When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time with my Grandpa Randall. He was kind of an enigma – a crusty old cowboy with a twinkle in his eye. Grandpa always wore the same striped brown shirt and cowboy boots. His fingers were oil stained from working at the full service gas station he owned. Grandpa was quite the horseman. People from far and wide respected his wisdom on training and racing horses.
When I was eleven years old, I announced to grandpa that I was going to be his apprentice. It took a month of shoveling manure and carrying heavy buckets of water before grandpa took me seriously.
I still remember the first horse he let me ride. She was a high-spirited racehorse, chestnut in color, and her name was Townhouse. Grandpa wanted me, a novice rider, to train this racehorse for western pleasure riding. I tried to hide my intimidation.
Townhouse had a mind of her own, and grandpa expected me to show her who was boss. “You ain’t riding that horse,” he hollered daily, “that horse is riding you!” Over time, Townhouse did learn to follow my lead. As I look back now, I realize that grandpa had a more profound purpose than to train a horse. His vision was to train me, to help me understand who was (or at least should be) boss in my own life.
I have often reflected upon grandpa’s words as I have struggled to discipline myself – my attitudes and feelings, my time and resources, my habits and behaviors. And grandpa’s words seem more insightful than ever now that I am a mother.
The world is full of powerful resources and technologies, and if we don’t choose to “ride them,” we will find that they are “riding us.” One of the most obvious of these is screen-based media. If you have been reading my blog, you know that my family spent the entire month of July unplugged from such media. And, I have to say, it was heavenly!
During the month of July my children often complained of boredom. And I was glad to hear it, because it revealed a beautiful truth – we have more time than we think we do. The accessible and distracting media that fills our minutes, here and there and in between other things, has made us feel busier than we were ever intended to be. When our family was unplugged, I began to understand that there is time for contemplation and meditation in the priceless in-between minutes.
Because we suddenly seemed to have more time, the quality of our family life improved. We spent our time talking and laughing. When the electronic devices disappeared, real connection began to happen. We spent every Saturday on a family adventure, something we had been too exhausted to pursue before. We read together daily and we even worked to learn rubik’s cube algorithms. I absolutely loved the month of July.
But all good things come to an end. And as July waned, I began to understand that we simply could not force a technological regression, nor could we be unplugged forever and thrive. The world in which we live has created a necessity for information, communication and speed, all of which are achieved through screen-based media.
We would do our children a disservice if we cut them off from this technology.
And yet we had just experienced being happier without it.
And this is the conclusion at which I have arrived. Managing our media diet is a critical life skill. When I was growing up, it was not something I really needed, but without this skill today my children will almost certainly gravitate toward a lifestyle of diminished productivity, diminished happiness and diminished agency. With this skill, however, they will be enabled to harness a powerful tool that will benefit them for a lifetime.
It’s the difference between our children riding the horse and the horse riding our children.
Tips for Teaching Children Media Discipline
1. Define Family Media Rules
Meet in council so that everyone has input into the family rules. I think it is important to have some flexibility so that the rules are attainable. Display the rules prominently!
2. Set an Example
As parents, our own life choices speak the loudest. If we want our children to develop a healthy media diet, we must model one for them. They will gravitate toward the lifestyle they see us leading. For me, this meant taking the Pinterest and Facebook apps off my phone, a little decision that has made a big difference.
3. Make Use of Filters
I am adamant that there are content filters on all devices my children can access. While I know filters are not foolproof, I intend to take every available precaution for my children’s safety. While there are many filters available, we use the SafeEyes internet filter.
4. Set Blackout Times
In our home there are certain times when electronic media is completely off limits. This includes mornings before school and evenings after 9:00 p.m.
5. Teach Work Before Play
Entertainment media is available only after all chores and homework are satisfactorily completed. We put job charts on sticky notes. When our children bring us a completed sticky note, it acts as a ticket for them to access screen time.
6. Set a Timer
Sometimes we are not aware of how much time we are spending on electronic media. A timer can be a great tool because it keeps us honest. After chores are done, our children can set the timer for one hour. After one hour has passed, they get to find something else to do.
*How have you managed media in you home? Please share your ideas and suggestions in the comments!