What to do when your kids love screens

My kids love screens. Like, REALLY love screens.

Sound familiar? I know many of you can relate to the struggle of getting your kids OFF screens – and into doing things that you feel are more productive and more creative. I hear you - me too!

If I have to listen (or overhear) one more British Youtuber describing a game he’s playing while my kids watch him, I’ll scream. How is it a "thing" that kids today love watching other people do stuff by video more than doing it themselves!?

Despite the useless Youtube videos, I still don't believe screens are inherently evil. I've learned to integrate screens into my children's everyday lives by following some simple rules:

1)     Embrace it!

Remember the saying: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em! It's time to embrace the screens. It's even time for you to play on the screens with the kids.

If you aren’t willing to see what your kids love about the time they spend on screens, you’re not going to understand what it is they’re enjoying so much - and you’re not going to be able to find alternatives. Spend some time with your kids getting a sense for what they really like to do on screens – are they JUST watching youtube videos? What games do they like to play? What kinds of content are they drawn to? The more you learn, the more you'll get ideas on how to take what they love doing on screens, off screens.

If nothing else, spending time with them doing something your kids really love doing is going to be good quality time together - the extra info you gather is just a bonus. 

2)     Gamefy life

Kids love screens (who’s kidding who, a lot of adults love their screens too!) because of the immediate feedback they get. It’s fun, it feels rewarding, and they/we want more!

Use that to your benefit - find ways to get the immediate feedback loop started for other activities.

There are so many great apps and products that help you blend gaming and life – stories that have you running outside to find goals or unlock achievements. This is why apps like Pokemon Go and Zombie Running are so popular. You can get out, walk, exercise and do things, and still have the positive feedback of a game accompanying you. 

3)     Make creativity a requirement

When my kids are begging for screens and they’ve had enough mindless playing or watching, I often will say yes as long as it’s something they are doing that is creative.

You want to write a story in Word? Go for it.
You want to create and edit a video? Sure thing!

You want to take an online course to learn to draw? Here are some art supplies set up next to the computer.

You want to create your own game by programming it in Scratch? Sounds like a good use of time to me!

Turn some bananas into a piano and play me some tunes? Strange, but OK!

Distinguishing between “you’re rotting your brain” and “you’re growing your brain” is key. There are a lot of ways that kids can be doing some incredible things on screens and I want to encourage them to figure those out and get really creative.  (Not to mention, two of my kids have difficulty writing by hand for long periods of time, so while I tried to get them to write stories in journals and got nowhere, I discovered that if I took away the handwriting barrier, they were willing to do a lot more writing. Sometimes it can seem like kids don’t like something for different reasons than we think!)

There are opportunities with technology to learn hard skills (like a programming language) and softer skills, like reasoning, analyzing, and problem solving.

4)     Have them learn while playing

My kids are bookish – and by bookish I mean screens and not sports. They love to read and play games and they have a strong family history in engineering and the sciences. They love to build things and figure things out.

There are so many ways to encourage their love of learning and problem solving with tech.

My kids have been attending workshops for years that taught them about snap circuits and Minecraft and other techy things. I’m always on the look out for more; these are kids who love to spend their weekend visits with their grandfather building and programming robots.

Level Up Kids is the latest activity I’ve found that works well for my kids, and they can't wait to spend a week at summer camp with them this summer.  At Level Up kids are learning to code and even getting to bring home their own mini pocket computer. There's both an academic and a social aspect - finding friends who enjoy the same kinds of things.

At Level Up the kids are learning to problem-solve, reason abstractly and quantitatively, model with mathematics and so much more. Plus, the camp makes sure they still get outside and play throughout the day as well.

There are a TON of summer camps scheduled here in Ottawa (both centretown and Kanata,) including Minecraft Hacking, Web Development, Robotics and Intro to Programming. There's something for every techy child!

(I did hope my older son might like to learn to program web sites so I could get him helping me with mine, but apparently Minecraft mods are a bit more appealing)

5)     Set limitations

Regardless of the learning value, kids still need to get outside and off screens. We have limits on screen times and the kids need to do chores or outdoor activities in order to earn more time on their screens.

Clear expectations on what those limits are has helped us. The expectation in our family is not that you automatically have access to screens, you need to earn them- so really, we’re gamifying getting games, and that’s why it often works for us!

So the next time your kids are stuck in front of a screen watching a couple of siblings challenging each other to do strange things or a British guy talking about his pugs, think about some of the ways you can use their love of screens in a way that makes them feeling like they're winning. You know they're learning all kinds of skills that are going to help them be truly successful in life - working in a tech field, or just having learned to problem solve, find patterns and improve their math skills. I figure those are all really handy skills for the kids of someone who builds online businesses to have - WIN. WIN. WIN!

How do you use your kids love of screens to your advantage? Leave a comment and let us know!

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This post is part of the YummyMummyClub.ca and #LevelUpKids sponsored program. I received compensation as a thank you for my participation. This post reflects my personal opinion about the information provided by the sponsors.