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Unscheduling Your Kids in the Digital Age

Have a conversation with your co-parent about managing screen time across your two homes, it will be helpful to manage your half of the equation.
(3 min 31 sec read)

Dave Chartier
A single co-parenting dad, a freelance writer and former syndicated dad blogger with work published in USA Today, Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

Are your kids bored enough? This is a serious question.

Evidently, being bored is a good thing. Others feel kids can also thrive with a busy academic and personal schedule. So which is it?

A byproduct of most co-parenting families is the kids become very adept to running on a more complex schedule than most. This is not surprising, considering most are splitting their time between two different homes with different priorities and different rhythms.

This collective conversation has been amplified over the past few years generally equating free-time with screen time. In one camp are co-parents who are by-in-large anti-technology hell-bent on not raising ‘screenagers’ so they fortify their kid’s school schedule with after-school programs and extracurriculars. This is not a two camp issue, other camps are resigned to the fact that we live in the digital age and ‘play’ may include screen time and the dividing line between camp designating the types of games, the acceptable amount of ‘playtime’ and conditions granting these games. They see the social aspect of it and perhaps even play video games together as a family activity, but also understand it needs to be monitored.

Whether your kid is skipping rocks at the pond or ‘running for cover’ in their favorite MMO console game, we dare to ask, “what does being bored in the digital age, really mean?”

Let’s spend a minute talking about that last point. There are a few dimensions about this that need to be expanded on. When we talk about ‘free’ time some may be speaking about ‘unscheduled’ time which is straightforward. The other dimension has to do with the threat of an unhealthy relationship with screens children may develop when/if their screen-time goes unchecked.

We are not anti-video games, we understand a balance must be struck. But we also now that anti-social and unhealthy digital habits arise from a general lack of physical play and socializing from too much screen-time. While most popular multiplayer games make it possible for kids to create online communities with local kids they know and support real-time interactions something is still missing, we admit.  There is still no substitute for the gains of face-to-face real-time play. The gains far out-weight the losses; better social competency, better ability to concentrate, lower stress, better physical health, the list goes on. Video games are fun too, just keep it monitored to a minimum and save it for a rainy day.

On the other end of the schedule are those parents that feel the need to create a well ‘fortified’ schedule with a variety of academic, sports and extracurricular activities. While there are a number of pragmatic reasons for this, it is also a counter-response to the ‘Latch Key Kids’ (predominantly Generation X and older Millennial) coming home to an empty house because the moms/dads of the 80s-90s were at work. These parents fill their kids’ after-school schedule with a bevy of extra classes, team sports, and activities. Studies do show these kids, for the most part, show lower incidents of teen pregnancies, drug abuse and generally stay out of trouble. For most of us though, we simply cannot afford to fill their schedules and must wrestle with how to keep them off the computer/phone and engaged in the real world.

There are a number of apps to monitor screen time but it can quickly become a cat and mouse chase across all the family devices. As you can imagine the cat and mouse game can become a labyrinth across two co-parenting homes (and two sets of family devices) where kids can simply ‘game’ the system.

While every kid is different and every family has its own standards and expectations, you must ask yourself if you are giving your kid the right amount of time throughout the week to get bored, be creative and stare at the sky. Most importantly, if you haven’t already, have a conversation with your co-parent about managing screen time across your two houses, take their temperature on the importance of free time, unstructured play and perhaps the importance of letting the kids be bored. While you may not see eye to eye on this, it will be helpful to manage your half of the equation.

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