Whitefield Academy Blog
Managing Screens: 8 Tips for Elementary Families
I was sitting in a coffee shop a few weeks ago when I overheard two dads complaining about their kids. The first complaint was that, at a most recent outing, one daughter didn’t eat anything because she had eaten so many Rice Krispie treats before-hand. The second, on which they both agreed, was that their kids always have their phones out at dinner rather than engaging in conversation. The two dads agreed that this upcoming generation is a “worse generation” than the infamous millennials and surely won’t amount to much.
A Charging Station or a Home?
Parents today are in a unique position. The pace of technological change has hit such crazy levels in the last fifteen years that parents and children are encountering technology at the same time, giving parents little to no time to create a plan of attack. So before doing anything, we need to stop and establish the basics. What, after all, is the purpose of our family and our home? Andy Crouch, in The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, comments, “Our homes aren’t meant to be just refueling stations…they are meant to be places where the very best of life happens.” If our family and our home are supposed to be cores where we train up our children in faith, in love, in wisdom, and in Scripture (Prov. 1:8,9; Deut. 6:4-9), we must have a plan for how technology can support those efforts rather than dismantle them.
The Eight Guidelines
After reading Crouch’s book, our family put together a list of eight guidelines for how we can put technology in its proper place. We by no means keep these perfectly, so please know we aren’t claiming to be the perfect tech family. We have catered these rules to our elementary school children; some of these rules will follow them up to college, and some will change. You will notice that these rules are not all just for our kids either. Having a “tech-wise” family means that parents are included in a lot of the rules because the dangers we are trying to avoid can touch adults as well. The following quotes and stats all come from The Tech-Wise Family.
1. Have a Family-Centered Home
We want to think about what the main living spaces in our home are centered around. Are they centered around the television or the fireplace? The computer desk or the dinner table? There is a marked difference in our kids when they are on our main floor (which has no television) and when they are on our lower level (that has a television). On our main floor, they will read, make paper snow flakes and do puzzles and pick at the piano, but on the lower level, they never play. The TV seems to have a hypnotizing quality even when it is turned off; they breathe more freely and creatively when they separate themselves from it. We’re trying to create spaces that focus on creating and conversing rather than idleness. Click here for a webinar with more information on reading, screens, and kindergartners.
2. Technology is Transparent
Kids have no secrets from mom and dad, and mom and dad have no secrets from each other. Parents know everyone’s passwords, including each other’s, and parents can check any technology at any time. Pornography needs to be a real concern for parents of any ages. “Evidence is piling up that the earlier and the more you use porn, the less you are capable of real intimacy with real partners” (Crouch 170). In a 2015, a study found that 79% of teens ages 13-17 have come across pornography and 54% seek it out. For the 18-24 age group it increases to 91% and 76%. Good filters can certainly help, but there is no filter than can monitor incoming text messages (“An astonishing 62 percent of teenagers say they have received a nude image on their phone, and 40 percent say they have sent one.”) The most important part of this rule is explaining WHY our technology is transparent. For our family it’s a combination of protecting our girls (mentally, emotionally, physically) and teaching them to honor God with their minds and their bodies.
3. No Technology in the Bedroom
More than eight out of ten teenagers take their phones to bed with them and seven in ten adults do. Having a transparent home means no technology (television, tablets, smart phones) behind the closed doors of bedrooms. This rule is partially to protect our family from the temptations of pornography but also to protect our sleep. Research has begun to show that increased amount of time in front of the blue light of devices trains our brains to think that it is day time, making it harder and harder for us to fall asleep at night.
4. Wake Up First, Fall Asleep Second
Rule Three leads right into Rule Four. It’s important to wake up before your devices do and fall asleep after your devices do. If I use my phone as an alarm clock, it’s almost a certainty that the second it goes off I will grab it to see what I missed while I was sleeping. A few weeks ago, I found out that it had snowed during the night not because I stood up and looked out the window but because I saw it on a friend’s Instagram post. Embarrassing. When I wake up before my devices, it encourages me to spend time praying, making coffee, and getting myself ready for the day before my crazy progeny awake. Going to bed after my phone means that I spend time talking to my husband, reading, and actually being tired before bed.
5. Schedule Technology
The amazing thing about scheduling technology is that you get used to it. Awhile ago we decided to stop letting our kids watch TV or use the iPad during the week because by the time we got home from school, did homework, watched TV and ate dinner, they had no time to play with each other. We decided that they could watch a movie Friday and Saturday nights and an hour of TV on Saturday and Sunday morning. It took a few weeks to get used to it, but now they don’t even ask to watch TV during the week. For parents, this is a little bit different. We decided that we didn’t want our kids to grow up with memories of us always yelling at them from behind a screen, so we work pretty hard, though imperfectly, to not be on devices in front of our kids. I run a small business on the computer from home, so that means I try to do everything when my girls are at school, napping, or asleep. This also means that dad tries to put his phone away when he gets home from work.
6. Taking a Sabbath
My husband and I have discussed for years what the Sabbath is supposed to look like for our family. We both do what we can to not work on Sundays, but recently I’ve given up devices. This caused a bit of a problem when I was supposed to substitute in Sunday School and didn’t realize it because I hadn’t checked social media that morning, but other than that, I love it! Instead of Sundays spent scrolling through Facebook, I am able to spend time reading, creating, writing, and resting. Crouch also encourages taking a yearly week long Sabbath from devices, going on vacation and truly turning off your email, reconnecting with the world and with your family.
7. Cars, Tables, and Play Dates are for Conversation
There are no devices at meals; this applies to date nights for mom and dad as well. We also do not allow devices in the car. Instead of watching a movie or playing on iPads, we check out tons of books on CD from the library and we sing along to music. Let’s be honest, on our most recent 16 hour car trip we used the DVD player for our extremeley car-sick-prone kids, but my husband and I listened to podcasts together, and we both really enjoyed having something new to talk about. Finally, when friends are over we try really hard to not break out any devices. Friends are more fun than screens.
8. Use Age-Appropriate Technology
Crouch goes so far in his book to say that kids shouldn’t have any screens until they reach double digits. We don’t go that far, but we are strict about what types of screens our kids use at the designated times previously mentioned. Our kids are allowed to watch certain TV shows and movies on streaming devices; all other shows are locked with a pin number. They are also allowed to play a few games on a family iPad. They are not allowed to have their own smart phones or their own tablets. Our kindergartner is old enough to want to listen to her own music, and we are getting her an old fashioned thing called a “CD player” for her birthday (mainly because music streaming apps have no good parental controls).
Implementing some of these rules can be really difficult, especially if you have older kids who can fight back. The hardest part of all of this is that we do not live on a mountaintop alone. Every day, our girls are encountering a world that doesn’t just have different rules than our family, but a world that says our family is wrong. We know how hard it is for kids to be different; in some ways, it’s radical. But Andy Crouch says if there’s one thing our kids should hear from us all the time it’s “Our family is different.”