I am “that mom” You know, the one who wouldn’t feed her kids junk food when they were little. I’m a firm believer that if you’re going to put something in your body, it should be worth it. It should be full of nutrients that will sustain you and help you grow. I did this in hopes that when my girls grew up, they would make good food choices (because they certainly aren’t going to be eating only at my table forever).
I was also diligent about teaching them to make good reading choices when they were young. As a former English teacher, I was comfortable discussing the attributes of a good read. I exposed them to rich literature and guided them toward good book choices. I wanted them to use their reading time wisely so they would grow in knowledge and their understanding of the world through the books.
So, with all my experience guiding my children toward healthy eating and reading habits, why has it been such a struggle to guide my kids towards healthy media habits? You can read the extended answer to this question in A Mom's Greatest Struggle in This Tech-Driven World. But, in a nutshell, the “screen time war” is culturally a new experience, and we are the first generation of moms who needs to figure this out. We are digital immigrants raising the first generation of digital natives.
Let’s face it. Computers and mobile devices are here to stay. Our kids are digital natives who have been born into an more advanced technological society than you and I were born into. And our kids need to know how to make the most of that technology, but in a healthy and productive way.
#1…Model healthy habits
Mike and I are always reminding each other that “our kids will become us”. What are your kids learning as they observe your media habits? Do you surf the web excessively, getting sucked into Pinterest and the Blogsphere? Do you text and message compulsively, making response to notifications a priority in your life? Your kiddos are watching and learning. Consider exactly what they are learning as they observe your media habits.
#2…Identify useful & productive screen time
No one can deny that digital tools make our lives so much easier. Online shopping and banking…video chats with long-distance family…work productivity apps…what would we do without them? But, the Internet can also make our lives worse if we let it suck our time away and entice us with mindless entertainment. Same goes for our kids. It is important for your family to differentiate between worthwhile tech time and useless tech time. To learn the difference, read “Are Your Kids Wasting Time on Electronics? 3 Questions to Ask.”
#3…Establish tech device guidelines
I encourage you to develop a standard for tech usage in your family. Your guidelines may not look just like the “Jones’” (just like your eating habits don’t look like theirs). But, you need to find what works for your family so that everyone understands the expectations about screen time. Involve your kids in developing the guidelines so they have more ownership and understanding of your family's standards. Read “Why I Stopped Managing My Kids' Screen Time” to learn what works for our family.
#4…Monitor your family’s digital activities
I’m not going to try and teach you how to monitor your kiddos’ screen time because (being honest here) I am not good at monitoring my own kids. I feel like it’s just one more thing to do. Since my kids have made smart choices so far, I haven’t made it a priority to figure out how to automate the monitoring. So, if you have any tips, chime in. I do know that you can do a search for “monitor kids computer time” or something like that and learn from the experts (something I am “not” in this area)
#5…Work to find a solution when there is a problem
Don’t go on a screen time eradication campaign if your kids mess up. You need to help them form healthy media habits, not alienate them. If the guidelines you established aren’t working, discuss them and adjust. Discover why they don’t work and find a solution. The first tech use standard I set in our home resulted in disaster. I had to micromanage it, and the girls were obsessing over their turn and bickering with each other. When we went to unlimited tech time, we had so much more peace in our home.
So, what do you think, my friend? Do you think you need to help your kids form healthy tech habits? Are these five things realistic? Which do you think will be the hardest for you to implement? Let’s talk about it.
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