May 29, 2015

Teens and Screen Time

There are a lot of things I don't know.  Being a parent is the world's best Continuing Education Class. As the kids grow, their boundaries are supposed to become bigger and bigger yielding ever more freedom. As parents, it's hard to reconcile that with the way you've always done things.  It means you're forever changing your rules/guidelines/boundaries/expectations.  I feel as though I live in a constant state of "are you sure we did/said the right thing?".

I personally feel that the more rigid and strict you are as your children grow and mature into teenagers, the less they will listen to you. They need/crave/desire your respect. They want to prove to you that everything you taught them through your words and actions when they were little sunk in and now is the time they get to show you. If you start 'tightening the reigns' at this stage of the game, you've lost them.

I recently read two very good blogs on the subject of screen time and teenagers - especially over the summer. It inspired me to talk to my kids about the whole thing and just see where it leads.

We had a wonderful conversation.  I started off by telling them that I don't want to give them any more rules. I know they don't need that. A confession of that sort always perks up their ears and they are very ready to hear whatever follows. I explained that my goal for them was that they learn how to manage their own time. If I'm always bugging them and nagging them about what to do next and reminding them of what they have to do - I'm ultimately doing them a huge disservice. I want them to grow up to be independent adults who know how to make smart, responsible, loving, considerate choices.  Once you teach a lesson, you have to let them 'practice'. Life (and specifically summer) is that practice time.

The school calendar dictates so much of our schedule during the course of the year. Summer is a time for freedom - for both them and me.  I don't want to squelch that joy in them because I've decided every activity for them through-out the course of the summer and the rules for that freedom are so oppressive.

So I started off by asking them what they think reasonable screen time looks like. Bennett did his typical, "Wait.....what do you mean, 'screen time'?". I thought that was a pretty straight forward question, but I went ahead and spelled it out for him: time to play games on the computer, you know, like Minecraft. Now that we were all on the same page, he could delve into the depths of his cerebral cortex and do a little calculating and come up with 'reasonable' and 'time'.  He chose 30 minutes a day or maybe 1 hour every other day. Chloe concurred. I looked to Gavin and asked his opinion. His thought processes always take longer since he actually thinks before he speaks.  He decided that one hour and 27 minutes a day was reasonable.

These revelations actually surprised me. Last year I gave Gavin a maximum of 4 hours a day on the computer because he had a Youtube channel and was making videos most of the summer and that required time.  He was also teaching himself coding by using online classes. To get good at anything, you need time to practice.  I felt it was only fair that he have time to devote to what he loved just as Bennett devotes hours to the basketball court. I don't think he once spent 4 hours on the computer all summer long.

The kicker here is this:  screen time is allowed any time of the day, your choice, as long as you do what you have to do before you do what you want to do. We adopted this philosophy after watching The Great Debaters, an amazing movie.  The father in this movie taught his son responsibility by using this phrase.  He also instilled trust in the relationship.  We thought it was genius and have been implementing this in our family (even Chuck and I follow this guideline) ever since.

This keeps me and my nagging out of the equation. This instills self-government in my children. This reciprocates trust and respect. This allows us to focus on our heart connection and not rules. My children are great rule followers. But I want them to be more than rule followers, I want them to know why some rules are important and others are not (i.e. - Corrie Ten Boom). I want them to be able to think and reason. We follow rules out of respect, but rules never change hearts. I care more about their hearts than my rules.

At this age, they know that every guideline we set is for their good, not to hinder them, upset them, keep them in the dark, stifle them. They know that our ultimate goal is to guard their hearts while they are with us. If we make a lasting impression on their hearts, following the rules just comes naturally - they will want to out of love.

I have a feeling there will be many days that the computer never even gets turned on. They've lived years with only playing video games for one hour on Saturdays and Sundays without complaint. They know how to occupy their minds. We read for many more hours than we play video games. We hike and swim and hangout together many more hours than they will devote to the computer. They know I don't listen to complaining. They don't need to be entertained. I find that if we focus all our attention on video games and screen time it makes it seem more important than it is.

This is just how our family works. What works for us doesn't work for every family. There is no 'right' way. It's very personal. It's very relational. There is no 'one size fits all' rule. What works for one of my children isn't necessarily right for my other children. To be honest, my children are so inundated with technology at school that they are looking forward to having a break from it (well, maybe not Gavin). This is the world they live in, we need to embrace it, show what balance looks like and teach them to control/govern themselves (in relation to everything, not just computer time).

I think that's why we were never given a parenting handbook when we had our first kid (much to my dismay). You have to learn to listen to your child, your heart and God to see what they need. The world and your kids change as fast as the new iOS updates - you just can't keep up with them.  And when you finally do get the new version, you find out it's almost obsolete and need to update again or your device is too old to even upgrade to the new version and you're out of luck unless you buy a new device. Thus is the story of parenthood.




image courtesy of: http://www.ikeepsafe.org/be-a-pro/balance/
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