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Finding God in the Story of Your Life

Limiting “screen time”

Reader and FB friend Lynda wrote to ask a parenting question. I’m no expert, so I’d love your opinion on this: “how do you limit electronics for your children in your home?”

Our kids are a generation for whom technology is normal. It’s how they connect with the world, how they entertain themselves, and so on.

The best parenting advice I ever got was “keep the end in mind.” What are we aiming at as parents? Essentially, we hope to work ourselves out of a job. To shape and coach our kids to eventually be functioning, competent, independent adults.

So to a certain extent, in order to prepare kids to navigate the world, they need to learn the language of electronics. They need to know how to use a computer and a cell phone, for example. However, they also need to know how to have a face to face conversation, so they need to learn that too. In order to teach that, we have to show them how to unplug sometimes.

The goal is not for us to control them, but to teach them self-control. When we’re asking about limits, we have to ask–what is a reasonable limit?

My kids are 14 and 16. We chose not to have video games in our house for a very long time. We let them do educational computer games like “Reader Rabbit” when they were small. We let them watch some TV, but we had very few channels because we don’t have cable, so they mostly watched public television (shows like Barney, or Arthur, were favorites).

At one point my kids wanted a Nintendo DS, a little hand-held video game. I told them they could have one if they paid for it themselves. So they saved birthday money (from relatives) and money they earned doing work (babysitting or lawn  mowing), and bought one together. The fact that they had to spend their own money motivated them to take good care of this little machine.

Some parents wisely limit “screen time”–whether computer or video game or TV each day. My kids had to spend an equivalent time reading or doing homework to earn time on the computer.

I know my kids would sometimes play video games at other kids’ homes. But we did not allow them to play violent games. The ratings on games are there for a reason–so you can be a parent. I talked to other parents to make sure I knew what they were playing.

When your kids are small, read to them. Play with them, send them out to the backyard to play. Play candyland or do puzzles (yes, this is mind-numbing sometimes–keep the end in mind). Take a walk to the park, even if it’s snowing out.

I think the most important thing is to model the behavior you want to build in your kids. Don’t park yourself in front of the TV for hours and then wonder why your kids do the same with video games.

Also, take time to have family meals. Do not allow texting or hand-held games at the table.

I’d love to hear from others…how do you limit electronics?

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