Over the years, I’ve watched the screen debate evolve as families choose between having a “screen-free” or a “screen-filled” home. In our family, we’ve carefully chosen what is watched on TV, what Internet sites can be accessed, and enforced a strict “no cellphone until you can drive” policy. Of course, every online safety precaution has been taken as well as placing a time-tracker on the family computer.
All of this is fine and good until schools and society started encroaching on my little domestic bubble. Our schools have chosen to embrace technology in a variety of ways from turning in term papers, taking tests, research, and in-school discussions forums.
When our kids\’ friends come over to our house with a variety of electronic gadgets, those gadgets usually come with a different set of rules than ours. My first reaction was to say, “my house, my rules,” but then it dawned on me that the conversation that was not being had was the one about balance.
What does an electronically balanced family look like?
Technology, whether TV, computer, iPad, or cell phone, is a tool and a tool is only as good as the hand that guides it. That hand is only as good as the heart and mind that picks it up as well.
I decided I was tired of feeling like a “screen-cop” so I decided to sit down with my kids and come up with a set of guidelines that we could all agree to. I was really impressed with their perspective and how complete they were in coming up with guidelines for our family.
Guidelines for Screen-Time:
• Get On The Same Page: Begin the talk by discussing with your children why there need to be limits on device use. And while you\’re at it, have a talk about computer and Internet safety.
• Priorities: Using computers, TVs, and electronic devices are WAY down on the priority list and can occur only after homework, music or sports practice, and family time. As one of my children put it, “screen time is a privilege and not a right.”
• Active Engagement: A point that is really important for my husband and myself is that screen time is often a passive activity. One of our Golden Rules of Home is that screen time must engage our children actively. Programs we value are Mindcraft (on our server), STEM computer activities that engage our children into building robots, airplanes, and creative computer games requesting kids to solve math problems, etc.
• Must Add Value: Whether watching a good movie, playing an iPad game, or texting on a cell phone, everything must add value to our lives. Is my child learning something? Are they texting for a purpose such as directions or meeting times? Is the screen time creating a problem-solving moment such as building a STEM game? Is what they’re doing on the screen purposeful?
• Be Together: A wonderful way to connect with children and their friends is to set up a game night and play along with them. We have a Wii and love to play family-friendly games together. We add a one-half hour to our game nights so everyone gets a couple of turns and then we change the game to an off-screen one. It’s created a nice balance between on-screen and off-screen games.
• Cell-phones and Friends: Many of my children’s friends are now carrying cell phones. Before they come to our house, I make sure their parents have our landline and cell phone numbers in case they should need to speak with their child. Near our front door is the cell phone basket where everyone’s cell phones are turned off, placed inside, and not retrieved until it’s time for our guests to head home. I love this “electronics bin” idea I spotted on Facebook, but unfortunately I don’t know the source.
• Laptops and Friends: Many friends have laptops and iPads and are usually surprised when they are asked to leave them on the shelf inside our front door. It may sound odd, but I feel I have a responsibility to make sure our kids cannot access inappropriate websites at any time. Balanced screen time applies to everyone who enters our home. After the first couple of times visiting, friends begin automatically leaving their computers by the front door or in their backpacks which, to me, shows great understanding and support.
The best guide that we’ve found for balanced screen time is to model the behavior we want to see. One of the most important steps in creating balanced screen time is for your child to watch you turn off your devices. By creating a balance in your own habits you will help create a natural model for your children to pattern their behavior after. We’ve been very conscious to do this in our own home and have seen similar screen usage results in our growing extended family.
As parents, we want/need quality books with extension activities to help our young ones unplug and create memories. Pulling books from shelves, and stories from pages is also an important act that will the habit of being life-long readers. Quality books with companion book extension activities are not only working to create special family time, but it also allows kids to solve the world’s problems without major consequences. A Year in the Secret Garden is just such a book.
This delightful children’s book that is co-written by Marilyn Scott-Waters and Valarie Budyar and it offers original month-by-month activities that allow readers to delve deeper into the classic children’s tale, The Secret Garden.
Within the 120 pages (with 150 original color illustrations and 48 activities)families will find many activities inspired by The Secret Garden that encourages them to step away from technology and enjoy getting hands and feet into the black earth of a family garden. This book will make a great gift and be the catalyst for many hours of family growth, learning, and FUN!
Grab your copy ASAP and “meet me in the garden!” More details HERE!