Modern Parenting and Screen Awareness

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

It has been mostly agreed upon that parenting today is more difficult than it was twenty or thirty years ago; than it was for our parents to raise us.  There's a whole list of reasons on why it is more difficult to be a parent nowadays, including parenting guidelines and tips, societal standards, and fear sensationalized by media. I mean, last night I spent forty-five minutes alone researching about whether or not our infant carseat has been recalled or if we could pass it on down to Studerbaby4.  I'm fairly certain my mother never once had to look into that sort of information.

Besides a whole lot of bombardment on incredibly varying ideas of what 'good parenting' looks like (much of which is contradictory to each other), we also have one giant bonus of something that our parents didn't have to deal with:  Screens.

Screentime though, is 'a thing' now; a part of parenting that wasn't even on the radar of our parents.  Did you know that today, the average American kid (ages 6-11) spend about thirty hours a week looking at a TV or computer monitor!  What does it mean for the development of children (of adults!) when our experiences happen with the barrier of a screen?  Richard Louv, author of  The Last Child in the Woods, included this terrifying reflections:
"Primary experience is being the secondary, vicarious, often distorted dual sensory (vision and sound only), one-way experience of television and other electronic media...many of us can go through an average day and not have more than a handshake.. Diminishing touch is only one by-product of the culture of technical contributes to violence in an ever more tightly wired society." 
With today's horrifying headlines, this connection between technology and limited sensory experience is downright chilling.

Sure, I grew up watching television as much as the next kid, but even tv was different when I was growing up. And, truly that was all there was in terms of screens for a large majority of my childhood.  We got a home computer sometime while I was in high school and didn't get dial-up internet until my junior year of high school.  I didn't get my first cellphone until I was a sophomore in college.  Screens were not a strong presence in my childhood because it wasn't even a possibility.

Fast forward twenty some years, and our four year old daughter recently told me that she truthfully believed that we are "being watched' and that 'we're on people's phones, right?  Like on videos?"  And by the time she's a tween - what will she believe then?  It's no wonder that kids today are stressed about maintaining their social persona, they really DO have people 'watching' them on their phones through their social media profiles.  It makes me wonder what it does to their sense of self and their level of stress to believe (to know!) that they are always being watched?

I read a fascinating article from the NY Times about how face-to-face conversation is becoming a thing of the past.  Since reading this, I can't stop myself from noticing how many young people that I speak with seem to be holding back in conversations and I know understand that as the hesitation to expose themselves without the chance to self-edit:  a thing they are used to in almost all other conversations through texting, status posting, and filters.

I'm an adult woman who is pretty confident in my sense of self, and even I feel stress if I think something I've posted or shared has unintentionally hurt someone's feelings or rubbed someone the wrong way.  To think of what my high school social media profiles would have looked like literally makes me cringe.  I often wonder what kind of  person I may have turned out to be if I grew up today, under the microscope of social media, the constant opportunity to self-edit or make perfect before sharing, and digesting so many other people's creativity instead of having to use my own imagination.

Our kids are still very young (six and under) and so it still feels relatively manageable.  Don't get me wrong, it is a battle (an exhausting, never ending struggle) to combat the constant pressure of screens in our kids lives.  But they don't have cell phones, or their own tablets, or screens in their bedrooms yet - and so we still are the gatekeepers (and timekeepers) for a little while.

Like most moms, I feel a lot of pressure to do this thing right - this thing being raising our kids.  And it's hard to know in this age of so much information (too much) what exactly is the right thing to do, ever.  So we go at most parenting challenges with a goal of moderation and awareness.

To preserve our own sanity, we have found that it's been much easier to (attempt) to manage our kids' screen times with a flat set of 'Screen Free Zones.' There's no discussion or negotiations that are required (and exhausting) because these are the rules.  Our Screen Free Zones have helped to naturally curb our kids' time spent 'zombie'ing out' on screens for hours that we lose track of in the busyness of life.

  • mealtimes:  this rule applies to our whole family.  we as parents put our phone away from the tables and ignore any notification pings or vibrates during all mealtimes.  We only have one television in the living room, so unless we all agree that it's a special dinner & a movie situation (like we ordered in pizza), then it's screen free meals around the kitchen table or outside 99% of the time for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
  • kids' bedtimes: our kids are still young enough that they request as in their rooms as their falling asleep.  we know that too soon these requests will not be placed, so parenting advice be damned, we read books and snuggle and rub backs as the kids fall asleep.  the kids have no screens in their rooms and we (the parents) leave our phones outside of their bedrooms during our nighttime routines.
  • car:  we go old school when it comes to car rides and refuse screens for the kids in car rides no matter how long.  our rationale is that they can look out the window and daydream (or manager their own boredom) just like we did when we were kids.  (hah).  And as parents, we try to be good role models for our kids by leaving our phones placed away while we drive because we know we have future drivers watching our every move (gulp).  So we never text or surf the web while in the car and keep phone calls to an absolute minimum while driving.    
  • practices/games:  when we attend practices or games, we are there for a reason - most often to watch someone we know and love.  out of respect for them, screens are a no.
  • family & friends events (parties, restaurants, holidays):  to be able to spend time with our friends and family is the gift - we don't need screens to distract or take away time that we are lucky to share with people we love.  Our policy is to 'be with the friends/family that are there.' 

Last year, we also put into place our family rule of no television on weekday mornings.  I didn't like the feeling of how letting the kids watch cartoons in the morning got our days started.  Now, instead of soaking in the creativity of others through television/movies - the kids start their day using their own imaginations to get started playing right away and it has naturally spread out through the rest of our days as the kids are less inclined to ask for screen when already involved in playing.

After this year's Screen Free Week, I'm also hoping to add to our regular family routine: screen free Wednesdays that would apply to both parents and kids.  A day where we intentionally look up and enjoy the life that's around us!

We want to preserve and pass on the same kind of childhood that we enjoyed to our own kids.  One that was full of free time and boredom and wonder and imagination.  One that is highlighted by relationships and memories with the people in our lives.  With this hope in mind, we try to move through each day with intentional steps.

What is startling to me is that even though screens are a daily, constant part of all our lives, there isn't much research that has been done to understand what effects it has on any of us.  People are only starting to question, converse, and wonder about it.  If you're interested in reading/watching some thoughts that I've found helpful or inspiring, see the list below:

The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
The Winter of our Disconnect by Susan Maushart

TED Talks: 
Connected but Alone by Sherry Turkle
The Value of Boredom by Genevieve Bell

A quick, easy, and simple way to reduce screen time from 1000 hours outside
The Flight from Conversation from Sherry Turkle

Instagram accounts:
Childhood Unplugged
Let the Kids

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