Why (and How) to Set Boundaries with Screens

From the moment my infant daughter became aware of the television, we have been struggling with screens in our home. There have been seasons in the past four years during which I have completely let go and allowed an extreme amount of television, time on the iPad and our smart phones, and then there have been seasons when I have been so strict with screen time that it caused strain on our entire family. It eventually became a subject of deep consideration and prayer, and in October of 2018, God led me to do a seven day fast from social media. In those seven days, I realized how dependent I had become on social media for entertainment, socialization and self confidence, and I realized that my smart phone had become an idol of mine, held above the tasks of motherhood, Bible study and prayer. Since then, we have been on a journey of transforming our home’s usage of screens and media, with God’s help.

Why should you set boundaries for screen time?

  • Screens hinder learning. Time that children should be spending in play will instead be spent staring at a screen, and time that adults should be spending reading tangible books, expanding their minds and vocabulary, will be spent mindlessly scrolling through their newsfeed. Of course, you can watch educational programs or play educational games, but it is no replacement for true learning experiences.
  • Screens facilitate addiction. This is a hard one to think about. No one would like to admit that they are enabling their child to have an addiction, but that is precisely what is happening in many families, and it isn’t until they have young adults who would rather play videogames for hours on end than go out with their friends, that they realize a mistake was made.
  • Screens prevent family bonding. We’ve all seen it – a nuclear family all sitting in the same room, but no one is talking, or even looking at each other. Why? Because the kids are watching a YouTube video on the iPad, Dad is kicked back in his recliner falling asleep to a fishing program and Mom is on her phone, typing out a text to a friend. A time that usually would be spent bonding is spent on screens.
  • Screens often expose us to unbiblical images and ideas. I’m guessing that the average Christian family doesn’t just watch Pureflix, and I’m not going to tell anyone that that is what they should do. However, most programs, even relatively clean ones, are filled with ideas which aren’t Biblical, and while it isn’t necessarily sinful to watch those things, we shouldn’t allow ours or our children’s minds to live there, and if we watch hours and hours of those programs per day, that’s just what we will be doing.
  • Screens hinder discipline. Generally, our kids are really well behaved when they’re left to watch a television show, which is nice to enjoy once in awhile, but it can hinder training in discipline. If every time your children act up in the store your first inclination is to hand them your smart phone, you are not training them to be obedient and well behaved.
  • Screens become idols. As I stated before, this was a sin I faced in my own life. Idolatry is not always blatant, and it certainly isn’t always a manmade image that we bow before. When something comes before your devotion to God and what He has called you to do, that is when it can be called an idol. If you are skipping prayer and Bible study because you would rather watch television, or if you are staring at your phone instead of teaching your children, then your screen has become an idol.

How do I start?

I’m a working, homeschooling, stay-at-home mother. Many of you may not have a paying job, many of you probably don’t homeschool, and many of you may not stay at home. Yet, I have been surprised at that no matter how different our situations may be, as women and mothers, we all feel very similar. We feel torn – between tending our homes, our jobs, our children and our husbands. We feel immense pressure to do it all, and when we can’t, we feel guilt. To begin to reduce and put boundaries on screen time in your home, you must first change your mindset.

  • Stop believing the lie that your children must be entertained. I used to feel that my quality as a mother depended on the amount of attention I gave my children. If I left them to entertain themselves, even if it was to do something necessary and important, I would feel guilt. But… it’s funny, because I don’t remember having the constant attention of my parents, or grandparents, or aunt and uncle, and I didn’t feel neglected because of that. If you feel that you constantly have to entertain your children, you will end up turning on the T.V. every time you can’t.
  • Stop feeling guilty for turning your children away so you can do chores or even have quiet time. It can be pretty tempting to beat yourself up every time your child walks into the kitchen to ask you if you can read a book, and you have to tell them no, because you’re doing dishes or sweeping the floor. But, stop. Taking care of your home is important, and self care is important. And it’s okay, even healthy, for your child to learn that they are not the only thing that matters. Once again, if you feel that you have to distract your child every time there is something to be done, you will end up sitting them in front of a screen.
  • Stop trying to overachieve. This may seem contradictory to my last two points, but it is possible to deny your children love and attention that they are due. That usually doesn’t mean that a mother doesn’t adore their kids. Usually, it’s just because they’re trying to do too much. Stop trying to be superwoman. You’re not. Your house does not need to be spotless, your kids do not need to look like they’re posing in a Dillard’s catalogue and everyone can eat cold sandwiches for dinner once in awhile. It’s O.K. to turn off the television, let the kids run around in their underwear and just play.

Now, let’s get into some practical ways to reduce screen time.

  • Consider taking away some options. The first move I made in our home was removing smart phones and tablets from my children’s options of screens. Suddenly, the only screen they were allowed to use was the T.V., and that significantly cut down on screen time.
  • Consider removing televisions from bedrooms. Our daughters had always had a television in their bedroom, and though it always caused issues, we never thought of removing it. Well, I take that back. thought about removing it, but that was met with some strong opposition. Finally a few months ago, I put my foot down and took away the T.V. It hasn’t just reduced screen time by giving them less power over a television, it has also transformed bedtime into a calming ritual.
  • Encourage reading. Screens aren’t the only way to be carried away into a story that isn’t your own. Help your children discover reading for entertainment. Every time they ask for a screen, put a book in front of them instead. Collect a wide variety of books, including ones that hit on your child’s interests. Set up a cozy spot in their bedroom to read. Pretty soon, you will be finding them with books in their laps, lost in another world. No screen necessary.
  • Remove apps from your phone. This is much more a suggestion for you than for your children. Myself, I deleted the Facebook and Netflix apps from my phone, and eventually I deactivated Facebook completely. This immediately cut way down on my personal screen time!
  • Delete social media accounts. I can just hear the but, but, but’s on this one. A year ago, it would have taken a lot to get me to let go of my Facebook, too, even though I knew it was harmful. However, I hope we can all admit that this would significantly cut down on screen time, as you would no longer be spending fifteen to thirty minutes at a time scrolling through your newsfeed, and I would challenge you to at least think about letting one or more of your social media accounts go.

Finally, let’s talk boundaries.

Changing your mindset and taking steps to reduce your screen time will certainly help, but boundaries are necessary and healthy in every aspect of our lives, screens and media included.

  • Get questionable media off of your playlists and out of your home. It doesn’t matter how much or how little screens are being used if what is being watched or played is immoral. You may have a show on your playlist that is lots of fun, but you can’t watch it without feeling a twinge of guilt. Get it out. Or your son or daughter may have a video game that is graphically violent. Get it out. Take a stand and set some rules for the quality of media that will be allowed in your home.
  • Time it. I know that many families practice timing their child’s screen time throughout the day and stopping them when they hit their limit. This is a good idea, and it may work for you, but it didn’t work for me. It was a little too stiff for our household. If the time limit was met and my children only had ten minutes left in their program, I felt obligated to let them finish it, but then I felt that I had failed. (There goes the guilt again.) I also feel that it would be difficult to keep track of everyone if you have multiple children all using screens independently.
  • Only allow screens at set times during the day. This is what we do in our home. My children are allowed to watch a show when I’m preparing lunch and another when their Dad gets home from work. That is their screen time, and they know it. Otherwise, they play, and they very rarely ask for a movie to be played anymore. It also gives me some much needed breaks in the day.
  • Be disciplined, but not too strict. Don’t become legalistic about screen time. If your child is sick and miserable, don’t feel bad about letting him lay in bed and watch movies that day, or if you’ve been sitting at the DMV for two hours with three small children who are beginning to get restless, feel free to find a YouTube video on your phone to calm them. There is nothing inherently sinful in using screens. All that matters is that you have boundaries and balance!

Our family is certainly not perfect in this aspect, and we are still on a journey in reducing and setting boundaries for our screen usage (myself and my husband especially). But man, I’m so thankful that we aren’t where we used to be! Thank God, He is faithful to lead us in every detail of our lives, and He responds to our pleas for help.

Leave a comment for me, and I will be sure to respond and hold you up in prayer! Thanks for reading, Sisters!

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