Eleanor and Emma from The Reconnected discuss a topic that has many parents feeling worn down, and that is… ‘screen time’. Eleanor reflects on raising kids pre-phone era (it wasn’t that long ago!), and shares her expertise as a children’s counsellor on holding boundaries with kids about screen time.
Emma reflects on the pro’s and con’s of the technology age and how she makes decisions about technology use for her young children.
Raising kids before there were screens ~ Eleanor, The Reconnected.
I realised recently, my eldest child is a part of what might have been the last generation whose childhood was mobile phone free.
She is turning 18 this month, and as a baby born in 2002, the first ten years of her life were largely void from tech and screen.
I spent her childhood making calls on a phone with a cord attached to the wall, and had to hang up if she crawled out of the room because I couldn’t follow her!
We didn’t have a mobile phone in the house until she was eight, we got a computer two years after I started Uni in 2011 (my first assignments were handwritten and posted in via snail mail!), and we salvaged an old TV off a junk pile for movies on occasion when she was 9 years old.
Admittedly, we have always been a bit behind when it came to technology.
Our choices were based on a mix of finances and values.
One, we preferred the kids to play in nature (I did my year HSC major project on the effects that screens have on children), and we couldn’t really afford the latest devices at the time anyway!
In 2010 I was given a mobile and my partner helpfully set me up my first social media profile.
But there wasn’t much appeal to it at the time, no one was hanging out in virtual spaces via phones; mobile phones were just.. phones!
You put them in your bag, only took them out when you were leaving the house and apart from that never paid much attention to them.
It meant we had to ride out sometimes unrelenting hours and days with cranky toddlers, teething babies, and my own depletion bad moods, with no distractions other than whatever creative activity my tired brain could muster!
I recall mastering the art of putting my whole body into a deep relaxation space while I read them books as an attempt to replenish my energy. We went on a LOT of walks. I remember I went through a long phase where I’d let them play with rice and make lots of mess.
We gardened, we went to play group, we fed our chooks, and had guinea pigs.
After the kids went to bed, I would clean up, read books and meditate or do yoga.
Simple things filled up our days.
It sounds so wholesome as I am reflecting on those years, but as I look back now to just how exhausting those days could be, I feel so grateful that I didn’t have the option of handing my kids a device for a couple of hours.
With four kids under five, I wonder if I would have been able to resist the easy fix of screen time!
But screens certainly have crept into our lives. The last years of my degree my assignments could only get completed if the kids were asleep or watching a movie.
Now that they’re older teenagers (16 +) they have phones and apart from our 12 year old, we don’t limit their use unless we feel concerned.
Our whole business has moved online, I spend many many hours using technology to connect with people.
Like many parents I don’t LOVE how much time my kids spend on screens once they are older. I’ve had to find my way with the agreements and it is a daily conscious effort to help the kids have as healthy a relationship with screens as possible.
I certainly feel blessed to have had those early years with my kids tech free without the effort that many parents of young children today face in order to provide their children with a screen free early childhood.
How technology can enriching our life and finding balance – Emma, The Reconnected.
The irony of writing about screen time, is that I am writing this on a screen, most of you are reading this on a screen, and it is more likely that we met on social media than in real life.
In fact, even when Eleanor and I started The Reconnected, the first 10 months of writing and developing and launching the Reconnected Parenting course, we were in entirely different parts of the world until a year into our business, when it was already successful!
The community on New Earth Mama has enriched our lives in so many ways, thousands of people share their lives with us, and the energetic support and connections we have are real and heartfelt.
So, I am highly aware of how much our lives have been enriched by technology.
However…we are quite minimal when it comes to kids and screens.
Or perhaps a better way of putting it is, we are earth lovers.
We spend as much time as we possibly can outside, in nature, at the beach. Even at home we spend time with the doors thrown open so we can feel nature with us in every moment.
And, when I say strict with screens, what I mean is, we value collaborative and child-led learning with our children, who we unschool, and so we just try to not have screen options around the house as a general rule!
Ways that we minimise screen time in our home:
1. We have no personal devices for the kids.
2. We use a projector for diluted blue light.
3. If we watch movies we do it in the afternoon not late at night when their sleep may be affected.
Setting boundaries with screens.
2020 has been a difficult year for many families to have a balanced relationship with screens.
In our work at The Reconnected, we see many parents who are ok with a certain amount of screens, but they find there are hours of conflict or negotiations on either side of the screen time.
Four Conflict Free Ways to End Screen Time.
1. Make the ending connection based.
Try suggesting or planning to do an activity for twenty minutes together after screen time ends. They may be open to coming and helping you with what you are doing, or you may need to make it an exciting offer, like time jumping on the trampoline or a fun activity. Doing something active can help them to release some feel good endorphins after their time spent inactive, and can reduce the ‘boredom’ that some kids go through after time on screens.
2. Be unruffled when they protest and resolve to stick to your limits.
As a general rule, with screens, it pays to be consistent. The most effective way of communicating your limit with screens, is through your own inner sense of resolve. If we are undecided, they will sense it, and every attempt we make at holding the boundary will have less effect.
Yes, you can empathise with their emotions, but try not to enter into negotiations for more screen time, unless of course you know your child is capable of following the revised agreements.
Some kids, who are strong willed will predictably resist any transition from one thing to the next, and struggle significantly when it comes time to switch off screens. If you practice viewing each time you have to set a limit as an opportunity to help them practice and learn and as something you will need to do many many times before they get the hang of it, it may be easier than holding the expectation that they should already be able to follow your directions about screens.
This bigger picture perspective will also help you to have more patience and less irritation with any protesting.
3. Build self-awareness of the effect that screens are having on them.
Older children benefit from building self awareness about how screens may impact them, especially if they struggle to switch off screens. To help with this, choose a time when they are receptive to having a conversation (not when you are switching off screens, unless they are calm, and interested in the conversation).
Then, offer any observations you have made about the way that screens affect you, and ask if they have noticed anything. If they can’t think of anything, you can ask if they are open to hearing your observations. With permission, you can give your observations, ‘I’ve noticed that you say you are ok with watching one movie, but pretty much every time, you want a second one. Have you noticed this?’. Be genuine in your curiosity, sometimes kids are so in the moment, they don’t notice these patterns.
Be kind in your observations, and relate it back to your own experiences with screens, ‘I know the feeling, I sometimes just want to keep watching. They always make a hook at the end of the episode that makes me so curious’.
From there, you can have an honest chat, doing your best to listen to them and respect their opinions, even if they differ from your own. If it feels right, tell them how you manage your screen time.
Finally, ask them if they want any help with creating habits around screens and go from there. Most kids will have lots of great ideas and be firmer on themselves than you would think!
If you child is struggling with screens significantly, a firmer conversation may need to be had, inasmuch as offering your observations whether they are receptive to exploring the topic or not, and creating a plan that you feel creates a proper balance for them.
Trust your intuition if you feel like it’s getting too much, and switch off! Sometimes going camping for a week is the ultimate reset for everyone!
4. Role model healthy screen use.
We don’t need to outline this one, the title speaks for itself and
Ok. Outside time!