Simple atlernative, riding a bike - Credit Simple atlernative, riding a bike – Credit

By now everyone knows I created Screen out of the frustration seeing my kids lost in their electronic devices and the effects I saw it had on them. Now there’s a growing discussion of the role screen time plays in the lives of children and adults. And our Screen team is part of that conversation. We spent last Sunday in NYC at a Screen Time Social Summit among educators, authors, researchers, and parents diving into the topic of screen time.

Among the many highlights of the day for me was the chance to demo Screen for parents (great reception!) and a panel discussion moderated by Kateri Jochum, that included author of American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Life of Teenagers,  Nancy Jo Sales,  and Kristelle Lavallee of the Center on Media and Child Health.

What struck me most is the sheer number of hours kids spend on devices: Kids 8-12 spend 9 hours per day on electronic device, and  this number jumps to 9 hours once they’re teenagers. This by the way, excludes school related work. Those numbers were mentioned in every session and every panel throughout the day, and they are alarming.

But I am not here only to talk about numbers. I want to share my epiphany from the day – since  the problem is framed in terms of time, the key to changing that number is to surface ALTERNATIVES to spending time on devices. And, of course, the space for alternative activities is baked into Screen.

What are “Alternatives”?

Among the massive research we did while we created Screen, we interviewed parents about their kids and their behaviors around screens.

I will never forget this one mom that told me her “kids play sports and that helps keeps them grounded and out of trouble.” Having other activities to replace some of the technology time, is the key to raising grounded kids.

Picture this scenario: a middle schooler comes home around  3:30PM. By 5PM she’s finished her homework. Now what?  The easiest way to fill the time and get immediate feedback and entertainment is to click into social media, turn on the TV – or most likely both at once. It’s a lot easier than, riding her bike –  in the rain – to visit a friend two blocks away…

But if our same middle schooler had talked the night before about other things she wanted to do the next day, she just might be inclined to go and do it!  Play a sport, get creative with the bedazzle gun, build a 3D model (for real), bake a cake or even a loaf of bread. Any activity that will enable her to be explore, socialize, fill up her time – with no tech –  for just a little bit!

I cannot tell you what your kids’ new hobby or latest interest will be –  it’s different for each child and it will probably change often. I do know it’s our job as their parents to explore that with them. Our kids need our guidance to find who they are and what they like. They need to find that by exploring and experimenting with other interests besides technology.

I encourage you to give it a try. Find that “alternative” with your kids. If you feel like sharing, I would love to hear.

In the meantime, help them explore…