"Just one more minute."
"Let me finish this one thing!"
"Can we watch this, Mom, puhleezze?"
"Why can't I play that app/game? Everybody else does!"
As parenting pioneers in the "digital age," we've heard all this and more.
But why does it have to be that way? For our parents, books didn't feel like landmines. They weren't suspicious of paper and crayons. Catching a glimpse of "Kids" shows didn't give our parents a coronary attack.
But today, the combination of wildly varying children's programs and the jarring things our kids can stumble upon in commercials, in-app ads or site links create an ever-increasing sense of screen time angst for parents.
Still, as screen proliferation hits an estimated 6+ connected devices in each home (forecasted to more than 60% over the next 5 years - source: The NPD Group), we realize screens are here to stay. Our opportunity lies in converting screen time angst into screen time power.
5 Tips to Make Screen Time Work
1. Set up a family contract around screen time "Rules of Engagement".
Screen time tension can spread beyond parents and kids and creep in between parents. Like everything from diet to bed time, the sooner parents synch up on screen time guidelines, the better the family dynamic becomes. Wherever you are in your child's life cycle, envision 1, 3, 5 years ahead and work through how you can shape your family parameters around screens. As you hone in one your priorities, consider a "Contract" with your kids. Check out numerous resources for boilerplate ones in the resources below.
Some core contract elements are:
1) People matter more than screens. Look up and speak to anyone who walks in the room when you have a screen in play.
2) Don't do anything on a screen you wouldn't want the whole wide world to see - because - they can and often will.
3) The content on the device must meet our family priorities. Which leads us to...
2. Surface - and stock up on - content they'll love and you'll approve.
Seems so obvious: It's not the screens we battle - it's the content coming through them. What if we could customize loads of inspiring content - movies, shows, apps and books - our kids would love and we would approve?
Parents know what their kids like. Parents look to support schoolwork. And parents have values and character traits they hope to impart to their kids. Why can't parents - and anyone hoping to shape kids' perspectives - curate media that meets their priorities?
Whatever kids' media resource you use to customize content (e.g. Common Sense Media, TheSmartFeed.com, Balefire Labs, Greater Good in Action), get in front of the question "Can I...?" by storing an inspiring list of movies, shows, apps and books that meet your family priorities and appeal to your kids.
3. Pick Key Titles to Play and Watch with Your Kids.
I wrote this piece alongside our eldest child - a 10-year old. When I asked him what his top tips would be, he read my draft and said, "Remember - parents should play and watch stuff with their kids". Of course.
Often kids' screen time is on so we can be off - doing something else. But, take time to invest and discover movies and shows you approve of. Sometimes we like to sit alongside the kids a la family movie night or to watch a quick show before bedtime. At least half the apps we load, my husband plays alongside our kids and encourages them to play "with each other" screen to screen. Although our son loves "candy time," playing Madden 15 or Racing apps, he remembers playing The Room or Where's My Water with his dad.
4. Agree to time windows - and a timer - your kids can set and manage.
No matter how inspiring the content, time limits support media balance. What parent wants to negotiate every 90 seconds until shut down? Some of our favorite time management platforms that sit over your kids' screens include KoalaSafe and Forcefield.me. But, you can also do what we do: our kids set their device timers (with loud alarms) and agree to shut down when they hear the bell. It only takes a few "I forgot = no screen time tomorrow" to keep the timer strategy strong.
5. Share what works with your community and parenting partners.
Weigh in on public forums and with your spending. Our best parenting resources are each other. We trade more tips, solutions and watch-outs in carpool lines, school hallways and sports sidelines than any amount of "expert" reading can deliver.
Find what works for your family and share solutions - share titles and great playlists with friends, kids' friends' parents, sitters, kids' teachers and family.
The more we all "vote" with our media spending for good stuff, the more great content creators will make. Who would have guessed - even 5 years ago - McDonalds and Safeway would re-engineer their menus and shelves to stock nutritionally better family food? Lo and behold McDonalds launched an organic burger and Safeway developed a private label brand for organic food.
Your parent vote matters. You can make it count every time you spend on more inspiring media.
Mom of three, Linsly Donnelly is the CEO and founder of SmartFeed. SmartFeed makes it easy to find inspiring media your kids will love and you’ll approve. She and the SmartFeed team thrive on using the power of media as a positive force for our kids. Linsly is a start up veteran (Joann.com, Wine.com, Red.com, YogaLoftMB), a
published author (Happy Go Local: Smart Mom’s Guide to Living the Good and Sustainable Life), a family advocate and wanna be writer. She and her family split time in Mill Valley, Ca and Park City, Utah.