I’ve struggled to learn the balance in parenting when it comes to screen time, whether that’s watching movies and shows, being on a device, or playing video games. On one hand, I want my children to learn how to have an imagination of their own, read books, play with toys, interact with friends, and one another, but on the other hand, it becomes legalistic to keep them from anything and everything technology.
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After all, the whole purpose of this blog is to teach your children how to THRIVE in the world they are growing up in, which means teaching them how to have self-control and guard their minds when it comes to using screens.
As parents, we can do anything and everything to protect them from the dangers of this world, but you and I both know, this is not sustainable. They WILL be exposed to inappropriate content. They WILL experience hardships and might become addicted to things. And it’s our job to help them navigate through, not keep them from the difficulties life will bring.
When it comes to video games and screen time, it’s important that alongside allowing them age-appropriate indulgences, we also teach them the importance of self-control. In our society, we’ve already established that video games or screen time of any kind can be addictive, especially to the adolescent. If you’re at all aware of what’s going on in this realm, you might have seen a few YouTube videos that went viral about the kids who lost their Fortnite privileges. If you haven’t, just google, “Video of kids who lost their cool over Fortnite.” Then, come and tell me that video games aren’t harmful or addictive.
With that being said, video games DON’T have to be harmful. In fact, there are recent studies that suggest that video games help with problem-solving skills in kids. Here are a few benefits for kids of healthy video games.
Benefits of HEALTHY video games:
- Improves coordination
- Improves problem-solving skills
- Enhances memory
- Improves attention and concentration
- It is a great source of learning
- Improves the brain’s speed
- Enhances multitasking skills
- Can improve a family’s emotional bond if played together
As you can see there are benefits to allowing your kids to play video games. But as with anything, that good can be used for bad. So now let’s talk about the dangers of unhealthy video games and when not monitored by parents.
Dangers of UNHEALTHY video games:
- Less time socializing with friends and family if played alone
- Poor social skills if played instead of socializing
- Lower grades
- Less reading
- Less exercise and becoming overweight
- Decreased sleep and poor quality sleep
- Aggressive thoughts and behaviors
As you can see above, as well as when you google the reactions to kids playing Fortnite, when video games are NOT monitored by parents, they become dangerous. They become addictive, and can easily be the safe space that your kids go to in place of you.
Before video games, your kids need YOU
You see, every child needs that place to feel like they can be themselves, have fun, and just…be a kid. If you aren’t meeting that emotional need in your child’s life, they will look for it elsewhere. So the overarching point of this article hinges on the premise that you are FIRST meeting the emotional needs of your child.
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As you can see, meeting your child’s emotional needs is a common theme around here. I truly believe that good parenting comes with the knowledge of how influential you are. Whether that influence is good or bad is completely up to you. And that doesn’t mean you need to be perfect, but mostly that you need to be moldable, self-reflective, and humble. It means that every parent, whatever their background, whatever hardships they’ve faced, has the choice to be a good parent. Again, “good” doesn’t relate to perfect, but rather humility.
For example, a parent who is able to apologize to their kids when they’ve wronged them is one of the most beneficial things you could do for them. It shows them not only that YOU aren’t perfect, but they also don’t have to be in this life. It shows them humility and that not always having the answers is normal in life.
Encourage emotional connectivity in your family
Here is an awesome card game we play in our family that has helped us connect on a deeper level. It’s full of light-hearted questions, like, “If you were a superhero, who would you be?” and more emotionally deep and interactive questions like, “Do you feel like you can tell me anything?”
Be the example and role model
I know myself. And I know that I fall short in MANY areas as a parent. But one thing I desire to keep at the forefront of my mind is this: Am I being a good example of how I treat my spouse, my kids, and my friends? Am I being a good example of being kind to myself and setting boundaries? Am I being a good example of what to do with failure, with hardships in life, and being let down? Am I being a good example of where my priorities lie, and how to nurture my faith and relationship to God?
The fact of the parenting matter is that teaching our kids is so often done by them simply watching us. We don’t have to shove our opinions down their throats, we simply have to live out the advice we would give to them.
Obviously, when the time is right, we shepherd our children with words. We encourage them to go to do the right thing and take responsibility for their actions. But if I’m having a good parenting day, it means that I’m modeling for my kids what it means to be a healthy, loving, and kind person. I often fail at this, but perfection was never something I wanted to model either. So when I’m not perfect, I admit it to them and apologize.
Are video games and screen time bad for kids?
As we discussed above, if not monitored, video games can be harmful, just like many other things. Food in and of itself is not harmful, but when given too much or unhealthy things, it will affect our physical bodies negatively. The same can be said for screen time. If given too much or age-inappropriate, it can be harmful to our mental health.
So how can we create a healthy screen life for our kids? It’s not easy. And most likely, your kids won’t always like it. But thankfully, kids have parents to help guide and show them healthy ways of doing things we enjoy, not make life always and forever easy for them.
Here are a few tips to help your kids positively experience screens — whether with video games, social media, movies, or shows — there IS a healthy way to do this. But YOU have to take steps and be okay with your child not always liking it.
How to create a healthy screen life environment for your kids in 7 steps
I’m in a lot of parenting forums, whether in person or online. And one common issue among MANY parents is learning how to establish a healthy screen time environment for their kids.
I hear a lot of, “My child is addicted to video games! Help! They won’t listen when I tell them to stop!”
And here’s what I say to that. Remember that you’re the parent. You’re not just some chump that’s there to make your child’s life miserable OR stand passively by as they make bad choices for themselves. Your purpose as a parent is to guide and instruct as well as be a model of healthy for them. So do this FIRST.
1. Check Yourself and be the Example
Are you modeling for them self-control when it comes to doing the things you enjoy? Whether that’s having a glass of wine or watching your favorite show. Perhaps it’s playing video games! Your kids are watching you and learning from you at the same time. Sure, you’ll fail. But there is always an opportunity for apologizing, as well as trying again tomorrow.
The important aspect here is that you’re aware that you, the parent, are setting the tone in your home and being an example for your children.
If you find that you need to make some changes, then do that! It’s never too late.
2. Give Them Time Limits
I don’t care how much work you need to get done, your kids need to learn how to occupy their time with things OTHER than screens. It won’t be easy. It won’t be convenient but work at it. Over time, your child will learn to do things other than watch screens.
Every child is different as to how much time they should be allowed. Usually, a good indication of child getting TOO much screen-time, is this:
- They don’t want to do anything else
- They only think about the next time they get to have screens
- That’s ALL they talk about
- They aren’t doing other creative or playful things
- They aren’t spending time with friends or would choose screen time over playing with friends
- They aren’t sleeping well
- They are becoming aggressive or demanding when told they need to be done
Over the course of this article, I’m going to mention a parental control software that we use with our son’s iPad. It’s called Bark. And it’s amazing. Basically, it allows you to set time limits on your child’s devices, as well as monitor their activity. You can adjust the sensitivity level according to a child’s age. Try it out now for one week free AND if you use code WORDBIRD at checkout, you get an additional month for free to keep testing it out.
Explain the "why"
When instructing your child of time limits, don't just bark orders at them and say, "because I said so." EXPLAIN to them the WHY. More often than not, it's important that we over-explain things to our children. If they need to have reasons, that's perfectly okay and normal and can become a great teachable moment. So in response to their "why" you could say something like, "The reason is that it's important to learn self-control in your life. Unlimited amounts of screens is not healthy for your developing brain." If you want to get really scientific, do research on why unlimited screen time is VERY unhealthy for your child's developing brain. Present it to them. Tell them you desire to protect them. You might be surprised by their response.
3. Have Them do More Important Things First (Priorities)
Your child might be surprised by this, but yes, there are more important things to life than video games. So talk to them about priorities, and what they mean.
Give them an example from your own life, whatever that is for you.
For me, it looks like this: My relationship with God comes first. Because my spiritual health leads to my overall emotional and mental health, I know that I need to be healthy for myself in order to be healthy for my family. But a HUGE part of putting God first, is putting my family's needs first because God asks this of me in His word. Part of 1 Timothy 5:8 says, "But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith..."
"Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others." Philippians 2:4
I could keep going, but you get the point. First, model these priorities for your kids. Then, talk about it. Say, "Hey, in order for me to be a good parent, we need to have a good marriage. That is a priority I have BEFORE parenting because it directly affects our parenting."
You and I both know that if your relationship with your spouse is not good, then it's harder to be a good parent. That's an example of a healthy priority you can teach your kids.
Here is a helpful FREE PRINTABLE checklist I made to get you started with teaching healthy priorities! If your child likes the Mandalorian, he might be a little more convinced with this screen-time checklist, as it's Mandalorian-themed!
4. Monitor Their Content and Games (Do your homework)
I can't stress this enough -- stay up to date and aware of what's popular and whether or not it's appropriate for their age. As parents, we don't have the privilege to stick our heads in the sand and expect that our kids won't be affected by a certain video game, social media app, or the subliminal content of shows and movies.
Be on top of what the latest is, even with video games. There are dangers lurking in the corners of chats, even on innocent games!
For every family, this is different as to what you want to allow or disallow, and the best gauge to monitor is your child. If they are watching a movie and seem disturbed or uncomfortable, turn it off. Our son is very sensitive to action and scary things. He's 10 and still hasn't seen the Marvel movies. He's just not ready, but many of his friends have watched it.
The same goes for video games. Be sensitive to your child, align it with your values and morals, do research on it as to what you need to be aware of, and go from there. Sometimes, we allow our son to try out a video game, and if he gets too drawn in, we recognize that he's not ready. We found this to be true for Fortnite.
Should I get my child a smartphone?
When my son was 8, he asked us if he could have a phone. After chuckling a little, I said, "No, you're not old enough. Ask me again when you're 10." Now that's he's 10, there are incredible options of safe phones for kids these days. We ended up getting him the Pinwheel Phone. Check out my full review of it here.
Bark Parental Control App
Let's say your child alrady has a an Android or iPhone. Check out the Bark parental control app. If you have a teenager that feels like their privacy is being invaded when monitored, BARK is incredible. It ONLY notifies you according to the sensitivity level set by you. This means, their friendly/appropriate texts they are having with their bestie won't be sent to you as to invade their privacy. But once it gets inappropriate or bully-like, you get notified. If you want to read my in-depth article on this app, check out my review here.
5. Have THAT Relationship and Play Video Games WITH Them
Playing video games with your child is an awesome way to connect with them. It's entering into their world and doing something they want to do, instead of always forcing them to do the "right" thing or the "more productive" thing.
Be that parent who allows kids to come over and play video games in your basement while eating snacks and having a fun time. Why not be the home where your kids and their friends WANT to be? How much better is it for your peace of mind anyway.
Be trustworthy and a safe place for them to share their hearts
You can't force your child to be honest or even come to you with everything, but you can do your best to nurture that environment for them so that WHEN they experience things they shouldn't, they still go to you. Because the world we live in is full of dangers for kids, especially now online, it's important to be a non-judgmental space for them to go to.
This has a LOT to do with not expecting perfection from them, as well as having open and honest communication frequently. It's also important that in the moments your child opens up to you about something he saw or experienced that wasn't good, you don't REACT emotionally, but rather stay calm and listen. Be understanding, as for them, it's most likely very hard to be open about.
This will allow them to feel free to share with you the experiences they've had that might not be so easy to say. They will seek your advice. You will have established a trustworthy relationship so that whatever they face in life, you have their back.
So when you say things like, "Hey bud, I don't want you playing that game. You're not mature enough yet." They will respect and trust your decision. And if you feel like it's too late to have this relationship, don't give in to that lie. It's never too late to nurture a healthy and trusting relationship with your child.
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"Prepare your kids for the world they WILL grow up in, not for the one you WANT them to grow up in."Hillary Gruener (Word From the Bird Blog)