“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.
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.
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?