Photo above: My friend Beth Angstadt setting a great example for her kids Ella and Easton
I read articles about children and screen time all the time. The dangers of it. The studies about it. The recommendations for how and why to minimize it. But not until I saw a photograph shared on Facebook of how one mom handled her own month-long “family screen detox” did I see – really see – a way to navigate through it.
This mom – Molly DeFrank – had taken a candid family photo in her master bedroom on a Saturday morning. Her husband and their five children ages 10 and under were splayed out over their king-sized bed, covers in disarray, coziness abounding. And here was the weird part: all six of them were reading books. Actual books.
In a Facebook post that went viral she explained that their family detox had been in effect for a few weeks when she and her husband were casually reading in bed one Saturday morning. One by one their children woke to find them, went back into their rooms to retrieve their own books, and came back to read with their parents. In the photo, you can make out the profile of one of their boys as he reads near the side of the bed. The other five faces are hidden behind open books. What a striking sight.
(She wrote that one of her children improved five reading levels in seven months!)
If you’re like me you have some similar images saved in your phone, only with little hands holding Ipads instead of books. I still consider it cute family togetherness when our three sons congregate on our bed on a Saturday morning for some screen time, but man, with books? You can have all the warm fuzzies with no guilt!
Our boys are 3, 2 and 2, so it’s not like they’re reading yet, but they certainly love to be read to. We do some of that in our bed, but more often, the boys are watching “Sesame Street” or “Blippy” or playing Kidloland, an educational app that I really like, by the way. Usually our boys are doing it together, which I like, because I like seeing them share and work through some squabbles about what to watch. But me? If I’m in the mix – and not taking advantage of the chance to get something done – I’m usually looking at my phone.
Imagine the story I would be telling my sons if I put down my phone and picked up a book! And why has this never dawned on me? I make it a New Year’s resolution every year to read more – and not just my mom bibles like “Oh Crap Potty Training” or “Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child” – but I never think about actually reading in front of my children.
I have a friend Beth, who shared with me recently this radical new idea she came up with to read for pleasure in front for her children, and it was in a completely different context than trying to minimize screen time. She wanted to read when she “should be” doing laundry, dishes, or helping with homework. I told you, radical.
My assumption was that she wanted to do it to show her children that just because she’s a stay-at-home mom who is usually cooking, cleaning or caring for them, doesn’t mean that she’s not entitled to enjoy something completely and totally for herself. Ultimately though, I think she does it in larger part to remind herself of that.
“I am on my fifth book of the year,” she wrote me in an e-mail, when I asked her to explain it further. “It makes me feel like I have accomplished something, something that is just my own, something that I don’t have to share. Something tangible and measurable. It gives me a sense of connection which can seriously lack when you don’t work outside of the home. And it reminds me that I am a smart woman…and I haven’t forgotten who I am. For me, that is what all of this is actually about. Not proving something to my family or friends, but proving something to myself.”
So smart. Both of these women are really on to something here, and I totally need to get on board. They are providing great examples of what I already believe to be true: the best way to teach is to show and the best way to encourage respect from others is to show it to yourself.