Just a few years ago, I would have been horrified at a family who allowed their kids unlimited screen time.
Little did I know!
We have four kids. Up until my older boys were almost teens, they were only allowed 30 minutes electronics a day, and that was only after they had done school work and chores (they were allowed to watch some TV in addition).
We had one family computer, and a rota for who went first each day! If anyone went over their 30 minutes, they sure heard about it from the child who was next in turn! It worked pretty well. And, our kids could sometimes earn extra computer time by doing jobs around the house (a great incentive to do housework).
Well, these days our kids have pretty much unlimited screen time.
Let me jump right in and tell you why:
8 Reasons Why My Kids Have Unlimited Screen Time
1. We just didn’t know!
When my first boys were almost teens, they asked to buy their own laptops, with their savings. We allowed them to do so.
I was super naive, and thought, “Great, now they can have their 30 minutes computer time at the same time without having to wait for each other. Computer time will be over and done with even quicker!”
I just didn’t know! I certainly didn’t think.
I didn’t know that they would consider it their right to do what they wanted, when they wanted, on their laptops – after all they had bought them with their own money.
(They weren’t being bad kids, or trying to break any rules. They were just thrilled with the freedom of having their very own device.)
I didn’t know that as teens, there would be 101 other things they needed their laptops for (apart from games).
I didn’t know that they were hitting the age, when they would prefer to be by themselves in their room (with their laptop) all day long. (We now have rules in place on this one.)
I didn’t know about online games that couldn’t be quit without serious repercussion to team and happiness.
2. We didn’t put rules in place from the start.
Because we didn’t know, we didn’t think. Because we didn’t think, we didn’t put rules in place before allowing our kids to have their own devices.
All three of our sons now have their own laptops. Our daughter has a tablet. All bought with their own money.
(We used to have numerous smaller devices too – iPod, iPad and PSP. Thankfully, those are all sold and gone. It is so much easier to keep track of bigger devices – they can’t be hidden under pillows – not so easily, anyway!)
I’m not against our kids having their own devices. I think it’s great. They need them in this day and age.
However, there are so many things I wish we’d known, and so many conditions I wish we’d talked through with our kids, before allowing them to buy their own devices.
(I plan to write a post on “Everything I Wish We’d Known Before Allowing Our Kids to Have Their Own Electronic Devices” – so more on that another time.)
Let me just say that it is VERY difficult to put rules in place once something has become your child’s ‘right’. Because then, you are ‘taking’ from your child.
It is much easier to put conditions in place first. Because then, even though there are some rules attached, your child is being allowed the privilege of having their own device, and you are ‘giving’ to your child.
Well, we’ve learnt the hard way. We’ve had to put rules in place as we’ve gone along, because we didn’t know to put them there to begin with.
Some rules have stuck, like no screens until after church on a Sunday, no screens at mealtimes, and no screens after bedtime (which may seem obvious, but it wasn’t for some of our kids!).
Some rules have slipped, like screens only at certain hours of the day. Major slip on this one, and that’s what this post is all about!
(Though I must be fair to my daughter and say that she really doesn’t spend much time on screen at all.)
3. Computers are so much a part of all my kids do.
My kids ‘need’ their computers for everything! They’re not just gaming. (Though they do a lot of that too.)
If you have younger kids, this may not be an issue. I know it was so much easier to have time limits in place when mine where younger!
Most things my kids do, however constructive, involve a screen: homework (online research, Word, Excel, Powerpoint), reading a book (usually online), listening to music (YouTube), playing an instrument (online songs and chords), art and craft (online tutorials), chatting to friends (social media/skype), photography (online editing & storage), writing to friends/family (email), and a multitude of other things. Yes, even reading the Bible!
These are all great things to do, and I don’t mind my kids using a screen, where necessary, to do them.
Where it becomes very difficult is regulating these online activities, and who’s doing what when.
I’ve tried saying, “Ok, just 3 hours screen a day.”
That rule lasted about a day. It was impossible to monitor 4 kids, all taking parts of their 3 hours at different times throughout the day. I very quickly lost track!
I’ve tried saying, “Ok, screens only between 4pm and 8pm” (for example), but then what about my daughter who wants to make a cake at 11am and needs to look up the recipe online. Of course, I can make an exception. But then the exceptions come fast and furious – exceptions for homework, exceptions for an online coding course, exceptions for my son who worships using online music. And there goes our computer time rule!
I’ve tried saying, “Ok, only 2 hours computer games/social media a day. Everything else is ok.” Again, so difficult to keep track of. My kids usually have several tabs running at a time. They don’t compartmentalise their computer usage!
I am just not super-mum enough to police each and every tab that my 4 kids have running whenever they’re online, or to keep track of how many minutes they spend on each kind of computer activity!
(We do have internet monitors and filters for all our devices, so we know our kids are safe online, and I can check what they’ve been doing. We use Qustodio. I’ll post on that another time.)
There are times when we just simply say, “Ok, no computers this Saturday morning. Let’s have some family time.” That’s ok with my kids with some advanced warning, and as a one-off rather than a set rule.
We will also tell them every now and again to take a break, and they do. And sometimes, they just choose to do something different anyway.
4. My kids are good at what they do!
I’m proud of my kids’ computer prowess. They are good at what they do! Very good!
I want to encourage their computer skills.
One of my sons regularly ranks on the European leader board for the online game Hearthstone. He’s good. He sometimes gets to play the pros. You can imagine the number of hours he’s put in to get there! I don’t want to discourage this love and talent, just because it’s a computer game.
Another son loves all things technical, and sourced and built his own computer last year. His expertise extends to online systems and software.
My daughter loves arts and crafts and gets loads of inspiration and help from online tutorials.
Computers are not the enemy. (Though it often feels like it!) They are a part-and-parcel of our everyday lives. My kids are acquiring valuable skills as they spend time on their devices.
5. My husband and I are probably not the best role models.
So, Ok….here’s the thing: my husband and I are on computer lots too.
Ever since I met him, my husband has been into computer games. Had to figure that one out at the beginning of our marriage!
Our kids have grown up seeing their Dad enjoy computer games! And that’s not all bad. It’s a great connection point. He plays computer games with them; they understand each other’s language! They have a fantastic bond.
And, now that I’ve got into this whole blogging thing, I’m on my laptop lots too. (Yes, it is a different phase of life – I no longer have young kids. Then, my computer moments were few and far between.)
But, even if we are all on our own devices, we’re often ‘hanging out’ together in the living room, chatting and interacting (between tabs)!
6. We live overseas.
I’m in a country where just normal living sucks so much out of me. Different culture. Different language. Different food. Different schooling. We’ve been here seven years. I’ve had months at a time of overwhelm, not being able to keep on top of even the seemingly simple things like shopping and cooking. It’s quite often been exhausting. Trying to keep on top of screen usage has just been one thing too much for me.
This leads into my last two reasons:
7. It’s just easier.
This has to be one of the lamest
reasons excuses for allowing my kids unlimited screen time. But I’m being honest. It’s true.
It is just sometimes easier to let my kids be on computer than to think of alternatives for them to do.
8. There is nothing else for my kids to do!
Yes, they have other interests, but, as I shared, these often involve the use of a screen.
We live in a massive city of 20 million people. Friends are spread out across the city. Our eldest is the most adventurous, and the only one who has truly conquered the public transport system. He (willingly) does round-trips of 2-4 hours to get to youth group on a Friday night, or to go to floorball practice. You can guess why my other boys are not keen to go!
A visit to friends for our younger kids, can involve a 1-2 hour round-drive for my husband or I. We don’t do it too often!
Language difficulties and being treated as foreigners are huge barriers to our kids joining local sports and clubs. (It took us months when we first arrived to even find a swimming pool, and then we had to go through the trauma of unexpected blood tests to be allowed to join!)
All said, we are often home. It is difficult to find other things to do.
(Don’t feel sorry for us! This city has brought us many blessings too. It has been a wonderful experience to be here.)
So, why am I telling you all this?
Do you really want, or need, to know why my kids have unlimited computer time?
Am I just trying to justify it all, and make myself feel better?
I’ll be honest and say I feel very vulnerable publishing this post.
But, I think I should, because
I’ve learned some things through all of this:
#1 I can never judge another family and their situation.
A few short years ago, I would not have dreamed of allowing my kids unlimited screen time. I would have frowned on someone who did.
The thing is, we never know what is going on in someone else’s life. We may not know how hard they are trying, or longing, or praying for something to change. We may not know what pressures and what difficulties they are going through, that make things seem less than ideal on the surface.
We cannot judge them, whether it is to do with the amount of screen time they allow their children, or anything else.
#2 I’m not a bad mum.
I have to remind myself of this when it comes to my kids and electronics, as this is the easiest area for me to feel inadequate, guilty, or not in control as a parent.
Electronics and internet issues have been my biggest overwhelm and frustration as a parent the last couple of years. There have been many times I’ve just wanted to throw all our devices out of the window (we live on the 8th floor)!
I’ve spent hours and hours making sure my kids are safe online, patrolling the house at night checking electronics are where they’re meant to be, and praying for my kids.
#3 My kids are turning out just great.
I’m not advocating unlimited screen time. Far from it.
(If you have time rules in place that work, then that’s fantastic. If your kids do not yet have their own devices, put rules in place before they do. And, if like me, you often feel lost with it all, ask God for his grace and wisdom.)
But, God knows my season. He knows our season as a family. By his grace, my kids are turning out just great!
They stop whatever they are doing on computer when I ask them to help out, or to take a break. They are growing in God. They are kind and loving and fun. They do well at school. Their hearts are in the right place.
#4 It’s a now season. Things change.
I’ve come to a place of acceptance and peace that this is only a now season.
We move back to UK this summer. I am probably naive to think that things will change too much (though I would like to get some new routines in place), but at least there will be more options of other things for our kids to do.
And change can happen unexpectedly:
One of my sons came up to me the other day and asked, “Mum, was your life this boring when you were a kid? I don’t want to be on computer all the time, but there’s nothing else for me to do.”
Part of me felt sad for him. Part of me felt encouraged, that computer is not really the huge attraction of his life.
It’s inspired me to put some new things in place this week. My son is now helping me in the kitchen some nights, and discovering a talent for cooking. We’ve decided to make Friday nights a family fun night. And to make homemade pizza together on Saturdays.
Things change. When the time is right, God gives the strength and inspiration to make the changes. When he does that, it isn’t hard.
#5 I’m not the only mum who struggles with the challenges of kids and electronics.
I know I’m not!
And that’s the real reason why I write this post.
Because, I know, there are other mums like me, who struggle to keep on top of this electronic challenge, who have had to give up some ideals, and who sometimes feel inadequate, overwhelmed or not-in-control when it comes to their kids’ electronic usage.
Hand ups, if that’s you!
Well, I don’t have all the answers.
But one thing I know: we have a gracious Father.
He loves us. He loves our kids. We can tell him our frustrations. We can give him our overwhelm. We can ask him to show us the way forward.
And, you know what? God is even more tech-savvy than our kids! Yep. We have a high-tech God! He understands. He knows. Let’s come to him, and know his peace for where we’re at (not for where we want to be).
I’d love to know about you:
What are your struggles with kids and electronics?
What rules do you have in place that work (or don’t work)?
Where are you at, with God, in all this?
Leave a comment below.
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