Some moms serve breakfast at the kitchen table. I serve mine in front of the TV.
Or the iPad.
Or a Boxcar Children chapter book.
Why? Because I’m lazy and indulgent?
Because I want what’s best for my kids.
“Mom, can I play on your iPad?” My seven-year-old clamped her teeth and grinned, hands clasped beneath her chin in a pleading pose. I’d seen that look before. It means Daddy just installed a new LEGO app and we can’t get enough of it.
“Yes, but you need to eat your cereal, and when the clock says 7:20, it’s time to put down the iPad and get dressed.”
“Ok!” She grabbed my tablet off its docking station and settled on the sofa, where I placed a breakfast tray beside her.
“7:20.” I pointed to the clock. “Got it?”
I migrated to the kitchen to pack pear slices and pretzels into sandwich baggies. When the clock struck 7-2-0, I called out, “What time is it?”
“Awww, Mom! Just five more minutes, please?”
“Nope. We had a deal.”
A deep sigh blew from across the room. Then I heard the click of a cover flip, and my girl yanked off her pajama top in exchange for school clothes.
“Thank you, lovey.” I paused in the doorway to the living room. “You handled that well.”
Here’s the thing about technology and entertainment of all kinds. It can suck up every spare minute and still be hungry for more. More of our attention, more of our fascination, more of our daydreams and our should-be-sleeping hours. Our children are growing up in the pioneer era of social media, Kindle apps, QR codes and iTunes. With each passing year, shiny fun distractions are only going to further infiltrate their lives, demand their time, and risk their character. They need to know how to handle it.
They need to know how to control it.
Yes, yes, conventional parenting wisdom says don’t hand them the iPad in the first place.
But biblical wisdom says—teach them self-control.
And how will they do that if we don’t let them practice?
“In a race everyone runs, but only one person gets first prize. So run your race to win. To win the contest you must deny yourselves many things that would keep you from doing your best. An athlete goes to all this trouble just to win a blue ribbon or a silver cup, but we do it for a heavenly reward that never disappears. So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I fight to win. I’m not just shadow-boxing or playing around. Like an athlete I punish my body, treating it roughly, training it to do what it should, not what it wants to. Otherwise I fear that after enlisting others for the race, I myself might be declared unfit and ordered to stand aside, (1 Corinthians 9:24–27, TLB).
What’s our ultimate goal? To raise a child who obeys everything her mother says, or a child who understands the difference between right and wrong?
Do you even realize those are two different things?
As parents, it’s our job to teach our children discernment—good from bad, better from best. But then we must give them opportunities to exercise it. So I create parameters around fun and games rather than prohibitions. I allow my children to live inside the freedom of permission granted so they can learn—sometimes the hard way—how to regulate themselves.
Today it’s an innocent LEGO app. Tomorrow it will be Facebook, YouTube, text messaging, and Lord only knows what else. By the time my children are old enough to choose distraction vs. studying, electronic communication vs. personal human contact, and the things of this world vs. pursuits of eternal worth, I pray they’ll own a deep conviction toward the better call.
That is a gift I can give them.
“Mom, can I bring the iPad in the car on our drive to school?” My daughter emerged from the bathroom, hair combed and teeth brushed.
“No, sweetie, not in the car.”
“Can I play with it after school?”
“What do you think?”
She twisted her lips and considered for a moment.
“Mom, you know what? Too much screen time is not healthy. I should really practice my jump rope.”
Well, glory halleluiah. It’s working.
You know what? sometimes I don’t provide a very good example of this type of self-control. thanks for convicting me, Becky (she says, through clenched teeth). I think I need to work on this a little bit 🙂
Oh, Laura, you and me both. I need to constantly remind myself to put the iPad down so I can live in the moment. We’ll be working on it together. 🙂
Heidi @ A Paige From Our Book says
Thank you, Becky! I have had this conviction for a long time, and have done my best to express it to friends who don’t have a tv and question our decision to let our children watch TV and movies. But conviction set in as I realize that lately I haven’t been as purposefully limiting in the time I allow my children in front of the TV. It was a timely and helpful reminder that my “yeses” are just as much tools to shape my children as saying no.
Great point, Heidi – yes can be as important as no. I’m certainly not perfect in enforcing the parameters, but I do recognize the value more and more as my kids grow older. Besides screen time, I’m starting to give my older daughter opportunities to exercise discretion in the content she’s watching, too. I keep one ear open as she’s watching a new Disney channel show or something, and I remind her – you need to determine if this is appropriate (if there are unkind words or kids insulting each other, etc. – then we don’t watch it). It’s a learning process for both of us for sure. Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts!
Such a great post (again!) and one I wholeheartedly agree with. Teaching self control comes when we expose our kids to situations that test their self control. As with anything in this parenting journey, only you as the parent knows what’s best for your kids but this article has a great deal of practical wisdom and I am encouraged by it. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for reading, Megan! It’s always helpful to hear from other moms who share similar convictions. Blessings to your family today!
Darby Dugger says
Hi! Visiting from Wedded Wednesday and I LOVED this post. I am a mama to 4 children (#5 on the way) and the oldest is only 5… so we are just now navigating this pathway. I gathered much wisdom and encouragement from this post! Thank you!
Hi, Darby! Thank you for reading! Blessings to you and your growing family. 🙂
I completely get what you are saying. We have to give our children opportunities to learn, grow and succeed. My boys have an old phone of mines that they play with and my old NookColor. They also use our computer but are limited as well. Sometimes the practice in self control works, other times it doesn’t.
Agreed, Dianne. Sometimes the exercise is a success, other times not, but I believe they’re learning either way. Goodness, sometimes my OWN exercise in self-control becomes a complete disaster, so I can appreciate the challenge for my kids!
You’ve ventured into controversial territory, Becky! But I wholeheartedly agree! It was (and to a degree still is) something my husband and I have tried to do with our boys. I didn’t want to shield them from everything in life, but rather talk with them along the way, engage them in the implications of any decision and give them lots of opportunities to practice self-discipline and control. If they don’t have that “practice” so to speak as they grow up, by the time they hit adulthood, oh my! we might just see a train wreck! And what mom or dad wants to see that! Great words of motherly wisdom as always my friend!
It helps me to see examples of success down the road through wise moms like you, Beth. 🙂 I want to avoid that train wreck if at all possible. I know some of it is beyond my control, but I aim to be intentional about building the foundation while I can. I don’t do it perfectly, that’s for sure. But I do think being aware is the first step.
My boys get occasional screen time. I would let them have more except most of the time, there isn’t time. Our mornings are somewhat similar to yours except that the screen time is reserved until after you are completely ready for school, and, provided, you didn’t loose your chance at it by not willing to stop playing/watching the previous day when your time was up.
I’ve tried it both ways, Cynedra. I’ve discovered my daughter handles the morning transition much better if I give her a little flexibility when she first wakes up. I can’t blame her. I can be a little owly first thing in the morning, too. 🙂
Teaching self-control is so important. It’s a struggle here, how much tech to allow. But we’re working on it.
I keep thinking about how when I was a kid, we weren’t allowed any sugar at all. So, when we would be with friends or somewhere where we could get it, my brothers and I would WAY overindulge. It’s why I decided my kids could have sweets, in moderation.
Great point, Shell! It’s such a personal decision for each family, what and how much to allow. My kids love candy so we have to set limits or they’d eat Mike & Ikes for breakfast. 🙂 Moderation is our approach, too.
Andrea B (@goodgirlgonered) says
This is perfect. I am of a similar mindset and we set restrictions on time and location, as well, though we’ve often brought it in the car, but I’ve stopped that more lately. 😉 Anyway – thank you for sharing this. I truly appreciate the reminder that I’m not the only mom who says yes!
You’re definitely not alone, Andrea! Thanks so much for reading!
That’s a great point! I would also add–so they don’t feel out of the loop with their friends. You don’t want them to be the “weird” ones who can’t relate to real people. (I don’t say this in a mean way. I didn’t watch TV growing up so I am one of the “weird” ones. When people make culture references, I’m always clueless)
Such an interesting perspective, Brittany! I have to say shows like “You Can’t Do That on Television” or “Dukes of Hazzard” probably did nothing to enhance my intelligence, so maybe you got the better deal. 🙂 Thanks so much for chiming in!
Melissa @ A Wide Line says
I completely agree with you! Moderation is the lesson in our house too. And my 3 YO son has learned so much from Sid the Science Kid, it amazes me! When he was only 2, he explained to me what friction was, and now he can name all six simple machines!
We love Sid! And we’ve learned a lot from Dora and Super Why, too. 🙂
Love the way you put this. We must teach our kids about self control and limits. Great post!
Andrea Mitchael says
This is SO TRUE and fascinating! So many times parents end up with kids who haven’t learned how to make decisions for themselves because they were never given the option — which is a HUGE danger. I believe this is KEY, sure there is a risk that they may choose poorly when given options early, but I believe this concept is the difference between raising “rule followers” and “Christ followers”. Thank you for voicing these thoughts, even if they can go against the grain. Right now I’m allowing TV time for my 2 year old because I’m exhausted with pregnancy, and he will finally be calm for a bit, watching some “Super Why”! Thanks for your thoughts and wisdom as we venture towards these uncharted waters as our kids get older!
Yes! Christ followers rather than rule followers. Beautifully put! And sister, I am all about that Super Why – one of our favorite shows since toddlerhood. A little bit of educational television is healthy for everyone, I think. You catch a break and your little one practices his letters. Rested mom, happy child. As long as we model self-control, it’s a win-win-win.
Kylie - Mummy Tips says
Thank you so much for this post. My hubby and i have 6 kids, with our eldest being 9 and our youngest 2. They are growing up in an age that wasn’t even mapped out when I was a child/teenager, and I’ve been struggling with the whole iPod/iPad/Wii Nintendo thing. This post has put a great perspective on it, as I don’t want to disadvantage my kids by not allowing them to have time on technology just because it wasn’t what we did as kids, but I don’t want their time consumed by it either. Thanks for your biblical perspective 🙂
Hi, Kylie. Thank you for sharing this response… it blesses me to know my post encouraged you in an area you’ve been struggling with. My husband and I are always mindful of the balance between technology advantages and disadvantages. It’s an ongoing challenge! You’re not alone. 😉
YES YES AND YES!!!!!!!!!!