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Screen time. The bane of modern parenting. A constant source of parent-shaming and guilt. Look, we know you love your kids. We know you are doing your best. Let’s skip the low-grade anxiety attack that often comes from regurgitating facts and figures about the effects of too much screen time. We all probably have a pretty good grasp on the fact that an exorbitant amount of screen time isn’t the best for our children. Instead, let’s commiserate in the struggle, remind ourselves the importance of time spent outside, examine our own relationship with screens, and, in the end, lavish ourselves and each other with compassion. Parenting is hard, and ultimately, we all want happy, healthy, well-adjusted kids.
Chapter One: The Fight
The screams reverberate down the hall, through the walls, out the windows, and transmute into echos throughout the otherwise quiet neighborhood. It’s not the opening scene of a horror movie. You’ve just told your eight-year-old screen time is over. Dun-dun-duuuuun! You aren’t just up against the screaming, the pleading, the bargaining, the crying, or the fits of rage either. Once you’ve managed to pry that device out of your kid’s death grip, they mope, snark, and continue to beg for “just a few more minutes.” Then the same thing happens all over again the next day. It’s no wonder that most parents admit to struggling with enforcing rules or time limits, even though most experts agree that doing so is vital for your child’s digital wellness. Yes, we have now have yet another “wellness” to manage.
Look on the bright side. Although having to monitor your child’s screen time is a modern parenting task, relentless fighting with your offspring is not. Hooray? Just ask grandma Norma. It’s easy to blame all the conflict on modern technology. It would be nothing but laughs, love, and happiness if it weren’t for that blasted iPhone and everything that came after, right? Take heart; parents have been sparring with children over bedtime, chores, and curfews since the beginning of time. The fighting comes with the territory, and we must choose our battles wisely. In the end, sticking it out is often exactly what those little boogers need most. They don’t believe it now, but as adults who enjoy nature and making real connections, they’ll thank you.
Chapter Two: Green Time vs. Screen Time
Parents, let’s renew the battle cry, “go play outside!” We promised to refrain from an onslaught of facts and statistics, but some just can’t be ignored. For instance, children only devote 4 to 7 minutes a day to unstructured outdoor play, yet, they spend more than 7 hours a day in front of some kind of screen. A mounting culmination of factors are working against our kids getting outside to play, and this is impacting their health, attention, and mental wellbeing. Even the use of antidepressants in pediatric patients is on the rise. Screens aren’t helping our kids feel happy and connected. But do you know what does? Bikes!
A lot has changed for kids growing up today, but one thing remains true. Bikes are fun, and kids love to ride. Those two wheels are the perfect anecdote to the screen time woes. If you can, spark your children’s love of riding as early as possible. Get them used to reaching for a bike, instead of an iPad. With Strider Bikes, kids can ride as soon as they can sit up, and with any luck, their love of bikes will equal or surpass their reliance on screens. Getting kids outside to play and ride doesn’t just nurture their bodies, but also their minds and spirits. In their article, Whole Child: Developing, Mind, Body, and Spirit, the Be Out There National Wildlife Federation sums up just a few of the benefits of more time playing and riding outdoors:
Creative: Playing outside inspires and requires an active imagination.
Smart: Children who spend time outdoors learn to work as a team. They score higher on assessments of cognitive ability and standardized tests.
Calm: Research shows kids’ stress levels fall within minutes of being outside.
Kind: Being outside helps create compassion and improves social bonds.
Happy: Play protects kids’ emotional development, letting kids be kids.
Healthy: Riding and running around outside helps maintain physical health, including more vitamin D, to help build strong bones and prevent disease.
Oh, and more great news, the same goes for you! As parents, we can use some outside time too. Going on a family bike ride is so much more than just that. And maybe every once in a while, our screams of frustration to pry screens out of children’s hands will morph into shrieks of excitement to go for a bike ride together.
Chapter Three: Your Own Devices
The “do as I say, not as I do” parenting tactic tends to fall flat. We know this, but putting down that phone is hard! Screen time isn’t just causing children to disconnect, compare themselves to others, and reduce physical activities – adults are susceptible as well.
On a good day, having children around inspires us to be the best version of ourselves (we’ve all had plenty of bad days too!). We can model how to disconnect from the screen and reconnect with nature and each other. What’s good for your kids is good for the entire family. This could be a great opportunity to reset everyone’s habits. After dinner or this weekend, instead of reaching for your phones, grab your bikes and go for a quick ride. Even a little ride goes a long way. But, let’s be real; the screen withdrawal period can get nasty. You’ve already managed to tough out a few fights. Make sure you have plenty of good snacks and stay strong.
Chapter Four: Harness Compassion
We’re all just trying to figure it out in this fast-paced digital world. Raising children with this amount of technology has never been done before. We are the parent pioneers! Every family has its own way of handling it. If you have been a parent for more than two minutes, you already know, someone out there does it differently and will not hold back about telling you why. Some days it feels like beliefs and ideas around screen time is just another way parents are pitting against each other. Being judged for the way you are parenting is a deep cut because, most of us, everyday, worry that we aren’t doing it quite right. When someone blatantly (or subliminally) tells you that you’re messing up, it’s hard to stay confident and not wallow in “I’m a horrible parent” pity.
You know what you don’t hear enough? You are doing a great job! Really, you are. You know what you need more than a list of all the things you are doing wrong? A little compassion from all the other parents you are surrounded by. None of us are perfect. It’s usually the neighbors who figure that out first when they hear you yelling at your kids or partner in the backyard when you thought they weren’t home. So let’s come together and shift our parent shaming energy from each other to keeping the pressure on tech companies to help protect our children online. Show your fellow parents some compassion with a gentle smile or a commiserate pat on the back.
Chapter Five: Good Luck Out There
Buckle up; this screen time struggle isn’t going away anytime soon. It looks like forcing your children to go outside and play is part of this parenting gig now. Hopefully, their kid instincts will kick back in, and they’ll grab their bikes, cruise around, laugh, and experience the freedom and joy that comes with two wheels. Maybe you’ll be inspired to put down the phone and join in the fun too. As your children grow into amazing adults, they’ll certainly remember some of the fight and struggle, but largely, the fresh air, adventure, and stubborn love you have given will stand out the most. You are doing a dynamite job!
 “Whole Child: Developing Mind, Body, and Spirit through Outdoor Play.” Www.nwf.org, www.nwf.org/~/media/PDFs/Be Out There/BeOutThere_WholeChild_V2.ashx.