All of the dishes rest clean and dry in the dishwasher while their dirty counterparts pile higher and higher in the sink above. The chore of putting away those clean dishes lies with the child, who, at the present time could be found hiding behind the sofa.
As I softly coax him out from behind the couch to put the dishes away, he explodes in a rant of unfairness.
“But you won’t let me play on my iPod when I’m done!” he hollers at me. He has made no eye contact and I can see this is his internal battle between right and wrong; between what he should do and what he wants to do.
As calmly as I can, I explain how he is half correct in his statement. “That is correct. You won’t get to play on your iPod, yet. When it is “screen time” at 1pm you will absolutely be able to play on your iPod – if you get the dishes put away. If you don’t do the dishes, you will not be able to play on your iPod.”
Reason falls short on him and his sympathetic fight-or-flight response is already activated. Like ice cream on a summer day in Texas, my son melted down into a puddle of emotions. Unfortunately this is not an isolated incidence – this is a daily norm.
Does this sound familiar?
Are you having daily breakdowns in your home because the desire to be on “screens” is so strong? When they are playing, watching, or using media do you have a hard time getting them to quit?
These traits are now commonplace among our youth. Recent studies show media consumption is re-wiring our brains. The positive reward loop created when a child plays games on an electronic device and the subsequent dopamine (pleasure chemical) released has been shown to cause an addiction/withdraw-like pattern.
In a world where screens and technology are everything, what standard should parents raise their children by?
Good question! Here are 3 simple things to lay the foundation of solid character. You’ll be able to implement these in your home immediately.
Do As I Do
It is imperative we evaluate how much screen and media time we consume in front of our children. Similar to sneaking hidden chocolate while your kids are in the other room, you may find yourself needing to sneak a few minutes away from their impressionable gaze if you can’t wait any longer to check how many likes your photo on Instagram received.
A recent report from Common Sense Media showed that 41% of children feel like their parents are distracted by their phone or device when together.
This is a problem. We cannot expect different behavior than what we are exhibiting.
Watch TV when they are in bed, check your social media during nap time, pretend you have to go to the bathroom to text your friends. Whatever it takes, make the change. Don’t let them see you holding your phone in your hand 24/7.
Designate Specific Screen Time
If the incessant questioning of “when can I play electronics?” is driving you mad, this solution is your new best friend.
Evaluate your daily schedule and decide on a set time every day when your children could have 30 or 60 minutes of time to play on electronic devices. You can write the time on your daily schedule or post it for all to see in a communal part of the home. They will not have to ask as long as they can read.
Scheduled screen time accomplishes several great things:
First, children will learn to practice self-control. Thou shall not ask for screen time lest thou wishes to lose it completely. Our children must learn the value of controlling themselves, both in actions and words. Make this a rule and stick to it! You’ll be surprised how quickly they learn.
Secondly, the allotted time helps in their decision making. If screen time is from 1-2pm and they waste half their time bouncing between games because they cannot decide what to play, they are left only half the time to play. Children learn how to manage their time better with practiced decision making.
Finally, this one hour of designated screen time (or how much you allow) blesses you with an hour to use screens as well. Or take a nap.
Tech Free Days
As adults and kids alike become more and more seduced into spending time on screens, it is increasingly beneficial for the implementation of 100% screen free days and weekends. Unplug your television, turn off your phones and iPads, and find something “old school” to do. Visit a nearby park, play board games, clean the house, go to a museum, play basketball outside – the options are truly limitless.
If unplugging for your family for an entire day seems too hard of a task, start small. Consider starting with a 5-6 hour tech-free time then work your way up. Celebrate the family’s success by going out for ice cream, thereby creating new positive reward loops in the brain. The more this is practiced, the easier it will be.
Parents and children will reconnect with face to face and bond-forming interactions – the way it should be.