Tired of screen time battles? Surprise them and tell them yes! They can pick from any one of these activities that help them connect with others using screens:
Although kids can sometimes seem to disappear into their screens, we shouldn’t forget the wonderful way computers have helped us stay connected. I love how much easier it is to stay connected to my family, compared to when my only choices were long distance phone calls or snail mail (which we just called “mail” back then). Embrace the screens by using them to keep your kids connected to their friends and family.
I also firmly believe that our kids’ generation will be working remotely (rather than in person) far more often than our generation has. The skills they gain by learning to communicate and collaborate via voice chat, video chat, and texts are going to serve them well in their work lives down the road.
Skype With Family
Skype is a wonderful tool – you can use it to text chat, voice chat, or video chat. There are other similar options you can use as well, like FaceTime or Facebook Messenger. Your kids can have a conversation with Grandma that will make everyone feel much closer together. I still get surprised by how much more connection you can get from a video call. My college roommate moved recently, so we used FaceTime on our phones so she could show me her new house even though I wasn’t able to visit. It makes a huge difference to be able to visualize where she lives now.
I love having my kids use email – not only do they stay more connected with relatives, but they practice their writing and typing skills as well. They prefer to use email instead of handwriting thank you notes to their grandparents, and it’s a nice way for them to keep in touch with relatives who don’t live nearby.
This year one of my son’s good friends moved away, and we plan to have them become email pen pals so they can stay in touch. They will be practicing writing and typing skills, as well as learn about how to maintain a friendship even when they no longer live near each other.
Connect With Friends
I’ve read many articles that talk about how excessive screen time is making kids less socially capable. I see the opposite with my kids. They use Skype or Discord to chat with friends on the computer. My older son uses his phone for group texts with friends which let them share jokes, be silly, and arrange to meet up in real life. I think this is the future of how people will communicate, and I’m glad my kids are learning and practicing these skills now when I can help provide some oversight.
Instead of restricting all screen time, notice the ways that those connections with others are strengthened by their devices. And take the opportunity to have lots of conversations with your kids about good ways and bad ways to communicate electronically! We stick to two primary messages at our house:
- If you wouldn’t say it to your friend’s face, don’t say it digitally.
- Everything you share on the Internet is permanent. If you don’t want a future college admissions officer or boss to read it, don’t post it.
Play Cooperative Games Online
I was worried at first about letting my kids play online games with their friends, but after dipping our toes in years ago, we’ve expanded their online game experiences and have been very pleased with how it has gone. They aren’t sitting alone in a dark room getting lost in their screen all alone, they are chatting with their friends and working together to coordinate their efforts and solve problems.
Minecraft in particular has been an especially popular online game at our house, though there are others they enjoy (like Portal, Ark, Terraria, and Clash of Clans). Over the years playing Minecraft, they have worked with friends to build things together like roller coasters and underwater houses. They have built communities where each person specializes in a skill or resource requiring them to trade and barter. We’ve watched them handle the situation where one friend in the group stole resources while others weren’t online. They are interacting with each other, creating things, and dealing with different personalities and conflicts, all in an online setting.
When my kids are adults and need to work with people at other companies in other states or even other countries, they will have some good skills under their belts already about how to effectively communicate, collaborate, and be productive online.
And if you are worried about their safety when playing games online, here are a few things we’ve done to make sure our kids stay safe:
- We always try the games ourselves so we know how violent they are, and whether or not the community playing the game is a good, friendly community.
- When possible, we set up our own, private server that the kids can invite their friends to, so that they are only playing with people they personally invite, not with the Internet at large.
- When they do play on public servers, we evaluate the online chatter. If it’s inappropriate, we either say no to the game, or we allow the kids to play but we turn off the ‘chat’ feature for the game so that they are not exposed to inappropriate language or behavior.
- We talk to them often about the kinds of things they hear online, and whether or not they are comfortable with the language and tone of the chatter. This is helpful both for limiting games that have too much inappropriate content or chatter, and also as a teaching tool for online behaviors that they don’t like shouldn’t emulate.
- We talk to them often about what is and is not OK to tell people online.
- They only play games within our earshot, so we can always hear their side of any chatting they’re doing.
Coordinate School Projects
There might not be school projects to coordinate over the summer, but you can encourage your kids to use their devices to work on a joint project with a friend. Help them think of something they might want to make together – a movie, a summer business to earn some money, or even a LEGO creation. They can use screens and online communication to make progress even when they can’t be together physically. Give it a try – you might be surprised by how much all of you learn!