Walk into any restaurant and you’ll see tables filled with people engaging…with their electronics—from parents looking down at their iPhones to kids playing with their tablets. According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, children ages 8 to 18 spent an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes a day using entertainment media—that’s seven days a week. Stop and let that number sink in: Our kids are consuming media (TV, videogames, and other content) for just about 8 hours a day. You won’t be surprised to learn that many of the children in the report said they had no rules on the amount of time they could consume media.
In our house, we have a No Media During the School Week Rule: No using Mom’s iPhone, no playing video games, no watching TV. It’s going on four years now and it was out of necessity. I found that my kids were too easily falling down that slippery slope of binging on technology, so I put them on a diet—a technology diet.
Here’s what I did:
Practice What You Preach: First, my husband and I started tracking our own media consumption. We instituted a rule where iPhones stay charging in their station while we’re home, so we’re not tempted to keep peeking at our emails while playing with the kids. We need to model what we preach.
Create Screen-Free Zones: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends establishing screen-free zones at home, like keeping TVs, computers or video games out of children’s bedrooms. Our children’s bedrooms and our playroom are media-free.
Replace Screen Time with Family Time: Particularly for young children, nothing competes with time with Mom and Dad. As part of our media/technology detox, my husband and I increased the time we played board games with our children.
Insert Reading Time: Whenever my kids are bored, I point them to a compelling book. When they’re really complaining, I reach into my stash of “video game” or “TV” books, like books about Minecraft for my son or My Little Pony for my daughter. It helps curb the craving.
Weekends: Friday nights, Saturday nights and Saturday and Sunday mornings are video game and TV times. The rule is they can watch TV until 9am and start again at 6pm until 7pm bedtime. My kids live for their weekend TV time. It’s also the first thing that’s taken away as a consequence for bad behavior.
I’ll be totally honest about the technology diet—it’s not easy. Detox is hard. And maintenance is hard. There are midweek mornings when my four-year-old is up at 5am, and I would love nothing more than to park him in front of the TV for an hour or two, so I could go back and get some sleep. But I don’t. I honestly think my kids are who they are today—readers, physically active, and outdoor lovers—because I monitor their diet. Their technology diet, that is.
About Jennie Wallace
Jennifer is freelance writer for The Wall Street Journal and several national magazines. Earlier in her career, she was a journalist for “60 Minutes.” She lives in New York with her husband and their three children, ages 9, 7 and 4. You can read her other work at www.JenniferBWallace.com.