Screens are addictive. Companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft (not to mention video game companies) and more literally employ people called “attention engineers” who’s job it is to work to get you and your kids to spend more time on their platforms. As the saying goes, nothing is free. If you are using a product for free then, you’re the product. You and information about you and your preferences is being harvested then sold to companies to use to target advertising and other marketing campaigns specifically to your tastes.

Now, before you go thinking I’m some kind of anti-technology advocate (though, I am in favor of not letting kids and tweens have tablets and smartphones because of the affects they can have on brain development), I’m not saying you should destroy every device in your home, disconnect from the grid, build a cabin somewhere in the remote forest of Montana and hope no one ever comes to find you. But, as a society, we have been pretty thoughtless in our adoption of technology (myself included). And we have been (myself included again) pretty thoughtless in how we let our kids use technology. I have two considerations I’d like you to make.

First, how much time are your kids on devices and watching screens per day?

According to the AACAP (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry), “On average, children ages 8-12 in the United States spend 4-6 hours a day watching or using screens, and teens spend up to 9 hours.”

According to a survey done by ABC, “The majority of young people seem to be getting smartphones much earlier as well. By age 11, 53% of kids have their own smartphone, and by age 12, 69% of them do — an increase from 41% in 2015.” (Link)

As a parent of 4 kids, I know what you’re thinking. “Don’t tell me how to raise my kids!” Or “I just want them to be happy.” Or “I don’t want to be the bad guy. I hate telling them no.” I get it. It’s hard to take something away from your kids that they love. But, the dangers of too much screen time are just now being uncovered. According to a study from the National Institute of Health:

  • “…children who spent more than two hours a day on screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests, and some children with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning.”
  • “we can hypothesize is that screens could inhibit certain aspects of a child’s development by narrowing their focus of interest and limiting their other means of exploration and learning,” – Dr. Jennifer F. Cross
  • Children to have more than 2 hours of screen time per day are more likely to have Behavioral, Educational, Obesity, Sleep and Violence problems.

And for teenagers, the danger of cyberbullying greatly increases with having a smartphone:

  • “Out of all the students, 9.5% reported having encountered cyberbullying. As expected, the general trend saw that cell phone-owning students had a noticeably higher risk of being bullied online, a statistic which was most significant in grades three and four. Furthermore, students with cell phones were also more likely to engage in cyberbullying themselves, leading researchers to suggest that cell phone access allows greater exposure to an already prevalent culture.” (Link)

Recommendation: Using parental controls on devices, limit screen time to no more than 2 hours per day. Less if they’re younger. (Research suggests limiting screen time to video chats with family members under 3 years of age.)

Second, how much time are you on your device when your kids are present?

Okay, so this one is so prevalent that it actually has a name: Phone Snubbing, aka “phubbing”. It’s looking at your smartphone instead of the people you’re with. There are so many times throughout my week where I’m talking with someone, their phone dings or buzzes and then I sit there and wait while they check what it is, respond and oftentimes get distracted by the other things on their phone. I’ve literally lost hours of my life waiting for others to put down their phone and be present with me. You have too, and you’ll probably notice it more now.

I make a very active effort not to look at or check my phone when I’m with people. I seek to keep my screen time on my phone at an hour per day. Sometimes less. For me the phone is a tool, not a toy. It’s for communication. This isn’t to elevate myself. I used to spend a lot of time on my phone around others.

But then a friend of mine was talking to me about their wife (also a stay at home mom) who likely spent 8-10 hours a day on their phone. I had two thoughts. First, they’d probably be better off putting their kids in a day care where they would at least get interaction with other kids and intentional interaction with adults. Second, I was spending too much time on my phone or laptop with my kids around. So, I decided to make a change.

I still spend more time than I should on my laptop. And I’m working to reduce that. But think about it. Your kids look to you. Your kids are looking to you for approval or disapproval. Their framework for right and wrong, positive and negative, identity and so much more comes from your face. When our faces are buried in a device while our kids are doing things in the background, they miss out on much needed response to help them develop a healthy sense of right and wrong and self-image.

According to Elite Content Marketer (link), we are spending 3 hours and 43 minutes per day on our smartphones. More if you’re a millennial, and more if you’re in generation Z.

“So, this feels kind of judgmental, what are you suggesting?”

I’m not judging. I’m guilty. Almost all of us are. So, let me make some suggestions.

1.) Work to get your screen-time on your smartphone down to necessary communication related activities only.

It’s a phone. Just because you can play candy crush (or whatever game is popular nowadays) for hours on end while you use the bathroom and get hemorrhoids, doesn’t mean you should.

2.) Work to reduce the amount of time your kids spend on screens, especially tablets, smartphones and portable devices.

It will be challenging, but you don’t have to do it all at once. If your child currently spends 4 hours a day on a portable device, try to get it down to 3 a day for a week. Then shoot for 2.

3.) Establish these basic screen rules for your family.

  • No screen-time during mealtime
  • No screen-time in bedrooms
  • No screen-time in the car

But, I don’t know what to do to fill up all the time! (25 Time With Your Kids Activities)

Well here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Read Books together (Make use of the public library!)
  2. Play games as a family. (Uno is one of our favorites that works for younger kids)
  3. Go for a walk as a family or with one child at a time.
  4. Go to a park.
  5. Ask your kid what their favorite toy is and why. (Favorite activity, book, movie, superhero, etc.)
  6. Do some “Mr. Wizard” experiments.
  7. Build a blanket fort.
  8. Have a picnic (in the blanket fort if you want!)
  9. Play some of the old backyard games (freeze-tag, red rover, etc.)
  10. Play C-O-W or around the world at local basketball court.
  11. Fly a Kite
  12. Have a paper airplane contest
  13. Draw, revise, re-draw and color a picture.
  14. Write a story (Use a famous story like Toy Story as a guideline if you don’t know where to start.)
  15. Bake or cook together.
  16. Garden (Flowers are great, but kids love growing vegetables that you get to eat too!)
  17. Study constellations in a book, then try to find them at night.
  18. Have a water-balloon fight.
  19. Write letters to neighbors, aunts & uncles and family members (or senior citizens in nursing homes)
  20. Work on a project together (cleaning out their closet, weeding the flower beds, etc.)
  21. Learn some “magic” tricks.
  22. Listen to some music together, share your favorites even if they hate them! (Or listen to the top 40 from genres or from different years and decades, talk about the ones you like/dislike and why.)
  23. Make sock puppets and put on a puppet show
  24. Make a treasure hunt
  25. Find a script for a popular play or movie and rein-act it together.