Guilt comes, like some kind of county-fair prize, with being a parent.
It’s like that giant blue gorilla plush toy you can’t even carry through the amusement park. And forget about enjoying a corndog on your way to the car. You will be too busy trying to carry your life-size baby king kong down the causeway. Then you have to figure out how to cram him into your two-door civic (minivan moms be like, “I’ve got this!”).
Why did you have to win the gorilla? And dang you really wanted that corndog.
This article is about a specific kind of guilt we can’t seem to escape: The screen time guilt our kids (and teens) give us when they spend hours watching TV or playing on their devices.
Is it all bad? Are we failing the next generation?
Technology overuse ranked as the No. 1 fear of parents of teenagers in a national survey last year (source).
Our fears morph into guilt and it doesn’t matter whether you’re at a PTA meeting or yoga class, someone will probably bring up the topic of smartphones, or screens.
When it is brought up we have our fingers crossed behind our backs hoping we aren’t alone. It’s better if everyone has the nagging feeling that we are doing “this” all wrong, right?!
Maybe you could bring a new lens next time this topic comes up with parent-friends (which is pretty darn often). It will be like you have corn dogs for everyone and the gorilla can find its own way home.
You could speak up (or share this article) with some reminders and tips that help other parents breathe a little lighter about their own screen fears.
Going back in time for a hot minute
Parents can turn to convenient myths to explain away the bad behavior of their children. For example, the concept of a “sugar high” is bunk even if Johnny’s mom is excusing his wild party ways because *cake* (source).
Other myths include that teenagers are always rebellious, or that there is an automatic connection between tech use and depression.
We need to dig deeper with all the parenting myths if we are going to get out of the guilt zone.
When it comes to the fear of technology, it’s nothing new. Maybe the guilt isn’t new either?
In 1565 there was fear about a new “handheld information device” that would have harmful effects. That device was a BOOK (source).
Then came the public education system, and the radio loudspeaker. Fear was everywhere.
If books weren’t all bad *sigh* maybe smartphones, and iPads aren’t the straw that will break the tweenager’s back.
So what can you do to let your guilt go?
Here are 3 tips to make it happen.
1. Consider some of the positives
“There is good reason to think that smartphones and social media may have positive effects ...” ~Dr. Sarah Rose Cavanagh in Psychology Today
Here are a few of the positives:
Children and teenagers who struggle with mental or emotional health may find that zoning out and playing a game helps them regulate their emotions and avoid meltdowns
Kids can use smartphones to connect with others and socialize
Builds communication skills
They are entertaining, in the same way that watching sports might be for you
It’s a private world with its own language for youth that isn’t fully understood by their parents and that feels important to them
Video games can help with motor skills and coordination
Some screens encourage learning
Apps can be used for healthy behaviors like exercise and sleep
A study was done and even with VERY high levels of screen use, there was only a really minor connection to decreased well-being. In fact, one expert says, “It’s about a third as bad as missing breakfast or not getting eight hours sleep (source).”
Imagine if at the next junior prom planning committee meeting all the parents were worrying as much about late nights or the tween that refuses to eat before 11 am (you force them to grab a granola bar and go about their day!).
It seems easy to blame sugar or technology for behaviors we don’t love, but remember that we are fighting myths and shedding guilt.
"If you hand a happy kid a phone, they're not going to turn into an unhappy, miserable kid (source)" ~Heitner (source)
2. Let them come up with a solution
It's never too early to teach kids about digital wellness - it does take patience, but they will thank you for it later in life!
Instead of telling kids the answer about how to practice “digital wellness” talk about it together.
“Parental trust is extremely important in the guidance of adolescent children as they get further and further away from direct supervision. I don’t mean that trust without clear guidance is enough, but guidance without trust is worthless.” ~Benjamin Spock
Some ways to practice it include (source):
Set a way to track screen time
If you are doing it tell your kids you are
If they are doing it let them know you trust them
Leave devices out of bedrooms at night
Set a good example
Set usage times
Help them learn to monitor their own mood after playing certain video games or for certain lengths of time
Kids are smart enough to understand when they have a problem, so don't jump in to solve things for them.
Ask them what they think should be done. Do they need to reduce their screen time? What are they using their devices for?
Your teens might have some pretty good, creative ideas that you wouldn't have thought of on your own.
There are some things that might be important to you - like not having devices at meal times or in the bedroom overnight. Sleep is important. Connection with family is too.
It’s not about thinking screens are evil but looking at the whole picture of health for each person in the fam! And giving your kiddos some autonomy in the process.
“The risk of too much gadget time is not some sinister brain-melting nonsense, but rather the opportunity cost of engaging in other activities she enjoys, like spending time with friends or playing at the park. She could decide how much screen time was right for her. We taught her the four steps to becoming indistractable and most importantly, modeled a healthy relationship with technology by becoming indistractable ourselves (source).”
There are so many ways to spend quality time with our kids. Ask them about some of the things they want to do. You might be surprised by how many ideas your kids have.
Once the guilt is gone about kids spending too much screen time, you'll feel more relaxed when it comes to playing with your kids!
Instead of feeling guilty about the screen time, talk about new interests or activities your family could get into together. Add in new things instead of cracking the screen time whip.
Try some screen-free family activities like board games, a trip to the water park, or even a walk after dinner for a Slurpee.
Give your children time to interact with other kids. Free play, without the direction of parents, coaches, and teachers, gives them the opportunity to connect and relate to peers (source).
Instead of monitoring, become a mentor (source). Try to understand what your kiddos get from their devices and then help them shift their habits instead of just coming down hard (because of that ugly possibly misguided guilt).
Goodbye guilt and hello corndogs!
Guilt isn’t healthy for anyone.
And maybe it’s just NOT necessary when it comes to kids and screens. We CAN find the “digital sweet spot” and shed the guilt.
We all want that delicious greasy corndog (or cotton candy or mini-donuts or freshly squeezed lemonade!) that’s out of reach when we are carrying the giant “guilt-gorilla” around.
Once upon a time bikes were considered evil and books were rotten no good ‘handhelds.’ We have to pay attention and show up for our kiddos, but we don’t have to be strung out on GUILT.
P.S. We write books, but we are also electronic mediums. A little tech can be a GOOD thing especially if you find entertainment you trust. Online classes for creative kids? WE got them! A monthly subscription that includes online and offline activities? You bet! That’s our speciality! Have a look here