I love it when my kids sleep until noon. You know why? Because I get time to myself.
It is glorious. The house is QUIET. No one is breathing in my space, no one is asking questions, no one has needs. I can just be.
It is absolutely beautiful and a HUGE, massive part of me says, “Lori, this is genius. Talk about a win-win situation. They stay up late while you go to sleep and they sleep while you get up in the early morning and have quiet time.”
But something happened last week. Maybe it’s the heat, or the Virus Thing. Maybe it’s just because they are bored. But my four littles (who are not actually little anymore) started playing life in Home Doerneman by their own rules. They stayed up WAAAAAY past 11 p.m. and they watched WAAAAAAAAAAAY more screen time than the allotted two hours.
Now. Here’s the deal. I know some things.
Being on a screen is exciting. It’s fun. And, when used to excess, it deadens our desires for just about everything else in life.
I saw that happening with my children last week. They became lazy and lethargic. Their zing and zest and “Let’s Go Do Things” broke.
I also know that we, as human beings, need real connection in our lives. “Screen time” can feel like connection, especially if we are playing a video game WITH someone, but it is not a personal connection.
Scrolling through social media can feel like connection, but it is not.
Here’s the rub. When we get DISCONNECTED, we begin to feel a weird anxiety. And that anxious feeling makes us want to get comforted. Food does the trick. So does more screen time.
Just like that, our children’s lives can become Gaming. Or Netflix. Or Scrolling. Or Worse.
You know this truth: we were designed BY GOD for something much more personal. We were created for real intimacy. It’s in those human interactions, when we slow down and sit down, and truly TALK to another person; that is where we get that soul-satisfying connectedness.
Simply put, we need each other in very real ways. This year I decided to actually focus on Creating a Beautiful Family Culture. Turns out, you can change your family culture. We’ve come a long way and it’s been really good.
But we’ve been drifting. And I get it. The WORLD has been drifting from its center. Everything seems topsy turvy right now.
I cannot change the world. But I can change some of our family dynamic. And we definitely needed to get to a better place.
So with that in mind, last week, after a particular bad night, I got my four children out of their beds, put coffee in their hands and invited them into a conversation. We arranged the living room furniture into a circle so we were in closer proximity.
We sat down and they waited for me to speak. Now, here’s the truth: a very real part of me wanted to blame them. After all, they were the ones that had slowly added more hours onto their screen time. They were the ones that had stayed up past their bedtime.
But what I have learned over the years: parenting is heart work. And I don’t want to be a mom that simply manages behavior, trying to give them freedom FROM something.
So I started our powwow by apologizing to them for being preoccupied and not engaging more proactively with them. (I believe most mothers do guide the ship.)
I was also honest about my feelings: I had been disappointed with their choices. I had experienced a particularly bad moment the previous night, when I happened to stumble out of my bedroom after midnight and found all four of them up and actively watching MORE SHOWS….after a big day of BEING ON SCREENS.
Seeing that had pierced me deeply and made me feel many emotions. What emotions? Well, at first, I was kind of shocked. I had been SLEEPING and it astounded me that they were still up. I felt anger. Disappointment. And I also felt a strong sense of betrayal. I wanted to go all Ninja Mama Warrior on them but I knew 12:30 a.m. (with me in the kitchen in my pj’s) was not the time nor the place.
I went back to bed and I felt like such a failure as a mom. How had my inner home gotten so off balance?
Now, I didn’t share all of that with them, but I did share that I actually LOVED having really bad parenting moments.
My 15-year old son looked at me strangely and I laughed and said, “Truly. I love the really bad days because I know, if I can just see and acknowledge what’s going on, then I can choose or create a different path and I will get a different result.”
I just have to step back and use some self-awareness. What’s wrong? What’s happening here? Where did this derail?
It doesn’t hurt that my Jesus is in the business of REDEMPTION and RESTORATION. I love telling Him, “I am failing. Again. Help.”
And the answers ALWAYS come.
So, to get perspective, I asked them how many hours they had been on screens in a 24 hour period.
“Four or five hours.” (I died a little.)
“Do you see anything wrong with that?”
I told them, “Well, here’s the deal. I know a lot about addictive behaviors and when you are on a screen for five hours in a day, you are setting yourself up for addiction.”
They were not buying what I was selling. It seemed too far fetched to them, but I told them the truth. When you spend hours looking at a screen, your desire for other things, even good, healthy things, will just stop.
I don’t think it’s that difficult to see. When screens become the place our children find comfort, enjoyment and connection, then that naturally becomes the place our children find comfort, enjoyment and connection.
I’m not about that life. But again, it’s not about trying to give them freedom FROM this behavior, but about leading them TO something, in this case, to BE WHO THEY WERE DESIGNED BY GOD TO BE.
I told them that they were not designed to sit in front of a screen for half a day, while they used the other half wishing they were back in front of that dang screen.
I could see that they understood what I was saying, but they weren’t exactly toasting me and my wise words with their coffee mugs.
I kept asking questions. I kept probing. I kept listening.
We talked about fun things we could do as a family, things we WERE just doing before SCREEN TIME had somehow taken over: Nertz (a crazy fast card game), Monopoly, Legos, Puzzles, etc.
I reminded them, “When you were little, we used to choose a park and then go visit that park. Now that you are older and you all like to fish, let’s choose lakes and go fishing at different lakes. Or let’s go on mini vacations around town. Let’s GO DO THINGS.”
One of my daughters made a great point. She didn’t want to be with the family all of the time.
I smiled and said, “Neither do I and that’s not what I’m saying. But we need to be more intentional about how we spend our time because we are kind of broken in this area right now.”
To help get us back on track, I set some new ground rules. No screen time except for family movies.
That’s when they died a little.
Why did I do that? Why did I take away all screens? Well, I know my kids. Going down to an hour or two of screen time per day would morph into three or four.
I needed them totally recalibrated. And I knew that would only happen if they were forced to live screen-free.
The other thing: I have 8 children. I do not have time to be the Screen Police. “Mom! David is watching me play this game. Does that count as his screen time?” Removing ALL screen time just made it easier all the way around.
The day after the announcement was interesting. I thought it would take them several days to wake from the dead, but just like that, they started painting. And building. And reading.
When I asked my son to mow the lawn, he eagerly went after that task, which had NOT been the case before.
Another son all of a sudden found the time to pick up more hours at work. (I had been encouraging him to do that all summer long.)
They have spent time out on the deck, swinging on the porch swings and chatting.
My daughter dusted off her electric piano. She even cleaned and rearranged her room to accommodate her piano. (This shocked me. She has not played piano for a very long time.)
The kids have been making food for the family. (I may have made them sign up for a meal or two or three.)
We’ve been eating together as a family and taking that extra time to TALK, versus rushing to get done so they can watch AGT. (America’s Got Talent.)
It’s been refreshing for me because instead of looking at a YouTube video of some stranger doing something funny, they have been making each other laugh.
And so, yes, it would have been easier (on so many levels) to just let them watch screens until their eyes bled, but I am called to be better than that. And truth be told, I know better than that.
I am proud of me. I am proud of my kids.
Turns out that the CRAZY thing I did last week wasn’t actually that crazy. They now have the freedom to go towards who they really are.
And that’s what building a beautiful family culture is all about. Badabing, badaboom, baby.
P.S. If your kids are at the same place as mine were and you’d like to implement a similar plan to reduce or eliminate screen time, I created an action plan for you: How to Reduce Screen Time.
Find it in our free resource library.
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