Monkey See Monkey Do – Screen Time

mom and daughter cell phone

Image courtesy of Ambro at

“I feel like I’m just boring. I’m boring my dad because he will take any text, any call, any time, even on the ski lift.”

What a scary thing for any parent to hear a kid say. Would/Could my kids say something similar to this girl? That’s not how I feel about my kids. But does the way I use my cell phone legitimately lead them to think otherwise? What message are we sending to our kids in our text messaging?

A recent New York Times article (from which this quote comes) proposes that the way to control kids’ screen time starts with applying those rules to ourselves. Here is some of what struck me in this article:

  1.  Parents are perpetually tuned into their own devices, responding to every ping of their cellphones and tablets.

My daughter imitated me recently on a play phone. She didn’t pick it up and talk on it. She typed on it like she was texting. Any child development book will give credence to the idea that kids watch and then imitate what they see. Despite us telling kids to limit their screen time, our kids are taking their cues from what they see us do, not from what they hear us say.

  1. Parents fail to establish and enforce appropriate rules for media engagement for their children.

The article interestingly says that part of the reason that parents don’t enforce the rules is because they don’t want to abide by them.

  1. Have a cell-free zone for everyone at crucial times of the day.

The article really pushes having time allocated each day as screen-free. Two times they suggest prioritizing are when taking children to/from school and/or when parents first come home from work. These valuable connecting periods can be hard to recreate, so best to take advantage of the natural ‘tell me about your day’ period. They also recommend that no one should use devices during meal times. Ominously, they report a study that found 40 out of 55 groups of parents using their phones in a restaurant setting.

This article really hits home. I certainly could be, and have been, guilty of lots of their examples. I don’t want to read this article and be like the Pharisee of Luke 18. (I thank you God I’m not like those phone-addicts). Here are some of the questions I want to be asking myself:

  • Do I really think I will miss out if I don’t check my phone for an hour or even two hours?
  • Do I interrupt face to face time with my kids or others when my phone vibrates?
  • Am I setting aside screen-free time each day to spend as a family?
  • Am I cheapening relationships by carrying on large parts of them over text messaging?
  • Would I be happy if my kids used their phones in the future like I do?
  • Have I forgotten how to entertain myself without my phone or another screen in front of me?

I am convinced this topic matters, and that there are different, legitimate answers to the above questions.  Even more so, I am sure my kids are watching— the question is what are they seeing?


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