For the past week, I have been working on the Lookup Challenge, a program created by Dr. Katie Penry to help parents recognize and revise the amount of time they spend on their phones when their kids are around. I loved the challenge and the personal inventory I took to start off the week. First, I noticed every time I looked at my phone and calculated how many actual hours a day I spend on my phone, especially when my whole family is home and together. Am I prioritizing my phone over face to face interactions with my spouse and children? I was sad to find that the answer to that question was yes more often then I would like to admit. So, after I took an honest and painful inventory of my phone usage, I started Dr. Penry’s first challenge, which was to announce the reason for looking down at my phone every time anyone was around. This meant I was letting someone know whether I was using my phone to send a text about carpool, looking up a recipe, or checking a social media notification. This method was very effective at not only helping my children understand when I was using my phone for mommy duties and when I was just bored or wasting time doing something unimportant. Reality check for sure!
The second challenge presented by Dr. Penry’s lookup challenge was setting up tech free times and spaces. For example, I decided there should never be a phone at the dinner table or while I was tucking children into bed. I also think my phone should be out of reach while I’m driving anywhere with any of my children. In my home, we set up a no screen time policy from 5-9 pm, so we could have uninterrupted family time. This was tricky at first, but soon my children pulled out the card and board games, began interacting with each other and started helping with dinner, doing chores and helping each other with homework. It is glorious! They are good at reminding us as parents that we are not allowed to use our phones during these hours.
Once I set up my screen free times and spaces, it was time to tweak my notifications. Smart phones are so smart these days. You can actually tell them what notifications you want to receive and when you do not want to be disturbed. You just have to take some time to set it up the way you want it to work for you and Voila! After your notifications are exactly how you like them, hold a family meeting and let your children participate in making a family media use plan. Discuss the rules about when and where phone use is appropriate. For example you can set up rules like no devices at meal times or in bedrooms. Or, we will not look down at our phones when someone else is talking to us. Write out your rules and post them in a location of your home where everyone can see and refer to them often.
Once you have started enforcing your family media plan, set up additional screen free family times like every Saturday morning. Be prepared with ideas for age appropriate activities when you children tell you they are so bored. Let them work it out. They will thank you for it later. Last summer in our family, we did a screen free summer and my kids actually liked it. We planned activities and outings to historical sites and museums, pools and water parks, hikes and parks as well as other local attractions and bucket list items. You could come up with weekly or daily themes like Monday – move it day, Tuesday – trip day, Wednesday – water day, Thursday – think day and Friday – friend day. Take advantage of pintrest and your kids imaginations. Involve all of you family members in the planning. Let them think it was their idea to do a screen free summer!
During our screen free summer last year, my youngest was bothering me to let him watch a show and I kept saying no until finally I just tuned him out. A few minutes later, I looked over and saw him practicing writing letters in a work book. Total Mom Win!
When you limit your own and your children’s screen time, you will find so much more time to interact with each other and enjoy magical and spontaneous family moments like the one pictured below. I’m a huge fan of technology and I use it everyday. I want my kids to be familiar with how it works and be able to use it, but I don’t want little screen addicted robots roaming around my house mumbling nonsense and never making eye contact.
Give your family the most amazing gift you could possibly give them, which is rules and boundaries around screens and devices. They might kick and scream a little bit at first, but I promise they will thank you for it as some point. Be the mean parent, just for a little while and reap the benefits forever! You can find Dr. Katie Penry’s Lookup Challenge at www.afriendlyaffair.com.