Did you know that children 8 and younger spend an average of 2 hours and 19 minutes a day in front of a screen? That alarming statistic comes from this article which cites more studies that will make you question how you much screen-time you give your children.
Along with my own personal instinct, it's articles like this that have motivated me to make a bold decision for my kids' summer this year. We've decided to go screen-free for the summer of 2018 (and maybe longer...but....baby steps). I'll explain what that entails in a moment, but first I'll tell you why.
As a mother and artist, I value opportunities that boost creativity in my children. I have 4 growing kids ages 6, 7, 10 and 12. I've always felt that it was my job to foster creativity in them, but now, with the current media trends and screen usage, I feel more responsible than ever.
To start, I will say that our kids use screens for about 60 minutes a day (tv and devices included), on average. There are many days that go by without them using screens at all. So it's already something that's been on my mind. Based on the stats mentioned above, I can assume we're already doing things outside of the norm. And I'm ok with that. As much as creativity is important, teaching my children individuality is also a huge priority. Being different is a good thing.
It's concerning for me to see the high screen-usage among adults, let alone children and teens (whose brains are still developing, I might add). We are experiencing higher rates of loneliness, depression and suicide, among CHILDREN, directly related to our constant use of these devices. Those symptoms are the quick turnaround that we can see in front of us. But what about the long-term effects? The truth is, we don't actually know what this is doing to our brains. We are, essentially, the experiment.
If that doesn't make you rethink your own screen usage, I don't know what will. The addictive nature of gaming and social media on top of staring at the blue light for hours a day should be concerning. We really don't know yet what long-term effects this is having, so why not limit our usage drastically? Screens are not a necessity for a healthy childhood. Read over that last sentence again and let it sink in a little.
All that said, I am not out to shame anyone for using their devices. I'm as addicted as you are. I'm very connected on social media, and I use it both personally and professionally. This challenge is motivated by a need to do what is best for my family.
There are two reasons why I'm making this public:
ACCOUNTABILITY - This challenge is a big deal for us since screen-time makes up a decent amount of our schedule and lifestyle, so I need to share it in order to further push me to follow through on it. That's the ugly truth. It's going to be hard, and I know it.
INSPIRATION & COMMUNITY - Maybe some of you have been feeling this same urgency, but you don't know what to do about it. I want to inspire and equip a few of you to join with me on this challenge. The more, the merrier. We are our children's best leaders and we have a responsibility to equip them for their future. They only have a few years of childhood, and I don't want screens to rob them of adventures and memories they could have in real life.
There's so much more I could say about this, but I'm going to stop there, because I'm not writing a book, for goodness sakes!
If you feel the same need to limit your child's screen-time and want to take the challenge with me, I assure you, you can do it! And you will have a summer full of memories to show for it!
The practical application...
I realize it's not realistic to cut out ALL screen-time in our day and age. So, after much thought and planning, we've come up with a plan we're willing to commit to. You can feel free to copy our guidelines, or create your own. I've put together a guideline page that you can download, print and stick somewhere that everyone can see it. Our family's goals during this challenge are on the first sheet below, and then I've added a blank one so you can make your own. We are starting on June 1st (we've already cancelled our netflix account - I know. Scary.). You get to decide when your schedule will start.
The point is that you are taking control of your time with your kids and that you're letting them experience life as screen-free as possible. It's just for this summer, but I encourage you to develop clear guidelines for your family's screen usage beyond summer 2018.
Questions you might have:
What if my work depends on screen usage?
If your work depends on screens, like my work does, you need to determine what is a reasonable amount of screen-time for yourself. I will have set times where I will be on screens doing my work. The plan is to stick to these times and try to keep them limited to the kids' quiet times or during their bedtime. I am also cutting off Netflix and will be very intentional with my downtime during the week. This is a personal choice. The point is, that it's a challenge. And if you're addicted to screens (like most of us are) you should be actively working to break that addiction and replace it with more enriching activities.
What if I work full-time and my child is in a day-camp?
I am assuming your day camp has regularly scheduled activities. Many of them will be outdoors, and this is a good thing. Check with your director how much screen-time your child will be allowed to have and adjust this accordingly. Does your child really need to take a phone with him/her? Will they be watching movies regularly?
Isn't it important for children to learn how to use technology?
Yes and no. Fortunately, our children are growing up with technology, so they are learning it by default. This challenge isn't about throwing out technology altogether, it's here to stay. The challenge is more about regulating their time and prioritizing how they spend their summer (in this case) and childhood. A lot of the stuff they are being exposed to via our smart phones and tablets is not really helping their development in a positive way.
If you have any other questions, please leave them in the comments!