to take a break every once in a while. Take some time away from the kinds of media that you believe need better control in your home.
There are several ways to take a break so you can evaluate your own personal management of screen time. Orchestrate in a family wide media fast, and learn what it’s like to rest and do it together. Find out what your home sounds like when there’s not so many devices running. Spend time with your favorite books and rediscover a love for reading. Go outside to play without taking pictures of everything that your kids are doing. Breathe a little deeper and walk a little slower. Slow down and appreciate a meal without posting a photo of it on your Instagram. Spend an evening in the backyard, even if it’s the evening of your favorite show. Deactivate your Facebook for a week, and find out how much more time you find you have on your hands. If you find that it is really difficult to live without, it probably has more control on your life than you are aware of, and needs to be put in its place.
Media is wonderful in our world of homeschool. We can easily supplement our lessons at the touch of a button. At the touch of one icon, instantly my phone can be cast onto the television and transport my children to the bottom of the ocean. We can visit with the ocean animals that we just studied! Homeschool teachers from all over the world can share their insight and wisdom and can work together to teach this generation things that weren’t even accessible to them in years before.
We can visit all over the world from the comfort of our couches, but make sure that’s not the only world that they see and know. Media is perhaps the best and most beneficial advancement in homeschooling. Without media I wouldn’t be sharing this with you right now! But remember it can control you if you don’t control it. Media is a tool, and you are in control of how it’s used.
You can follow my blog and how I manage being intentional about screen time, and leading a more ‘unplugged’ lifestyle on my blog, Intentional Mommyhood