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Discipleship in the Digital Age: Helping our Family and Kids Navigate Screen Time

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By Nick Clifton, KPA Director of Student Development

It was during the early morning hours of March 20, 2014 that I realized my life had changed forever. On that morning, my first child, my daughter, entered into this world and stole my heart. On that morning, I realized that I was now undertaking the most difficult, terrifying, and rewarding journey I would ever take – the journey of receiving a child as a precious gift from God with Him expecting that we love and disciple this beautiful soul in a way that would allow heaven to come that much closer to earth through her. What a blessing!

Unfortunately, I quickly realized that our culture and society has placed an incredible obstacle in front of us as families that quite often places itself right in the middle of the that road of discipleship that we are traveling on. This obstacle, as you might have guessed from the title, is the screen. Where a fireplace and hearth was once the gathering place of fellowship, family, and discussion for the family unit has now been replaced by the TV, laptop, iPad, smartphone, or really any other item that can place media and entertainment at our fingertips.

To add a little perspective, the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that:

  • Kids under age 6 watch an average of about 2 hours of screen media a day, primarily TV and videos or DVDs.
  • Kids and teens 8 to 18 years spend nearly 4 hours a day in front of a TV screen almost 3 additional hours on the computer (outside of schoolwork) and playing video games.
  • Counting all media outlets, 8 – 18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day.

Many parents will tell you there is something about a screen that acts almost as a digital pacifier for children – turn on a screen and they turn into zombies. I will never forget the day I witnessed this very event in my own house. I came home from work to my wife playing with blocks with our oldest daughter in the living room, and turned on the TV to watch the news. The second the screen came on, my daughter was completely torn away from her mother’s play and turned to the bright colors and interesting sounds coming out of our TV. I watched as her eyes glazed over and the mesmerizing hold of the screen took control. It was then I understood the temptation that faces so many of us as parents to place our children in front of a screen – it can give us some much needed quiet time! Unfortunately, the payment for this digital babysitter is far too steep and, frankly, just not worth it in the end.

Now I’m not saying that we should throw out all digital devices and only read books 24/7. I am also one who believes that the use of media in intentional and purposeful ways can be beneficial. My wife and I have certainly resorted to the Disney movies on the iPad for many a 9 hour road trip to Houston (you know the moment – the last two hours of the trip where everyone is just bored and tired of being in the car). However, the purpose of this blog is to caution us as parents to remain intentional and to never sacrifice shared experiences and the joys of parenting to a screen.

I think most people would agree that our culture has given too much power to screen time, but I find that many people are just unaware or unsure of where to start to change what might be a long-running habit of media usage in their household. So here are some tips and ideas that we use in our house with our family to be as intentional and minimalistic as possible concerning screen time with our children.

1. Set the example.

I have to start with the toughest one (especially for me), because there is no other place to begin this conversation. Children will naturally gravitate toward the behaviors of their parents. They are always watching and learning, even when we do not think so. If they see us reading a book, they are more likely to read. If they see us desiring to be active outside, they are more likely to do the same. And if they see us in front of a screen, they will want to do the same.

2. Be the parent.

It is our job to encourage healthy, responsible living habits and behaviors while also limiting unhealthy ones. Sometimes, this means making the unpopular decision. Be willing to make the tough decisions for your children, but always make sure you explain why you are making that decision. The follow up conversation (combined with watching your example) will help them understand why they should follow through and hopefully internalize the need to make that decision for themselves.

3. Set limited viewing times.

Again, I am not saying that we live like the Amish, but as with anything in life, we must consume in moderation. Sit down as a family and decide what time frames for media usage work best for your family.

4. Play with your kids.

This may sound like an obvious one, but sometimes this is the easiest one to neglect. We are a busied and hurried people these days, and this step will certainly take intentionality and pulling from the bottom of your energy barrel some days, but I promise you will be glad you did. So get down on the ground with your little ones, play board games, ride bikes together, wrestle, whatever your kids are doing for play at their stage of life, join them in that play.

5. Observe your child’s behavioral changes.

Too much screen time has an immediate impact on a child’s behavior. After too much television/video games, a child can become irritable, impatient, or lethargic. Be on the lookout for these behavior changes. When you start to notice them, cut off the screen time and redirect to a different activity.

6. Protect family meals and table time.

About two-thirds of young people say the TV is usually on during meals. This is unfortunate, because some of your family’s richest conversations will take place around that dinner table. Value and protect that time with your children! Don’t let the TV (or any screen) steal that from you.

7. No screens in the bedrooms.

This is one that our family is still working on, but we are looking to the example of some parenting mentors of ours that have implemented this with their family for many years now. When it is time for bed, all family members charge their phones in the kitchen. As unpopular as this decision is with their teen at times, they hold true to their belief that they are protecting their child and themselves from unnecessary distractions and temptations. While we are currently not parenting teens, we know that we want to form the habit for ourselves now in order to set the example for our children when they do enter those teenage years.

Limiting our screen time can seem like a daunting and unpopular task in today’s culture, and with a teen it can often feel like more of a battle than a blessing. But it is worth fighting. I can say from personal experience that this is an endeavor that becomes easier with each step. The more we watch, the more we want to continue. But the inverse is also true. The more we turn off the screen, the easier it becomes to keep it off. I pray these tips can be a blessing for you and your family, and I challenge us all to go against the grain of an increasingly screen-addicted culture.

Establishing Your Family’s Best Routine

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Figuring out a routine that works best for your family starts with establishing anchors in your day. Anchors are your priorities. The stuff you need to function daily. Things like, food, sleep, clothes, time together, and for our family, we need time with Jesus. When the speed of life increases, these anchors are the handle bars that keep us balanced.

What do your daily anchors look like?

“A place for everything, and everything in its place.”

It’s proof Benjamin Franklin had kids when he coined the phrase, ‘A place for everything, and everything in its place’. There is nothing more frustrating than your child releasing the flood gates of tears, theatrically throwing themselves to the floor in the rush out the door, and declaring despondently, “Someone stole my shoes!!”

No one stole her shoes.

The child just didn’t put them away. Where is ‘away’ for your kids?

We need to ‘grab and go’ so often, that easy access to the front or back door became our logical spot for a basket for shoes, coat hangers, backpacks, purse, and keys. Establishing a ‘grab and go’ spot recaptures moments of your day, prevents stress, and reserves energy that helps you make it to the end of your day without the two finger salute and premature mic drop to your husband and kids, saying “mom out.”

A successful day starts the night before.

There are many a night I’m giving Hugh Jackman a run for his money with my ‘Greatest Show’. Seriously. We’re one tent away from being a full blown circus. While my three teenagers are gearing up for their golden hours, my seven and five year old are crossing the threshold of their daily emotional capacity and I find myself asking, “what is happening?!”  My husband and I have come to terms with the fact that age plays a critical part in ‘killing it like the cool parents’. Our golden hours are earlier in the day than they used to be, and our threshold for emotional capacity reflects similarly to the 7 and 5 year olds’ when bedtime rolls around. But, with age comes wisdom because, well, experience is the best teacher, right?! Why succumb to the chaos? Where sheer energy and youthful vigor is lacking, thoughtful strategy comes into play.

So let’s talk strategy.

Meal Plan. 

My best evening routines begin with a meal plan. When I go to the grocery store, I determine five dinners, lunch options, and easy breakfasts that we could prepare over the course of seven days. It’s simple meals including dump it all in crockpot kind of meals, salad prepared one night and eaten throughout the week, cereal, yogurt, and eggs for breakfast. It’s meals that minimize my time in the kitchen. The key is keeping it simple, thinking about it ahead of time, and knowing what’s for dinner at the beginning of the day. That way, you can head off some of the crazy before it begins and avoid your 5 year sobbing and saying, “PIZZA, again?!” At the end of the school year.

Protect your table.

Having a meal plan also helps you protect your table. Table time means together time, sitting face to face, and connecting with your people. Connection time recharges relationships and gives opportunities for parents to check spiritual, mental, emotional, and social vital signs. Sometimes it’s a 25 minute breakfast with someone sharing take-aways from their morning devotional, a short Bible reading, or a scripture with conversation and questions led by dad.  It’s hard, I know, with large families, teenagers with thriving social lives, sports…but we have to be intentional, or those face to face moments just don’t happen. With a 17, 15, 13, 7, and 5 year old, we’re fortunate to have one meal a day where we see the whites of every offspring’s eyes. It’s our aim, though, and those anchors we talked about? Well, it kills two birds with one stone.

Prepare for tomorrow today.

Immediately after dinner commences preparations for our tomorrow. It’s all hands on deck cleaning up the kitchen, clearing the table, making lunches for the next day, prepping backpacks, and for the littles, initiating bedtime routines such as laying out uniforms, baths, hygiene, etc. This is the time we’ve allotted for 30-60 minutes of chore time a day: changing sheets, sweeping, cleaning up from supper, helping siblings, taking out trash. This is where everyone works together for each other to contribute to something greater than themselves. This is the cornerstone of team work while keeping a unit moving forward and consistently successful.

Instead of putting leftovers in one big container, we bag them up for possible lunches throughout the week. I’ve found making lunches is easiest while the kitchen is still active, but I know what you’re thinking: “Leftovers? I wish. My kids will not eat leftovers in their lunches.” Yeah, I get it. Mine, too, but…use the leftovers. Bag them up. One meal is not going to kill them, and you’re simplifying for the greater good, and Hey! Just think. Here’s an opportunity to teach gratitude or better yet, the value of a dollar. If they don’t like it, send them outside with their lemonade stand and sign saying, “Proceeds benefitting my Chick-fi-la hot lunch.”

Preparing uniforms for tomorrow today means dedicating ample time for your teens to throw their uniforms and athletic gear in the wash so that what they need is ready for their bags the night before…because you know how vital clean air supply is to you and every precious life that rides with that athletic bag in your car.

Take it from the mother of the kid who shows up to church with a left and right shoe from two different pairs… Lay out the uniform, with socks and shoes the night before. Make sure they’re clean, lest you find yourself too tired and time crunched to wash it the morning of. Don’t be that mom who sprays their uniform with wrinkles release hoping people assume the obvious stains gracing the front of their uniform are remnants from that morning’s breakfast… (I’ve totally heard some moms do that).  Avoid the pre-sunrise nuclear melt down.

Once all the preparations for tomorrow subside,

budget wind down time and SLEEP.  

Littles need cuddles, teens need to talk, and momma needs her alone time. Every night is different with more pressing needs than others, but mom is wise to budget time for bringing the day to a close. Studies have shown children sleep better with a few minutes of comfort and security accompanying bedtime. This may look like chatting, snuggles, prayers, songs, Bible stories. To each his own, but nonetheless, time allotted is important enough to prioritize establishing those anchors in your day.

Budget wind up time.

When setting the alarm clocks, budget enough time for winding up. Know thyself. How much time do you need to get going? Do you have teenagers that remind you of a zombie apocalypse in the wee hours of the day? Give them grace. Help them go to bed. Get them up earlier. Give them coffee. Give a cushion of time for the unpredictable, so budget extra time before school.

Have a weekly pow-wow. 

After a full week of strenuous schedules, designate time during your weekend for a family pow-wow. This very well might be the time where you need to pass a peace pipe or a talking stick. Working out conflict in the home is important, but make this time lighthearted. We call it Family Night in our house: the one night a week where we lock the front door and focus on each other. It’s the night we play games, watch a movie, embarrass our kids by showing them how we’ve learned the trendy new dance move, or introduce them to the most ridiculous aspects of our childhood pop culture on YouTube.

We also take a few minutes to sync calendars and talk through the week. For those of you with teens, this is a wonderful venue for teaching them structure, time management, important skills like how to set priorities, meet deadlines, become more independent, and develop habits of self-care. Take a few minutes during a time of non-conflict to help your kids think through realistic routines for themselves that would help them become most productive with their time. They’ll thank you, and you’ll thank yourself.

This is the NO Judgment Zone.

I had a friend once who said she practiced her back to school routine by throwing one kid’s shoe on top of the refrigerator, dropping a phone in the toilet, emptying bowls of cereal all over the breakfast table, and placing her keys in the freezer. ‘Back to school’ can issue quite the shock factor, for even if you start out strong at the beginning of the year, the thought of the avalanche of end of school year events seem daunting.

Identify the anchors where you need routine. Keep it simple. Maybe it means starting with one. Whatever you decide to do, know you’re in good company! This is the NO JUDGMENT ZONE.

Some of this is trial and error where your most successful routines will be conceived out of your biggest failures. 

It’s a new year with new blessings.

So…git it, y’all.

It’s a race to the finish line. Make the most of the time you’ve been given.

By Becky Collier: Wife. KPA mother of 5. Domestic Engineer. Christ follower. Seeker of beauty and truth. Lover of coffee, laughter, and good conversation.

Grandparents make kids smarter

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Emotionally smart kids grow into successful adults, and the grandparent connection plays a key role in this development.  Emotional intelligence (EQ) is different from cognitive intelligence (IQ) and is an area where we can grow. EQ relates to our ability to understand and control our own emotions and understand and relate to the emotions of others. Emotionally smart kids can successfully manage difficult situations, express themselves clearly, gain respect from others, influence others, get things done, and they have positive self-esteem.  Growing up in homes that encourage emotional growth helps children respect themselves and others.  They are emotionally stronger and better able to face the world.  Grandparents give this gift to grandchildren.

Let me share a story my mother told me about her grandmother:

When I was little, we loved going to visit our Mamma. It was always an adventure. All the cousins would come over and we’d run around all day long. We would eat candy and drink pickle juice straight from the jar. If you wanted something to eat, Mamma would make it. We created the most amazing games including a version of flashlight tag. We would turn off all the lights and chase each other, but we didn’t have flashlights so Mamma would let us roll up newspaper and light the end on fire.

See why I remember it? Let me tell you, MY Mamma never let us run around with torches in her house and my mom doesn’t let my kids either. But what a story! And it is a legacy–A legacy of Mamma passed down from generation to generation (but maybe without the fire hazard). A legacy of play, and freedom, and creative expression. My mother is an amazing Mamma, and she also lets my kids have a little more free rein than they get at home. They can drink soda and chew gum. (Gum is generally outlawed at our house because of smacking and mouth noises.) She lets them destroy her kitchen with flour and powdered sugar to make cookies or brownies or another great treat. She even has an entire drawer dedicated just to sprinkles and toppings. She helps them sew stuffed animals, pillowcases, and quilts. And however they want to put it together (even the ugliest bear ever), that is how they do it, and that bear is well-loved.

Grandparents are an important part of families and provide fabulous support for grandchildren. Dr. Karl Pillemer of Cornell University stated the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is of critical emotional importance, second only to the relationships with their parents. Margaret Mead stated the connections between the generations are “essential for the stability and mental health of the nation.” And a study at Boston College found that an “emotionally close relationship between grandparent and grandchildren is associated with fewer symptoms of depression for both generations.”

What do grandparents provide, exactly?

  • History. Grandparents pass on the traditions, the heritage, and the stories of the family. Grandchildren may not fully appreciate what they are being given, but they are learning where they came from and who they are. So much depression and mental illness centers on feelings of isolation, being lost, and being disconnected. This heritage and family history gives you a foundation–something to build your life on and something that shapes you, whether you fully realize it or not.

My grandfather, my Poppy, was a quiet, humble man. Our family gatherings could be rambunctious and loud, and he was always sitting quietly to the side. But one-on-one with him, he was a wealth of knowledge. He could fix anything, build anything, and he would patiently show us how. He had amazing experiences in his life that I did not hear until I was an adult and he shared them with my children. He told stories of being a spy for the railroad and helping them uncover corruption. He was a slight man under 100 lbs. soaking wet but he was fearless, dedicated, and smart. He could do amazing things and his stories sink into my children giving them the belief that they too can do amazing things.

  • More hands on deck – We do not all have the luxury of living close to our extended families, but when we do, it adds an extra layer of parenting that we should never discount. Whether it is picking up kids from school, teaching them to drive, financial support, or babysitting, grandparents are a huge help in filling in the gaps. Raising children is hard, and asking for help is not a weakness. It is brilliance in my opinion! If you do not have grandparents near by or do not have supportive grandparents, then adopt one! Finding a grandma or grandpa that can mentor and support you while also providing support for your children is worth its weight in gold.

When my first baby was born, my mom offered to stay with us but she just lived one street over and I felt pretty confident. “I’ve got this,” I told her. And then I called in the middle of the night because his nose was stuffy and I didn’t know how to use that little bulb thing to suction it out!

When my second baby was born, I gladly accepted her help with keeping our toddler while I was in the hospital, but when I was home I again thought, “I’ve got this. Raised one. I know what to do now. No problems with that nose-suctiony thing now.” And then I called crying on the third day, because I was so tired and now I had two that needed me.

When my third baby was born, I said, “Please come over and could you please do the laundry?”  This time I did have it down – ASK FOR HELP! Third time’s a charm. I got it figured out!

  • The gift of time: We are told we should sit back and “enjoy” the baby phase and the little moments because it will go by so fast and it does! Grandchildren are a gift that gives you back that time to just sit and rock a baby for hours because you have the time to do so. Grandparents are patient. They have the time to listen to the endless four year-old stories that are all plot and no point. They can wander through the craft store with an 8 year old and look at every item on every shelf. Parents are busy. They are hurried. We all try our best to find that quality time and to give our best to our children, but I am not sure that is always our job. Our job is to parent, and sometimes that is busy. Our job in not to entertain and give in to every whim. Sometimes it is not only okay, but it is good to say to your child, “Not now. You will have to wait.” But grandparents can give that unlimited time and space to children. And many times, children (especially teenagers) are going to be more likely to share their deeper thoughts and questions with a grandparent. It is a safe zone where they can double-check their thoughts and get loving feedback.

Since we have been traveling, my 9 year old has been calling her Mamma on a regular basis. Sometimes we can hear parts of her conversations, and she is a hoot. She tells her all about what we have been doing and gives her opinions of the activities (not always favorable). She gives her tours of each of our new homes using Facetime and she tells her jokes. She also will text her endlessly and my mom always responds back and never is bothered by the calls and texts. It is a fabulous connection for them both. And if sometimes she tells tales on the rest of us, that is okay too!

What children can receive from healthy relationships with grandparents

I found this fabulous list posted by Melanie Knights:

  • Someone who offers unconditional love
  • A mentor who can help with problems
  • Companionship and someone to talk to
  • Someone who will stand beside them
  • A window into their parent’s childhood
  • A sense of adventure
  • Kindness, humor, and patience
  • A zest for life
  • Family traditions
  • The ability to laugh at oneself
  • Life lessons

Engaged grandparents provide more than just free babysitting. They provide a stronghold and a foundation for children in their emotional development. A study completed by Brigham Young University looked at the relationships of 408 5th graders to their grandparents over an extended period of time. The study revealed that the relationship children had with their grandparents had a significant impact on their academic, psychological, and social development. Children with highly engaged grandparents were more sociable, more engaged at school, and showed higher levels of compassion and empathy than those without close relationships with their grandparents. The researchers also found the children with close connections had higher levels of self-confidence. In fact, the researchers proposed that having a strong child-grandparent link was even more important then the child-parent link in the area of encouraging children to think outside of themselves and to have a wider world view.

What are the benefits to grandparents? 

Many grandparents report the joy in being with their grandchildren. The pressure of parenting is removed and they can just enjoy the time. (And then send them home!). Some see this as a “second chance” to right some of the mistakes they made with their own children. Involved grandparents consistently report less depression and higher levels of life satisfaction. They tend to feel more hopeful and generally more positive about their life. Grandchildren can teach their grandparents new things such as how to use their smart phone or how to find something on the Internet. And most importantly, grandparents get to see their legacy developing and add to the rich history they have to give their grandchildren.

Share your grandparent stories! Would you be willing to move to get your kids closer to their grandparents?

–You can read more from KPA parent Dr. Julie Bates at drjuliebates.com.

Intentional car ride conversations: Going beyond, “How was your day?”

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Last night as my kids were getting ready for their first day of school, the excitement around the house was palpable. Backpacks were packed, clothes were laid out, and school supplies were purchased and labeled. Although we will miss the carefree days of summer dearly, we thrive on routine in this house, and the routine of a new school year is always welcome (the early morning wake-ups? Not so much).

I’ll be honest, though. Sometimes the fresh start of the new school year is just as welcome as the routine, and one of the areas I need a fresh start this year is in how I interact with my kids on the drive to and from school.

I have heard from parents who are much wiser than I that this time in the car with my littles, while they are still little and before they are operating their own motor vehicles, is precious. And yet I feel that I squander it all too often. Maybe you can relate. So here are some ideas to make the most of these opportunities that your have with your kids in one of the most mundane environments while they are still your captive audience. Read More