I've been coming up with inventions my whole life. Some of these not so great ideas have included: an ice cube tray that only releases the number of ice cubes you actually want; a fanny pack that auto releases treats to keep the lazy dog walking; and a deer feeder. I'm still living that last one down.
After years of brainstorming solutions to everyday problems, I've finally come up with an invention that is solving our biggest challenge as parents: screen time management. And it only took me 14 years of parenting before this lightbulb lit up. Coincidentally, it only cost us $14.
Let me start by sharing that we don't have a lot of rules in our house. Our kids have plenty of autonomy over their own lives and for the most part, this works out. They can choose how they want to spend their free time. We don't force them into activities they don't want to do, we let them wear what they want, have whatever haircuts they want and I'm pretty sure they eat candy every, single day. For the most part, this works out. They're really good kids. But screens are a whole other animal and we've realized that if we have a hard time moderating our useage, how can we expect our kids to?
Limiting screen time has always been a priority for us...and an endless battle. Kids need unplugged time to allow creativity to have space in their lives. They also need in-person time with friends, time outside, and time when they're not bombarded by stimulation. Although fine in moderation, too much screen time leaves no time for the good stuff - the activities that fill a person's world with meaning, purpose and connection.
From the CDC's website, "Kids ages 8-18 now spend, on average, a whopping 7.5 hours in front of a screen for entertainment each day, 4.5 of which are spent watching TV. Over a year, that adds up to 114 full days watching a screen for fun. That’s just the time they spend in front of a screen for entertainment. It doesn’t include the time they spend on the computer at school for educational purposes or at home for homework."
Horrifying, right? This amount of screen time has SERIOUS implications for the health of our kids.
Here are some of the ways we've attempted to moderate screen time in our house over the last 14 years:
Earning screen time with outdoor time. Felt like micromanaging, no fun at all.
Limiting screen time to weekends. Why punish ourselves?
Buying a Circle Home Plus screen time management system that connected to all of the devices in our house. Expensive and complicated.
Hiding their devices all over the house. I could never remember where I'd hid them - every day a lost device and a frustrated mom.
Having conversations about the addictive nature of screens and the importance of moderation. Over and over. Kids are smart, they get it. So do we...and we're all still struggling to unplug.
Giving our kids free rein with no limits to see if they could moderate themselves. Screens ALL damn day, son.
I've been known to yell across my house to anyone who will listen, "the screens always win!!"
But not anymore. That's because we now have a system that removes the devices without any effort or arguments. Ironically, the spark for this idea came from Henry's favorite Minecraft YouTube player, Technoblade, who died this past year. After his death, Henry's room became a Technoblade shrine - pigs in crowns all over the place (Technoblade's Minecraft character).
One day I joked that someone should make a Techno Box where we could lock up all of our devices. Although I loved this idea, I felt funny actually doing it. We're pretty laid back at our house and the idea of locking up devices seemed a bit severe.
But while I was away last Saturday, Henry surprised me by going to the Home Depot with Tim, picking up a little lock box and using his paint markers to decorate it with the words "Techno Box". Thank you sweet Henry, for being an accomplice to my evil plan.
We've been using the Techno Box for about a week now, and I'm shocked at how well it's working. It's pretty effortless. And there has been no pushback from Henry and very little from Finn, which I was fully prepared for since he's 14. He'll adjust and I'll keep reminding myself that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, while I focus on all of the extra conversation we're having in my house.
Here's how it works: we put all of our phones in the Techno Box during the times of day when our kids have been likely to just pick up their phones out of boredom or habit - mostly in the morning before school and after school. (Just to clarify, Henry, who's turning 12, doesn't have a real phone yet, but he does use Tim's old phone to play games, watch YouTube, etc. We're waiting until 8th grade to buy him a phone because Finn got his in 6th and we now feel that he was too young. He's a persuasive kid and sometimes we're suckers. Lesson learned.) Once the phones are in the box, I lock it up and we forget about them - out of sight, out of mind.
The biggest surprise is how much I've enjoyed these breaks from my phone. I always make sure to put my phone in the box with my kids' phones because I'm a firm believer in modeling. Our kids are watching and taking cues from us ALL the time. They see how often we pick up our phones and this normalizes the same habits for them. It's also hard to truly connect with your kids when your phone is constantly interrupting conversations with it's dings, rings and hoo-has. Putting the phones away, where they can't easily be accessed, provides us time to connect without distractions. You know, real listening...without all the multitasking.
Limiting screen time may not be a priority for your family, and that's ok. Your kids may instead have stylish haircuts and clean fingernails - we all have our things.
If you are looking for help with screen time management, try the Techno Box. I'm sure it's not perfect, nothing is, but it's made a huge difference for us. If you do try, let me know how it goes. I'd love to hear from you!
Whatever your parenting challenge is, this is also a reminder to never give up...even if it takes 14 years, or 75. As entrepreneur Marie Forleo says, "Everything is figureoutable". Every problem has a solution. It just requires some patience and creativity. You know, those muscles you can only build when you're not on a screen.