Screen Time Issues, Scream Free Solutions
by Jami Amerine M.Ed.
Let’s be real. None of my children, not one of the half dozen, is going to pick cookie decorating or a rowdy game of Pictionary over their screens. Frankly, neither would I. Bring me cookies already decorated, and I can’t find a pen anywhere in my house to even attempt drawing “dizzy.” And I am a writer and an artist.
Gone are the days where many of us are falling for the latest hack to engage our family in eye-to-eye contact. My daughter just texted me, “Do we have any hot cocoa mix?” She is literally sitting 9 feet from me. I am not going to answer her. Yes, I am sitting in the kitchen, and yes, I know we have cocoa, but a gal needs to draw the line somewhere, with or without a pen. Besides, what an effective way to begin this very article.
I don’t need to tell you all the things lost in translation via texting and social media. You know, I know you know. It is a real thing. Recently, I was listening to a podcast and the rant was the same old rant… “Stop the PORN! Take their PHONE! Get them OFF social media!” Mmmm-k. Thank you. In the next minute, I found myself talking out loud to hostesses of the rant, “How is this even possible? They even have school on social media.”
Yes, a Zoom call is social media. It is media and they are socializing in some fashion.
And after the last year of social distancing and quarantining, this is what we are left with, an entire generation online. My 6-year-old had to help me login to a meeting, and when the meeting failed to load, he asked me how many gigabytes my operating system is. So I sent him to bed without dessert.
My older children might recount a time when social media and screen time were not a thing. My younger children will never know a time it did not exist. I am resolved to this. Ragging against it is a losing battle. It is not a hill I want to die on. However, I want to instill in them balance and the ability to seek information, especially truth from books, elders, and experience. Not just live vicariously through random online opinions and Instagram images.
The bottom line is, we are living with people shorter than us that depend on us for food, drink, shelter, and a decent calling plan. And those short, unemployed humans are smarter and more advanced in their technological abilities than most of us. This is a humbling thought.
Do you remember when the Christmas cartoons came on television three days before the holiday? If you missed the seasonal specials, that was it. You would just have to wait until next year. Now, these children can just Google it and watch Rudolph on demand, in July.
I won’t pretend there haven’t been a few hollering matches over the screen time issue in our home. But I will say, they are fewer and further between since we acknowledged that this is how things are now. And we cannot go back to 1965 or 85… or even 95. My grandpa would say this is like organizing chairs on a sinking ship. So, what is the answer we came to? Well, it is twofold.
First, like I said, my husband and I decided this is not going away, so how do we work with our children instead of constantly fighting with our children? And no, we were not raised with such leniency. Our parents were more of the “because I said so” flavor. We turned out okay, but this methodology doesn’t work with beings who know more about gigabytes than Dobson knew about bringing up boys. Unlimited information and influence are in their pockets. And so, we decided to treat them as people who know stuff.
Which brings me to the second part. We invited them to the conversation. Yes, even the six-year-old. With phones and devices aside, we asked them questions and engaged them in our concerns. Some folks might argue that this is some kind of “New Age, Hippie parenting.” And it was outside of our comfort zone. But I am being completely candid when I say, it was enlightening and scream free.
They made suggestions, such as “no phones at dinner.” And one confessed, “I think I would sleep better if I left my phone in the kitchen to charge at bedtime.” In fact, it completely transformed screen time once some of the limitations were self-imposed. Reflecting on this, it has become most obvious to me.
This is how they socialize. This is what they know. And they are good humans, who do not do things the way things used to be done. I am of the mindset that by acknowledging this and respecting the change, they are more apt to include me. When imposed as a threat to a world moving at 5G, secrecy, deceit, and desperation morph into scream time.
Not long after this decision, where we as a family made decisions about appropriate screen time and internet safety, one of our sons was caught in a situation that was… not his best. As we sat down to talk, he was embarrassed by a conversation with a girl, intercepted by her less than happy dad. We did not yell and we did not threaten, but we did ask, “Would you have said these things to her face? Or even over the phone?” The answer was, “No way.”
And once he realized we were not going to completely cut him off from his primary source of socializing and frankly, functioning, as his homework, work, and basketball schedule were all online, he had a lot to say. He imposed it upon himself to take all social media off his phone and even went so far as to bring his phone to us in the evenings to check and keep in our room at night.
Yes, I know, this sounds like an idyllic synopsis, and this kid in particular always exhibited quite a bit of morality and self-control. So much so, he grew into a Marine. But the few and the proud apart, we all know the ending to Romeo and Juliette. And I would be so bold as to suggest we can learn a thing or two from the Montagues and the Capulets. And from the Hatfields and McCoys… Footloose, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off… good grief, even Adam and Eve. Law lords over and manifests a quest for that which is forbidden. Grace manifests the freedom to choose better, not because we have to, but because we have been given the privilege to decide. And, we thoroughly enjoy the company of the Father.
As we made these decisions with our children, I was reminded of Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
This is what I want with my children; conversation and trust, companionship and peace, relationship and a safe landing, all scream free.
Jami Amerine M.Ed. is an author, speaker and artist. She and her husband Justin have 6 children and live in the North Houston area. Jami is also the co-creator of the e-course Socialwised-U. To learn more about Jami and her ministry, visit www.sacredgroundstickyfloors.com
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