Screentime, It’s Not All Bad

Reading Time: 5 minutesArcadia Kim, former Chief Operating Officer at leading gaming company Electronic Arts, explains how turning off her children’s screentime limits led to them reducing, not increasing, their screentime. Could it work for your family?

Mother and Daughter on the computer together for Screentime

In 2006, I quit my job as the high-flying Chief Operating Officer of Electronic Arts in Los Angeles, where I worked with some of the most talented game makers in the world on blockbusters titles like The Sims, The Lord of the Rings, and Command and Conquer. At 39 weeks pregnant, I “retired” as a game executive to fully focus on the next chapter of my life: being a mum. I was pumped and psyched to be a stay-at-home mum, but I was anxious too. I inhaled parenting books from Super Nanny to Spock to quell my worries.

When the iPhone was released in 2007, I foresaw how this portable tool could wind up being worse than candy in a baby’s hands: fascinating, habit-forming, and unstoppable. I mean, I was a gamemaker. I knew how addictive video games were. In fact, I felt like I used to be a drug dealer. So, as my baby grew into a toddler and my family grew bigger with two more siblings, I too, did the “just say no!” to screentime. Hello limits, control, and fear!

My kids were allowed 20 minutes a day, and not a second more. All content had to be vetted through me. I monitored my kids through cutting-edge technology, like Tom Cruise in Minority Report. I hovered over them like screentime police, just waiting until someone made a mistake. Fast-forward to a few summers ago. I was having a blow-out fight with my ten-year-old son about his screentime limits. He hurled his iPad across the room, and nearly knocked me out. Shocked, I locked myself in the bathroom. Crying on the floor, I called my husband and whispered, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”

We had SO MANY RULES about screen time.

I even implemented a complex ticket system where my kids could earn their screentime by doing chores, homework, exercise, and even good grades. What would happen is my kids would hack through everything that they needed to do without thought… just to get to the screentime. And because of these strict rules, screentime became a thing of power. My kids called me “Darth Mom.” It was a wake up-call for me: my relationship with my kids was suffering, because of the way I was managing technology in our home. In fact, I was sending a more dangerous message….

Little girl on a smart phone having Screentime

Technology is more powerful than you!

But we can’t fight the technology tide. I mean, come on: technology is a language for our kids.

According to the Pew Research Center, 60 per cent of children under 12 use a smartphone, with six-in-ten engaging smartphones before the age of five. Not only are children using devices earlier and earlier, but experts are optimistic about the next 50 years of digital life, even as technology disrupts jobs and the market economy. 100% of our kids are going to need technology to succeed in their future jobs, or thrive in their life. Instead of asking how I can control screentime, I should be asking: how can I prepare my kids for this new reality?

So, one day I tried something different. Rather than laying down the law, I told my son and his sisters they were allowed unlimited screentime – as long as they made good choices. What happened next was bizarre. My kids actually stopped obsessing over screens and needed them LESS, not MORE.

I made a great discovery: I realised technology wasn’t “bad,” but our shame and strife around it has made our kids crave for even more screentime. What kids need in this technology age is mentoring, not policing. When we give our kids the autonomy to manage their own device use within clearly defined boundaries, you will raise savvy, screensmart kids ready for the technology age. After years of coaching parents and researching expert opinions, I’ve distilled my insights into a step-by-step system that any family can follow to achieve screentime bliss:

  1. Understand Your Fears: Examine your screentime fears and your family’s technological tendencies. Although some of you love the idea of eliminating screens, understand that most screentime fears are unfounded and that most of the scary science and “expert opinions” out there are worst-case scenarios. You will be amazed at how switching the conversation on screentime from shame and strife to beauty and connection can do wonders in getting kids to screen less!
  2. Define Your Family Values: Surprising, but taking the time to define your family values is the key factor in successfully managing and balancing screentime. Why? Because values guide your decisions on screentime. Defining your values as a family together is not only fun, but also establishes a dialogue that can include screentime agreements to align with what your family believes in.
  3. Learn About Veggie vs. Junk Screentime: Ditch the “time” in screentime and stop monitoring the hours. Not all screentime is created equally, and it’s healthy for kids to consume a mix of screentime that can range from educational, creative, to gaming activities.
  4. Map Screentime to a Family Schedule: Create a family schedule that includes routines and chores. Armed with your family values, you can now decide whether your family is spending time that aligns with your values. Do you want to be spending time on outdoor sports, making art, or creating YouTube videos together? With a schedule, you and your kids can decide together when is screentime appropriate (after homework) and when it is not (in bed).
  5. Create a Screentime Agreement: By combining your family values, routines, schedules, and screen locations, the whole family can write a screentime agreement together. Rather than seeing it as a set of rules, treat it as a living, evolving guide to screentime principles. Review it often, and follow through.

Mother on the Ipad with her three children enjoying some Screentime

Today, I’m happy to report that my family no longer focuses on the time on screens, but on choices. My kids self-regulate their screen use based on goals. Whether it is finishing a school project, creating a family movie clip, or just hanging out with friends, every screentime choice is intentional. Case in point: my 15-year-old son (yes, the one who threw the iPad at my head) spent years creating an incredible Minecraft world on a private server called “Kimtropolis,” with a government, an economy, countries, the whole works. Ninety players from four countries play on it. It is his creative outlet. He is the master of this universe. I’m so glad I didn’t kill it when he started it at seven years old, even though I wanted to. I’m proud to raise a screen savvy kid, ready for our technological future, and I hope you will too!

Arcadia went on to create Infinite Screentime, a movement that encourages safe, fun, and exploratory tech havens in age-appropriate doses so that kids can grow up to be functioning adults in control of tech and not visa versa. If you’re struggling with screentime, join the movement.

Main photo courtesy of Arcadia Kim; photo 1 courtesy of Shutterstock, photo 2 courtesy of Shutterstock; photo 3 courtesy Arcadia Kim

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