As a Christian family, you can use technology for good, managing screen time for kids in a way that helps you enjoy the positive benefits while not letting it take over your lives!
We hear it all the time. Kids watch too much TV.
And compared to previous generations, it’s true! Our children are heavily exposed to technology on a daily basis. One study showed that pre-teens and teens receive over 131 text messages a day, on average.
Texting isn’t the same as a TV show, but the point the researcher was making was that children are SO overstimulated by technology that they can’t process it all.
Bombarded with messages of materialism, bright screens that mess with sleep patterns, and, likely, worldviews that don’t match our own as Christians, our kids can become confused, overstimulated and probably contract a case of the “gimmes” after watching TV.
We’re the first generation to deal with such a leap in technology, between the time period of our childhood and our current time period as parents.
Case in point: I didn’t have a cell phone until I was a sophomore in college–and all you could do was choose pixel backgrounds and send text messages by pecking out one letter at a time.
Meanwhile, my 4 year old just asked Siri “what does an emperor penguin eat for dinner?” :)
My girly is such a cutie and I love that she’s so smart! But is it wrong of me to be a little concerned that she is thoroughly skilled in how to use an iPhone when my oldest son didn’t touch a smart device until he was 7?
Maybe that’s paranoia, but the reality is, technology changes you. And if it does something to your brain and emotions and heart, what does it do to our kids??
So that being said, is there a way to find balance for our family in the use of technology and screen time?
We know that we live in a world that is always advancing in technology. We know there are lots of choices for screen time. We know we can’t live in a cave and refuse to see a TV screen again (probably) ;)
But we can absolutely manage technology and use it as a helpful tool!
Managing Screen Time With Kids So You Can Use it for Good
I didn’t really think of “harnessing” the power of technology and using it for good until I read the book The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place by Andy Crouch. In it, he uncovers 10 “commitments” that families can adopt for using technology in their home. Some of his insights are common-sense and some really reframed the way I thought about how we use tech time in our own family!
So, what if you as a Christian parent could use screen time for good?
Could it result in less fights over how much TV time your kids get? Might it help you worry less about the effect of technology on their hearts and minds?
Would talking about and making screen time work for your family (instead of against it) give you plenty of teachable moments? YES! :)
I want to share with you 4 steps we’ve taken in our home to develop a family culture that uses screen time for good!
By putting these screen time guidelines (I prefer that rather than rules!) in place and talking through WHY we have them, we’ve been able to slowly but surely reconnect with each other, redeem the time and reclaim our days.
I hope these ideas inspire you to do the same!
It might be hard at first to implement these ideas (my 4 year old still complains when I take the iPad away!), but it makes it all the more rewarding when you can create a stronger family that embraces technology for how it can add to the fun of life yet also keep it from becoming a priority.
4 Strategies to Use Screen Time for Good (for the Christian Family)
Strategy One: Treating Screen Time as a Reward, Not a Right
To do this we instituted three rules:
- No screen time before noon. I just felt like we lost so much of our morning if they watched TV. It was too easy for me to slowly get ready for the day or putz around on my phone because I knew Arthur and DW were going to be showing for at least the next 45 minutes. We have this rule during the summer and also on non-school days.
(This rule is easier now than when my kids were really little. You may find that it is better to have a 30 minute TV time in the morning if you have a baby and toddlers and just really need some time to feed them and get dressed. But the point is to be conscious of the time whatever time of day you choose.)
2. You must complete all of your daily chores before you have screen time. There are some chores that our children are asked to do with no compensation because they are a part of the family. But for other things, having them complete chores before TV reinforces the idea that screen time is a reward, just like it is for mom and dad. I try really hard not to watch TV until the very end of the day when everyone is in bed.How you handle this will likely vary depending on the age of your children. I expect more out of my 12 and 10 year olds than my two littles.
Side Note: Don’t give into their complaining about “working too hard.” When my kids whine and complain, I tell them that when I was seven, I was filling buckets of water for our sheep and pulling them in a wagon across the yard to the barn; in the tractor helping my dad bale hay; and cleaning out grain bins! (No joke!)
Let your kids understand the value and rewards of working hard. We tell our kids that if they want their screen time, they’re expected to do their work with a good attitude (Colossians 3:23-24).
3. No game time on school days. Minecraft and Blocky Roads were getting harder and harder to manage, and we had so much arguing every afternoon after school that I just put the Kibosh on it all together. Then on the weekends, we do games on the iPad or what have you in the afternoon, after we do a project around the house that everyone pitches in to do, or their weekend chore is done. (I’ll explain more about our chores system for our kids in a later post.)
We find that having incentives to do chores (rewarding them with screen time) goes a long way. I reward myself for getting work done by watching TV or reading a book that I love, why not do the same for our children? We don’t want to bribe, but it’s ok to have a motivating factor that’s set up ahead of time.
Strategy Two: Explain the WHY behind your screen time rules.
We know our kids are going to watch TV and use apps, so we may as well find a way to explain what the purpose is for limiting the time they spend using them and how using technology can bring us either closer to God and our faith or make us distracted and push us further away.
This concept is one of the main ones that Andy Crouch talks about in his Tech Wise Family book.
We need to make conscientious choices about screen time. And so to do that, we hold the time we spend on electronics up against a couple of criteria and teach our kids to ask themselves these two questions:
- Does what I’m watching honor God or am I viewing something that is compromising His word? (You have to help kids 7 and younger figure this out, because they are not yet capable of having as much discernment as an older child in this area.)
- Am I using this screen for a purpose and for a limited time, or is it making me grumpy, isolated and desperate for more? Again the same rule applies here with younger kids in teaching them how to figure this out now so that when they’re older it will come more naturally to them.
The purpose of explaining why we use screen time to them is to teach them critical thinking, rather than allowing mindless slavery to electronics to creep in and have a negative impact.
Some of our WHYs (use these as a springboard for your own family):
- We have Screen Time time limits so that we don’t get addicted to using them.
- We want to live life together as a family, and so the majority of activities we choose should reflect togetherness and the building of relationships in our family and beyond, not always being separate (but there is a time for that, believe me!) :)
- We know that watching movies and playing games is fun! We want to watch and play things that will help us connect our faith to our real life, so that’s why we stay away from negative imagery and TV shows.
- We want to develop a family culture that puts God and people first. Technology is a tool to be used, it shouldn’t use us.
Strategy Three: Intentionally limit time in front of a screen
- They can watch 45 minutes of videos each school day but no apps. Like I mentioned before, the apps were causing us a lot of trouble. So we’re doing it that way for now.
- On weekends (Sat & Sun), they’re given 1.5 hours each day for screen time, but not before 1 pm. That could be playing the Wii together (which is actually fun to watch them play with each other!), playing apps, or watching a video. Typically, I only give the 4 year old 60 minutes.
- They do a combination of using separate devices and watching together–we don’t always want them to be in their own little corner.
- We try to have a family movie night every couple of weeks, usually a great end to the day if we’re gone a lot during that day at soccer or doing projects in the yard, etc. Such a fun way to use technology for good! :)
To better filter what our kids are exposed to and to help reinforce time limits, we recently purchased a Circle. The jury is still out on the long-term benefits, but so far (after a few tweaks and an arm wrestling match with our router!), we have been finding it useful!
We’ve found that time limits have been super helpful because:
- The kids know what to expect
- There is less arguing because they know the rules (a timer goes off or the Circle turns their devices off)
- They look forward to having their time and feeling like they’ve earned the privilege (it’s a good feeling for kids!)
Strategy Four: Find and Use Media That Matters
In line with our desire to have our kids critically think through what their watching and what effect is has on their hearts, we try hard to choose media that is actually beneficial to watch.
There’s certainly a time and place for apps like Minecraft (which is sort-of skill based!) and watching silly Dude Perfect videos on YouTube.
But more often than not, a lot of TV shows and apps, especially for older kids, aren’t really profitable at all.
To supplement what we have on Amazon Prime (which does have some decent kids programming, including several Christian shows like Adventures in Odyssey), we watch the Christian Streaming Service Go Minno!
My kids also love listening to Adventures in Odyssey on CD or streaming online! There is a lot of great Christian music for kids that won’t annoy you as parents for times when your kids are feeling tempted to sit in front of the TV yet again.
We tend to borrow a lot of DVDs from the library too. Or use YouTube to find old episodes of 321 Penguins, Bibleman and more.
What’s in the Bible is an entertaining and educational series that teaches our kids about the Bible, Christian history and lots of fun facts through engaging storylines and characters!
Find What’s in the Bible on Amazon.
BONUS STEP: We Find Other Things to Occupy Our Children so They Don’t Get “Bored”
We have long winters here in South Dakota. Sometimes it’s just not practical to play outside. I always make it a point to have some ideas planned out ahead of time so that it’s not AS tempting to ask for screen time when they’re bored.
Some ideas are:
- Cooking or baking
- Wipe-clean books
- Toys they haven’t played with in awhile
- A big bin of Legos
- Spoon races with cotton balls (seriously, this works every time, even with the older kids!)
- Putting on music and dancing
- Mighty Minds or Tangoes
- Exercising indoors. In the winter when we’re stuck in the house due to negative temps–commonplace in the Dakotas!– we use Fit2B exercise videos. It’s a streaming service with tons of workout options for kids and moms, and yes it’s screen time, but they’re actually moving!
- And sometimes yes, we split everyone up and have them go to their own rooms if they need to decompress.
Taking these steps to manage screen time in a healthy way has really turned things around at our house. We’ve become emotionally healthier as a family and have been able to reconnect and enjoy more time together (yes, we still have lots of squabbles!).
When you decide on and implement these strategies and get creative with how you balance screen time in your home, you as a mom can be more confident and focused because you know your children are also learning balance in this area.
Most importantly, your kids (and mine!) are learning about priorities, how to focus on God above all, and the pride of being rewarded for their work, learning to enjoy technology in moderation.
It’s my greatest hope that these four strategies for managing screen time and creating screen time rules that WORK will help you find more opportunities to spend joyful time together as a family, using technology for good!
What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to technology and your kids?