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A Simple Strategy to Ease the Battle Over Screen Time

computer“Hi! I hear you also don’t let your son play first-person shooter video games! How can we support each other?”

That was my first introduction to a fellow Mack mom whose son is in my oldest son’s class. And if you picked up on the slightly desperate subtext in that introduction, feel free to join our unofficial support group the next time you see the two of us huddled in conversation in the parking lot at pickup time.

This is such a universal struggle for parents. What video games should you let your kids play? Where do you draw the line? How do you handle media time? What limits do you set? Why is it always such a battle?

According to Boulder parenting coach, Michael Vladeck, we are going about it backwards. He preaches “relationship before rules” and “connection before control.”

He says, in his fabulous blog post 23 WAYS TO KEEP YOUR KIDS IN BALANCE WITH DIGITAL MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY, “Relying too heavily on methods of control will only create power struggles. Creating understanding and connection is the foundation upon which all the strategies stand.” Michael also states it another way: “If you put control and strategy before or in place of connection and understanding, it will not be effective and will only stress the relationship.”

This point resonated with me. After all, isn’t this what we all want to have with our kids – a deep connection? Yet in these busy, distracting lives we lead, building and maintaining a strong connection with your children is no easy task. But if it is the foundation on which effective parenting exists, isn’t it paramount?

I struggle as a parent in a lot of different ways. I don’t have all (or even most) of the answers, even after almost 14 years as a parent and 17 years working in education. But when asked for tips, I give the same one over and over again: continue to read books aloud to your children even after they can read to themselves. Yes, even your teenagers.

We all know sharing books with children by reading them aloud is one of the most effective ways to help children develop a love of reading. (And, being an avid reader is, you know, not just good for them but good for our whole society.) Additionally, reading aloud to children (which usually turns them on to reading) can help them become more successful learners. Scholastic recently released their latest Kids & Family Reading Report which was noted in this New York Times article about reading aloud. There is no margin for error: definitively, reading aloud to children (teens included) at home and in the classroom is a good thing, for all of those reasons.

But those reasons don’t even, at this point, factor into why I continue to read aloud to my children. By now they have all developed a love of reading and voluntarily read for pleasure on their own. They do well in school. Why do I continue to read aloud to them, then? I do it for the connection.

Reading aloud together:

  •  provides at least one point during even the crazy-busiest of days when I am snuggling my kids, sharing a meaningful experience. It’s intimate- and in this age of the internet, gaming, and other electronic distractions, as well as soccer practice, homework, and playdates, “intimate” doesn’t happen often enough. And it isn’t just me trying to get my children’s attention- my children like to have my undivided attention just as much as I like to have theirs.
  • can be a springboard for important conversations. For example, TALES OF A FOURTH GRADE NOTHING by Judy Blume had my oldest and I talking, on the surface, about Peter’s frustrations with having a baby brother. But we were also talking about my son’s frustrations with HIS little brothers, in a “safe” way.
  • can be edifying. When we read together, my guys frequently stop me to discuss an unfamiliar word or a thought-provoking topic. For instance, when reading the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, we had many conversations about the racism therein (yeah, I’m looking at you, Ma).
  • usually relaxes all of us and makes my boys sleepy, which, before bed, is naturally desirable. If they fall asleep quickly, they get more sleep overall which makes them less cranky which makes me not get annoyed and cranky back at them which makes our lives more pleasant and less fraught.
  • gives us something pleasant to share and talk about, even if we’ve had a night of squabbling and butting heads. It guarantees that none of us ends the day thinking about our latest argument over leaving dirty clothes all over the house instead of, for crying out loud, putting them into one of the twenty hampers I’ve strategically placed throughout the house… Wait. What was I saying? Oh, right, reading together goes a long way to repair any daily frustrations between us before settling into bed for the night.
  • provides a foundation, in a deep way, for shared experiences and communication. I know this kind of encapsulates some of the reasons I listed above, but it bears repeating. I know my kids and I have a lot of shared experiences, now, not counting reading aloud together. I’m thinking ahead to the future. By having an established, beloved tradition of reading together, I’m hoping that when it becomes harder for us to talk about important things together (see: most any teenager who isn’t Rory Gilmore), reading will be a valuable common ground… whether we’re on our 100th reread of the Harry Potter series, or we’re reading something new together for the first time. We’ll have something to share and talk about even if we can’t see eye to eye on anything else.
  • is the best way to have them experience a story they might not select on their own (movies do NOT count!). The books that might seem a little old-fashioned but that have richness, depth, wit. Books that have female protagonists. I want certain books, like I want certain people, to be in my children’s lives, because they are such an important part of myself.

Reading aloud to your children provides a very simple way to develop and maintain the “connection and understanding” Michael Vladeck talks about. So, if you think about it in a roundabout way, reading aloud to your children on a regular basis should make it easier on you when you are trying to keep their screen time in check! (Easier, not easy. An important distinction.) And reading aloud is so pleasant and relaxing, it almost feels like cheating. But isn’t parenting hard enough? We deserve this freebie.

~ Darsa Morrow, teacher and Mackintosh mother of three

 

Mark your calendars!
Join us Thursday, November 5th, from 6:30-8:00pm at Mackintosh Academy-Littleton Campus to hear Michael Vladeck discuss Raising Balanced Kids in the Digital Age.

RSVP: beth@mackintoshacademy.com