“We still have three more minutes!” my 7-year-old says, bouncing with Christmas-like anticipation and excitement.
“Well,” I say, looking from him to his 9-year-old sister, “what could you do for three minutes?”
“Leg wrestle!” they exclaim and run to the carpeted living room.
This life-filled exchange was not happening in my home just a couple of months ago. In spite of my best efforts, screen time had taken over. Both the kids and I would slip into this zombie-like, space-time vortex. I would look up and know it wasn’t healthy, but it was just so easy to just keep on scrolling.
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Some will say we should just throw the tech away—after all, we’re the ones who bought the darn things. But in today’s world, kids and technology done well is a dance. Some of the things on those screens are actually life-giving. When I ask my son about the world he is building in Minecraft, I’m blown away at the scope of structures he’s making.
How can we find a balance that brings in the good of technology while still leaving the glow of life in our kids’ faces?
Aside from only sitting with them during screen time, what’s a practical thing we could do to just better get a handle on this? These questions led to a little experiment in our home, and the results have me writing here today, wanting to share something simple, something that’s working.
A few months ago, I knew our screen time was out of control, but I wasn’t sure how to put the genie back in the bottle. First, we got an actual, physical box—ours is a snowman box with a matching lid leftover from Christmas. We cut a hole in the side for charging. At bedtime, all screens and remotes go in. The plan was no screens until 7:00 each night.
The first day was rough.
The kids were lost, and I was ready to tear my hair out. They would ask and look despondent and ask again, “But we’re so bored.” After a few days of this, we added a layer. Ask about the screens before 7, and you lose the next day. This felt aggressive at first, but I tell you what, after we suffered through one lost day, the next day was a gift.
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The power was back in the right balance. The kids shot hoops outside, they played with LEGOs, they did childhood things that they hadn’t done in a while and seemed genuinely freed up by the boundary.
Instead of a right, the screens were again a privilege.
And now, the unexpected benefit is how the wanting of screentime is a powerful tool in our parenting wheelhouse. Before screentime, they must play piano, practice spelling (during school), and take their showers. These pieces I had been griping after before, now happen without any words from my mouth. Easy peasy, just like screens themselves had felt in the past.
I don’t want to sound dramatic, but I feel like I got my family back, and while things aren’t perfect, at least we feel more human around here for a while. I know the teenage and pre-teen years will bring new challenges with screens, but for now, this is working. And who doesn’t have some old box just lying around just waiting to silence some screens?