Somehow the picture of a child lying in a hammock looking up through leaves at blue sky . . . daydreaming her way towards her next burst of playful creativity . . . doesn’t quite mesh with the other picture, of a child hunched up indoors in a darkened room, with an electronic gadget in her hand, staring at a screen.
Most of us would love for our children to have a whole inner treasure box full of Golden Moments (as Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting, calls them), as a source for peace of mind and enjoyment. In this media-saturated culture, it will take some parental resolve to make sure that our children have lots of media-free time for Golden Moments of creativity and connection to be born. We may even have to wriggle out of its addictive clutches ourselves!
Some aspects of summer are a challenge for parents – children in different routines and rhythms, while parents are still busy. It is tempting to use screens as babysitters, isn’t it?
The trouble with these particular Mrs. Doubtfires is that they are often wanting to sell things to us and our children . . . and too often they seem to take our children away from us.
How do we find the resolve to protect our children – and our families – from this pressure, especially in summer when there are golden days beckoning outside? Perhaps we have to want Golden Moments for our kids more than we want alone time for ourselves, or to get something done . . . perhaps we have to be willing to give our own agendas up every now and again to make sure we have family time, connection time, down time, media-free time: childhood is short and precious!
The Five Rs
Here are some tips that work for many parents who are striving to manage the influence of media in their families. They won’t work for all families all of the time – but perhaps they will help you think again about how you could simplify screens and media devices in your home:
This is the simple option! “We decided to see what it’s like to have no TV or movies for this summer. There are so many other things to do.” Removal can be an experiment . . . often with beneficial results!
Is it time to sit with your spouse or co-parent and have a conversation about the influence of media in your home? Is “media creep” happening in your family? Would you like to be more in charge? Is media a crutch or an escape in your family, or is it a tool you use in a deliberate and safe way, that promotes connection and shared values?
Replace screens so that they are not in family space. Replace screen time with unstructured play time, crafts time, family time, a hike, helping in the kitchen, ball practice, gardening, “boring” time. No phones on for at least one family meal a week? No screens one evening a week for games night in summer? Radio off in the car so we can talk or sing?
If eliminating media time for your children seems too much for your family right now, you can reduce the amount of screen time you allow, and be in charge of the content of what is watched, seen, done.
Remember that the age of your children will help you decide how to introduce your reforms! We need to adjust our parenting style to meet our changing children.
For children ages 1-7, you will be able to introduce your parenting style as the sovereign King and/or Queen of your home.
Children in middle childhood will respond better to the parenting style of “farmer” parents concerned about the health and safety of their “crop.”
Teens will doubtless be the most challenging . . . sometimes a way to begin will be to watch or play with them, without commenting or questioning, with a genuine interest in this activity, and see if any moments for connection and conversation arise, to counter the isolation that screen-watching can bring. With teens, we are parent-shepherds, guiding them, minding they don’t go astray, and consulting them so that they are a part of the solution, not automatically opposed to it.
Check out www.simplicityparenting.com for more ideas about simplifying your family life to make room for more love, laughter, and connection. Recommended summer reading on your hammock: Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, Ballantine/Random House, 2009.
~ Davina Muse, LMHC (NM), is an experienced family therapist and Family Life Coach with a practice in Great Barrington, MA. She is also Director of Group Leader Trainings for Simplicity Parenting.
firstname.lastname@example.org, (413) 528-4219.