Wednesday, August 12, 2015


When my first son came into the world it was clear from the start that he would be in charge.  Everything I thought I knew about parenting went out the window that first week.  After years of trying to apply advice from dozens of parenting books and well-meaning friends to boot, we settled into a philosophy that went something like this:  Give him as much rope as you can, but not enough to hang himself.  Of course we never knew how much was too much but by his prepubescent years we felt like we were just starting to get the hang of things.   

Then came son number two.  Rope?  He didn’t even care if there was a rope.  Laid back, quiet and happily compliant, this strange creature seemed suspiciously easy to care for, but we soon realized that once again, we had no idea what the heck we were doing.  Simply put, nothing I’ve ever done has been harder or more fraught with anxiety, guilt, self-recrimination and humble pie than being a parent.  

Please know then, that the suggestions I am about to offer to you moms and dads of digital natives for whom the landscape changes daily, are just that—suggestions.  No one really knows the answers yet regarding how much screen time is too much, or what effect all of this is having on our kids’ brains and social development.  But most experts agree that we need to be mindful of what is at stake, as I’ve noted in my last two blogs (See Part one and Part Two of this series), and manage their digital lives accordingly.  

To that end, take what works for you below, pass along what might be helpful to someone else, and always have a sense of humor and a whole lot of patience with yourself and your kids.  Please note that screen time includes any time in front of a screen, whether it is a TV, tablet, smartphone, video game, e-reader, computer etc. 

Also, as the old adage notes, kids learn more by what is caught than taught, so make sure you are working at managing your own screen time, along with theirs.  If they see you continually checking your smartphone etc., they are not going to be too interested in what you might have to say about balance and brain health.

  •  Share what you know.  Your kids are surrounded by other kids who have no limits on their screen-time and will likely be frustrated when you don’t let them do the same.  Don’t just lay down a bunch of rules—especially with older kids—but share what you know about the brain and why this really does matter.  (There are numerous blog posts here about this.)

  • Track every family member’s total screen-time,
    including your own for a few days
    : You may be surprised at how much time you and your kids’ brains really are fixed on a screen, once you put it all together.  Be sure to include watching TV —that is a central component of screen-time in most households.
  • Set a screen-time schedule: Once you know how much time you are all spending, decide what you feel is the maximum that is reasonable for each person on a daily basis.  Share this with them—perhaps make a graphic for the fridge, and use timers to enforce.  Be firm when the alarm goes off, rather than waffling in the moment as your kids beg you for a few more minutes, one more game, show etc., or as you personally wrestle with answering or reading one more Facebook post or text.

  • Make it clear that screen-time is a privilege, not a right.  This may be the hardest of all, given the cultural influence, but it is so critical.  You will most likely have to repeat this as a mantra over and over again for your kids to get it.  Don’t be afraid to take screen-time away when you need to and to require that certain conditions be met in order to receive the privilege.  

  • So that's it!  Obviously the list could go on and on, but this blog is simply to help you jump-start the process.  I hope it helps--would love to hear from you parents of digital natives about how you are navigating the wild and wonderful, yet often terrible tyrant of technology.  

    A final note: This blog is designed for those on a life journey with Jesus who want to learn to walk in greater intimacy with him.  Screen-time may be the most important issue of our age to address in this regard.  To read why, see my blog post here.