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Smart Phones pt. 2

May 18, 2020
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The irony isn’t lost on me.  I’m writing about the dangers of too much screen time while using the medium I’m using requires you to log in screen time to read it.  How oxymoronic.

In Part 1 of Smart Phones May Not Mean Smart Kids, I wrote about the negative effects of extended screen time, but I didn’t offer much in the way of interventions for it.  Too much screen time is bad for our kids.  Got it.  So what do I do about it?

That’s the right question.  And the answer isn’t mysterious.  One word.  BOUNDARIES.  The only way to step up to the challenge (which is a euphemism for the problem) of limiting your kids to reasonable and healthy screen times is by setting, enforcing and living with boundaries.

Oh, well, that solves it, right?  Well, no.  But it’s the place to start.

I first read John Townsend’s and Henry Cloud’s book, Boundaries, years ago, now.  It’s become one of my several go-to books.  I highly recommend it to you.  Boundaries apply to virtually every aspect of your life.  Your marriage, your family, your career, your church.  Boundaries will govern your life.  Either your boundaries or someone else’s.  If you don’t have reasonable and solid boundaries, you’re at the mercy of whatever is the most pressing issue coming from the most compelling person in the moment.

I’ll go theological for a minute here and say that as a follower of Jesus, you and I are commissioned by the Savior to steward our boundaries.  He intends for us to thoughtfully set and manage boundaries, with the values of Scripture as our constraints.  This is a complex way of me saying God intends us to apply His standards to how we lead our lives, and as parents, how we lead our families.  Boundaries are not optional in this endeavor.  They’re not a good thing to have in your back pocket.  They’re essential.

So let’s do some thinking about setting and keeping boundaries.

Tip number 1: decide where you want to set the boundary for screen time for your family.  How much time do you think is appropriate?  How much feels healthy for you?  You’ll want to have a conversation with your spouse about this.  It might need to not be a quick one, but it doesn’t have to be a shoot-out at the OK Corral.  You’ve got to be a team on this.  If you’re step-parenting, realize that you have no control over what happens at your ex’s house.  You’re not setting boundaries for them.  You’re setting boundaries for your household.  The one you get to lead.

So have a conversation with your spouse.  Think and talk objectively and observationally, not judgmentally.  This will help you not have a fight over it.  Accusations rarely move the ball down the track well.

Tip number 2: call a family meeting.  If your kids are preschoolers, they don’t need any background information about the new rules and boundaries. Just tell them that they won’t be able to use Mommy’s and Daddy’s devices as much as they like.  Tell them that you’ll be the one telling them how much they can and when they can use them.  Secondary Tip: never negotiate with a preschooler. It won’t work out well.

If your kids are in grade school or older, call the family meeting and tell them what the new boundaries are.  The younger your kids are, the less they can handle of the rationale for your decisions.  But by the time they get into middle grade school, most kids can begin to connect the dots enough that you can tell them how and why you came to your decisions on these boundaries.  Bear this in mind, though.  Most kids aren’t going to be excited about you setting limits and boundaries on their screen time.  So don’t expect them to be happy with the new boundaries.  Be prepared for resistance and stand your ground.

Tip number 3: negotiate consequences for violation of the boundaries.  This may not be fun, but you need to do it if you want to make this thing work.  My suggestion is that the older your kids are, the better it is for you to let them help you decide on consequences.  I wrote “help you,” because you’re the final word on it, not them.  And they need to know that.  But you’ll help yourself by getting their input.  You may be surprised that they may even suggest more severe consequences than you would have.

Call them consequences and not punishments.  Yes, they will probably be punishments, but this is a great place and time to introduce a biblical life concept: you reap what you sow.  There are consequences for our choices.  Good choices usually bring good consequences.  Bad choices usually bring bad consequences.  Punishment is a valid thing.  Don’t get me wrong.  But this is a good place to develop the vocabulary and concept of consequences.

OK, that was the more difficult part.  Here’s the most difficult part.

Tip number 4: Enforce the boundaries.

I believe the best way to do this is to make each child who is middle grade school age and older their own monitor.  Make them responsible for keeping track of their own screen time.  I’d do it with a chart on the fridge.

And then I’d follow Ronald Reagan’s advice: trust by verify.  Keep your eye on the clock and your kids’ screen time.  You don’t need to become the screen time cop, but you’ll have to help them observe the boundaries.  Hey, they’re good kids, but they’re still kids.

For younger kids, use the “5 Minute Warning.”  When they’re getting close to the end of their screen time, tell them they’ve got 5 more minutes.  It’s a courtesy, really.  That way they have a warning that they need to wrap up what they’re doing, instead of just getting their water cut off in the middle of something that’s important to them in the moment.

For older kids, I’d just say, “How ya doin’ on your boundary?”  That’s not the accusatory, “You better be watching your time!  Don’t make me come in there…”

You may want to set your boundaries in stone, but be sure you set your plans for holding to them in sand.  People change.  Needs change.  Don’t lock yourself in on things you’ll regret being locked in on.

So you can see, there’s no fool-proof way to enforce screen time limits and boundaries.  But if you approach it experimentally, and with a measure of maturity and confidence, along with God’s help, you can find a moving target, and hit it more times than not.  And that’ll be very good for your kids and for you.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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