This post was written before COVID-19 social distancing and shutdowns took over our daily lives. We hope it’s helpful to parents navigating screen time with their children these upcoming weeks. For tips on being stuck at home with your children 24/7, read Surviving Unending Family Time with Your Kids.
My family tells me I’m a dinosaur. I disagree. They believe I live in the dark ages when it comes to technology, particularly the gaming. What’s gaming, I might ask? That’s their point.
So yes, I’m a bit behind on the plethora of games kids play. I did have a Nintendo. An original and a Super Nintendo. I loved it. Mario, Zelda, RBI Baseball, Metroid, Mike Tyson, Dungeons and Dragons. I was into it too back in the day.
Now, my children (all of them, from 7-13) speak a language I don’t understand. And it’s not French. Instead it’s this language of gaming: different games & devices that I have not idea how to operate or play.
For Christmas this year, we gave them a Nintendo Switch and PS4 Pro. It was big. I didn’t realize how big. They love it. It’s consistently played by one, two, or all three. It actually looks kind of fun. I may have to get into it. I’ve been asking Jack about the Zelda gams for Nintendo Switch. Apparently they’re pretty good. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild got game of the year. Apparently all the critics highly recommend it.
On a wider note, what does all this gaming, historically and currently, say about our culture and ourselves? It says we enjoy this escape to a different reality, and it begins at a young age. There is something in us that desires the game, the puzzle, the mystery, the adventure, and the good story in it all. These are good things, exciting things.
For our kids, as we parent, we need to be aware of these attributes and cultivate them, yet not only within the gaming culture. Reading them books, helping them discover the joy of reading, taking them to plays, and even watching good films can grow the ability to love language, art, and culture.
Therefore, we try to discipline our boys’s time on screens and especially with gaming. Gaming can be a very good thing and not an all encompassing device. It can lead to a greater sense of adventure for our lives. That is what we ultimately where we want to point them.
Some tips from Screenagers Tech Tuesday blog
#1 tip: Have calm, consistent, regular conversations about screen time with your children. Ignoring or arguing about overuse leads to stress for the child and the parent. Some questions you can ask your child or teen:
- How do you feel after you play or watch with screens? Are you tired, energized, bored, angry, or ready to do something else? Do you like to play by yourself or with friends?
- What screen time activities can help you improve your mood? Which ones do not?
- What are the upsides and downsides of striving for online attention? The high of an audience is real.
- Is unplugging from screens stressful or restful? What are your ideas of how we can set up the day so there won’t be such a pull to devices?
As typical for our family dynamic, my husband is the fun parent and I am the disciplinarian. Screen use is the one area where John Hugh and I meet in the middle, mostly due to our inexperience with this new age of gaming. We both are puzzled at times by the extent to which this younger generation uses screens for connection and self soothing.
But if I am really honest, how well do I model my screen use to my children? I may not be playing Fortnite, Just Cause 3, or Mario Kart 8, but you can find me in a vortex of mindless scrolling any day of the week. Is it fair to chastise our children for overuse of gaming when we work (and relax) on our phones and screens most of the day? When I joked with my oldest child that I could burn the house down when he is playing a video game & he would be unaware, he retorted that he could do the same in reverse when I am working on my computer or texting for ministry. Truth preached from the mouth of a child!
Screens are here to stay. I have conceded in key areas when it comes to parenting with screens. When your child gets bullied for not playing Fortnite, you realize we are in a new age of social connection. Before diving in wholeheartedly into game consoles, phones, & extra TVs for our house, I knew the greatest parenting tool we have is still the same: conversations aimed at the heart. If screens is a way to avoid conversation in your home, then I would say it’s time to re-evaluate the role screens play.
We start each week with a game plan: what is the plan for screen use in our home that week? Why? Because each week is different. Some weeks will allow for more screen use; some weeks less. It’s unfair to put a hard, fast rule when I give myself liberties for my personal screen use as a parent. My oldest is most in tune with this and makes sure I am playing by fair rules for everyone. When you have young children, you can escape accountability from your children (and honestly that is often the time your screen habits increase due to stress), but why not break bad habits now before they get too difficult?
One of the things we are instituting, especially with this move, is making sure John Hugh and I are faithful and transparent about our screen use. We cannot teach faithfully what we do not model. Yes, it’s hard! So the conversations and guidelines include all of us.
No phones at meals. No screens while driving. We share screens or bring books on public transport. No screens first thing in the morning and last thing at night (confession: John Hugh and I are the worst culprits here). On busy weeks for homework and activities, no TV or gaming on weeknights. We allow gaming and YouTube funny videos on the weekends for 1-2 hour windows.
We usually plan a good activity (family game, meal, riding bikes, a walk) after the screens are confiscated because there is a physical adjustment your body has to make – and it’s not easy to sit around and figure out what to do next; you need a plan. If you game, you have to include someone else in the room. These are just a few guidelines we operate with.
Do we fail at this at times? YES. We have used screens as a babysitter when a ministry crisis happens, when we are mentally exhausted as parents, or when we need extra sleep. But generally, we want our kids to feel like they are connected to our family more than they are connected to a video game or TV show. When I tell my youngest he is not mature enough to have unlimited gaming, and he screams in a tantrum mode that he is mature enough, you know limits are needed.
At this point, I am not intimidated with the world of gaming being in our home. I plan to learn how to play Fortnite with my oldest this week. I laugh with my children at crazy YouTube videos they watch because they always want me to stop and watch. I sit patiently through an animated feature with my middle child because it helps his language skills tremendously. None of this worries me because I am thankful how gaming has forced us to have honest conversations about our values and habits as a family.
What are some of our parenting values? A learning spirit for life, a hard worker for life, a creator more than a consumer, a compassionate heart for others, and social circles that build bridges instead of cliques are just a few of these values.
Yes, we deal with children who break the rules, lie to our face, purchase games without our permission, and hide phones or screens under their pillows at night. Are our children perfect? No. Are we perfect parents? NO! I told my oldest today. Jesus is a realist. He knows all your hidden secrets, and unlike anyone else in the world, he is not intimidated, embarrassed, or disgusted by your failures. There is no need to hide or to feel shame before the cross. The only way to start again is by the gift of grace. Start parenting today with heart-to-heart conversations and the gift of grace covering each failure. Your family might start to bond in new ways and still enjoy a good game of Zelda along the way.
ARE YOU STILL MOVING?
Yes, we are still planning on moving to Paris to start an international English speaking church. Yes, we hope to move this summer 2020. There are so many unknowns. We have only 1 known about our departure date: We cannot leave until we raise 80% of our support. We are committed to this mission, regardless of a pandemic or other deterrents. If you are interested in partnering or told us you plan to partner, please join us today on this journey by clicking here.