Keeping Tech in Check with Device-Free Times
Turning Life On is all about balancing technology and, well, Turning Life On. In our busy lives, how do we do that? One of the easiest ways is to create opportunities for distraction-free family connections. Here we dive into device-free times and zones that provide opportunities for family connection, help kids develop important skills, and protect their health. Implement one or all, and your family will be on its way to “Keeping Tech in Check.”
In our busy lives, it’s often difficult to find time to connect with each other. Meal time offers the perfect opportunity to do just that. It’s also a great time to reflect on the day and share what we’re grateful for. Studies show that family mealtimes contribute to healthier eating and living habits. To learn more about why family meal time is so important, check out this article from WebMD.
Device-free mealtimes, particularly at restaurants, also provide a perfect opportunity for kids to practice ordering, being patient and table manners. Skills that will serve them well in the future.
We realize mealtime, especially in a restaurant, can be stressful for parents, which is why we recommend finding family-friendly restaurants that support families with children. We also recommend supporting and encouraging each other. A simple, “You’re doing a great job,” to a fellow-parent can help us all feel empowered to do the right thing, even when it’s hard.
Preparing for a meal out. Set yourself up for success by bringing activities to keep kids busy and engaged. Card games, coloring sheets and books are all great options. You can also keep kids busy with guessing games (“I’m thinking of a number, person, place”) and “which hand” with a sugar packet.
Tell kids, “Meal time is an important time for me to hear about your day because I really love you. Devices interfere with that time. And you’re more important to me than a device.”
The car is another perfect place to connect with our children. They’re confined, there’s no direct eye contact, and they’re usually bored (which is a good thing). Get them talking by sharing an experience, maybe one from your own childhood, and by asking open ended questions about their interests.
Not only is the car a perfect place to connect with your child, you’re also establishing rules that will stay with them when they start driving. And you’re teaching them to be respectful and courteous of the driver.
Preparing for a device-free car. When the conversation stalls, encourage kids to look out the window or play “I Spy.” There are other search and find games - look for letters in sequential order, states on licence plates, different colored signs or cars, or passengers in cars (someone with a mustache, a family with two kids, a dog, etc.). Play guess that song, or jam out to their favorite music. Books on tape are perfect, too. Try Audible or Libby. Stock up on kids’ music CDs, like “Music Together” or other music that’s familiar to them.
Tell kids, “I’m so happy we have this time to connect in the car. I’d love to hear about your day or for us to share funny stories. I also want to show you respect by not talking on my phone while you are here.”
1-2 Hours Before Bed
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends powering down at least 1-2 hours before bed as blue light from screens interferes with sleep. This is a steadfast rule in our home that also applies to homework. Encourage kids to complete online homework first and if they run out of time, find ways for them to complete it offline, or contact their teacher. Occasionally, we break the rule for family movie night on the weekends.
Preparing for a device-free bedtime routine. Teaching kids how to unwind after a busy day is so important for their mental and physical health. Encourage them to spend time in the tub (maybe add some Epsom Salt), read a book or work on a puzzle. My boys spend time looking at baseball cards and reading magazines. My girls draw and write stories.
Tell kids, “Your doctor has made it very clear that you are not to be on a device 1-2 hours before bedtime because the light from devices interferes with your sleep. And sleep is so important for your health. Good sleep will make you happier and can protect you from getting sick. Good sleep also helps you remember what you learned and prepare you for learning tomorrow.” “We have to take care of tomorrow’s self tonight.”
In the Morning
This is perhaps one of the trickiest times not to resort to device-time. We’ve all been there. Just a few more hours of peace and quiet, and sleep, much needed sleep!
But kids are perfectly capable of entertaining themselves quietly in the morning if you give them the skills, tools and opportunity. And their mood and ability to engage and learn at home and at school will improve. Preschool teachers tell us they can easily determine which children watch TV or engage with devices before school. These kids tend to be less interested in learning. They often say, “I’m bored” and have difficulty choosing an activity and staying focused.
We have also learned from our own experience and the experiences of other parents, that kids who know they can use screens when they wake up, tend to wake up earlier. Try it out and let us know if that’s true for you.
Preparing for a screen-free morning. Set consistent rules so it’s not a daily battle. Prepare kids by making suggestions, “these are the things you can do when you wake up. You can play a game, color or read a book. You can build with blocks or play with your dolls.” Encourage siblings to play together. During the school week, create a list of things that must be done before kids can start playing. Enlist their help in making breakfast, setting and clearing the table, packing lunches and snacks.
Tell kids: “The light from screens isn’t great for your eyes or your brain in the morning. It’s important that you are ready to learn when you get to school, and devices interfere with that. Starting the day with healthier activities is better for your health.”
Parenting is hard, especially in our device-saturated world, but when we establish clear rules and expectations, our kids will rise to the occasion. It’s all about developing healthy habits that will serve them well now and in the future. It may be difficult to establish a new rule, routine or habit; but over time, kids will naturally adapt to the new rules and will stop asking to use devices during device-free times.