Kids and technology. I'm not sure if it's always been this way since I'm new to the parenting game but I feel like this is such a hot topic these days! Everyone seems to have an opinion about it, yet so many things change between the generations that new parents are always navigating a different set of challenges. Today in Real Talk With Real Moms, we are all sharing our family policies, values, and the struggles we deal with when it comes to our kids' technology use. I know I always say this, but I'm genuinely dying to hear about how other families tackle this because for us it's been such a daily debate and I would sure love to feel like I'm not alone in this. Be sure to read the posts on the topic on Design for Mankind, The Fresh Exchange, The Effortless Chic, Natalie Borton, and Ave Styles, and weigh in with your thoughts!
There's nothing like having a child to show you some hard truths about yourself. One of the first things Ian and I noticed was how much WE are on our phones around Sailor. It's just natural - we reach for them right when we wake up, and are constantly checking them throughout the day. When I think about how many times Sailor has watched me with my face buried in my phone, I could actually cry. Being so young, she barely even knows what this thing is or why Mommy has a blank look on her face, and staring at that little black screen again. This video I saw on Jaimi Brooks' blog has been haunting me, even though it's not specifically about this topic. It's about an experiment that was conducted to see how babies respond to parents who aren't engaged vs. when they are present. It made me realize what I look like to Sailor when I'm looking at my phone. In this day in age and with a job that is so social media driven, it's SO hard for me to avoid that screen, but I have to admit: this is my "I'm a terrible mom" topic de jour. I really try to keep my time on the phone to a minimum around her or will at least hide it as best I can, checking it while she's occupied with something else. Heck, this is a good exercise for all of us, kids or no kids. Trying to make our phone time more intentional, less aimless. It sure helps us avoid wasting time and getting lost in that rabbit hole. These days, I'm really thinking a lot about this, and making a conscious effort, challenging myself everyday to keep in tune with what's most important.
But parents aside, how does technology affect our kids when they're the ones using it? There are so many movements about keeping them off it. Whenever I see one of those "unplugged" hashtags, I have to admit, I feel a bit of a loaded vibe. Maybe it's just playing into one of my insecurities as a parent, since I have no idea how parents can really keep their kids off of technology 100%. I mean, it's everywhere! We live in a time where the internet and phones are what make the world go round. At the same time, I'm honestly terrified that the bubble is going to burst at some point, and we'll all realize that riding the wave and letting our screens progressively start to rule our lives is a mistake. Research is already starting to show how the endless consumption of it affects our kids. This article from The Atlantic called Have Smartphones Destroyed A Generation? really stuck with me. It's the first piece of literature I read where I felt like I got a feasible glimpse into our children's future if things stay on this track, and it's what made me want to draw a line in the sand. If you're a parent, I definitely recommend giving it a read.
The effect of the screen on Sailor is very apparent. We never intended to start "giving" her a phone, but how could we blame her for being curious about these ever present devices? It took her exactly no time to figure out how to navigate the apps and find the ones that were interesting to her, all in just the time we weren't looking and didn't even notice she had grabbed one of our phones. When she does get her hands on one for a few minutes, she becomes cracked out Sailor. She gets this dazed look on her face, and you suspect that she wouldn't notice if the house was burning down. Then, if you abruptly take it away, she reacts like a junky whose just had their last crack pipe swiped. But yet... those mornings where I have exactly 30 minutes to get myself showered, dressed, made up, and a couple of emails sent before we have to leave while Sailor is in a mood and somehow only happy if she can get her hands on some scissors or anything that will hurt someone or cause a problem of some kind, cover her face in long wearing liquid lipstick (the other day she managed to spread an oxblood Kylie lip kit all over her eye making her look like she'd been punched in the face right before we had to go to a public place), or ransack the bathroom, it's literally amazing what turning on Thomas can do for my sanity. It's peaceful, quiet, she loves it, and I can keep my heart beating at a normal rate. How can I enforce such a strict rule against it in those moments when it's the only thing that keeps things in some kind of order?
What it has come down to for us is balance and boundaries. It's important to us that TV and technology be a rare treat, and we do our best to keep within those lines. Here are the rules we try to stick to:
1. It has to be a last resort. That means we've tried everything else first. Books, toys, "helping mommy" with x, y or z, providing random activities (lately she LOVES "doing dishes" and will stand at the sink on a chair for an hour at a time), handing her a household item she's never played with, snacks, going outside, you name it. If none of those things work and I'm either going crazy or need a few minutes to do something important, then we finally give in an resort to the phone or a show. This generally happens about once a day, either at home or while we're running errands. She's starting school in a week, so I think that's going to help bring more balance into her life too.
2. We keep the choices limited. We don't want her to get used to having access to too much, so we keep one or two games on the phone (the Peek-a-boo Barn games are our one go-to), and we use the PBS Kids app for shows. That way if she were to get bored, it's time to put it away rather than try to find another game or show to watch. Any content she consumes has to be educational. So even though Ian works in kids' television and his company makes a plethora of amazing shows and movies, right now we're sticking to Elmo, Thomas, and Daniel Tiger. It just feels right to keep it simple for now.
3. There has to be a time limit. While sometimes we end up pushing it a little too long, ideally we try to keep it to 30 minutes or less, and then it's "Say 'bye bye' Thomas," and we better be prepared to offer her something even better like a ride in the car or a trip to the park. Luckily there usually comes a point where she's happy to say goodbye and move on to something else.
4. Be kind to ourselves. This is the newly added rule, and one I'm still working on. I'm trying to be forgiving of myself for allowing her to consume technology from time to time. At the end of the day, Sailor is a well rounded child and she loves a plethora of activities from playing outside to reading books, dancing, and going on outings. And parenting is hard. If technology sneaks into the mix sometimes, it's not the worst thing in the world. I honestly think if your intentions are in the right place and you're doing the best you can as a parent, then you and your child are going to be perfectly fine.
I really want to know how other parents handle this. Does anyone successfully have a no-technology household for their kids? Teach me your ways!
Photography by Ashley Burns