Kids and Screens: Crowding Out

Published: 8/28/2019 9:03:53 AM
Dear Susan,

I am in a nearly constant battle with my children around cell phones, YouTube videos, social media, and gaming. It never seems to end. It feels as though the screens are taking up all of the space in our home. Sometimes, when I just can’t stand it anymore, I want to gather it all up and chuck it in the garbage. I know this isn’t the answer, but what can I do? I want my home back.

— Screen Fed Up

Dear Screen Fed Up,

There are many of us feeling exactly as you do. Thank you for putting words to what many families struggle with. I will begin by saying that as uncomfortable as it can be, the frustration you are experiencing is not something you want to try and get past. As a matter of fact, feeling fed up is a sign that you are connected to something essential. A sign that you know something else is desirable and possible for your family. This is not something to overlook. Too many of us are either forgetting what is important when it comes to home, or for the generations to come, may never have learned.

Home: The Big View

Making life-affirming choices in your home requires an overall view, along with practical approaches to decide what makes the cut, and what doesn’t when it comes to the screen technologies.

Let’s start with taking the big view. Home is where it all begins. Home is what grounds, sustains and protects us all.

Home provides the context for learning about relationships, healthy rhythms, how to take care of yourself and so much more. On some level, as parents, we all instinctively know this. We know what we got and did not get from our homes as children, and how that continues to either support, or undermine us. It is no different now for your children.

That is why it is essential to decide the overall atmosphere in your home. In other words, what qualities do you want creating and organizing the way it feels to be there? If someone who did not know you entered your home, what words would they use to describe how it felt to be there, and is this in line with what you want? This is not done as a judgment, but as a way to line up what you desire with how you are actually living.

Getting clear on your vision of home life is the first step; putting you in the position of more easily recognizing what fits into that vision, and what does not. This is especially important when it comes to the screen technologies as they tend to spread into all of the spaces, unless we choose what it is that we want occupying our homes. Keep asking yourself, “What do I really want for my family, and is what we are doing getting us there?”

Home: The Practicalities

Now you are ready to consider how to put this into action. It is one thing to want something in your home, and another to make it happen. This is especially so if your kids have been doing things one way, and now you are considering making a change. You can absolutely expect they will push back, so you want to be ready with not only your vision of home life, but with the nuts and bolts of how to make it work.

It reminds me of something I learned while doing a health training that focused on food. One of the approaches we worked with around making healthier food choices was the concept of “crowding out.” Instead of focusing on what you couldn’t have, the focus became what you could have. This was done by placing better quality choices into the daily repertoire. Instead of it being about deprivation, the focus was on bringing in foods that were delicious and healthful. Crowding out less healthy choices with more healthy ones is an incredibly effective approach at squeezing out what does not belong.

If we stay with our eating analogy, we all know there are whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and then there are doughnuts, candy and soda. If we make the junk food the center piece of our diet, we feel unwell and are sick more often. The same is true with the screens. There are uses that can contribute to our lives, and there are uses that produce disconnection, disruption, dis-ease and an overall focus on the wrong things.

From what you have said, I gather you have already noticed this; all of the ways that your kid’s use is getting in the way of a rich and satisfying home life. This is the place to start. Locate the “junk-food” versions of technology use, and replace them with something that is more enriching. Activities, hobbies, and downtime that are in line with the age and interests of your children. Include into their lives ways that they can contribute to the well-being of your home. Chores are a great example of this for they leave less time for the screens, while teaching your children what it means to be a contributing member of your family community.

Identify junk screen use, and crowd it out. For instance, instead of everyone going right to the screens when they get home from school, create a space where people can come together over a snack and a chance to share the day. If nights and weekends are problematic, schedule chores, family meetings, reading time, game time, or outside time instead. While in the car together, use the time to catch up, share music, or encourage quiet time. All of this crowds out isolating personal screen use in favor of time together.

Finally, while it is essential that you have your house rules around technology, be careful not to make the technologies the center piece. We can mistakenly do that when we put the attention on the screens as opposed to what it takes to live a life based on what matters most. This is never about doing more, or scheduling your kids more. Instead, it is always about what is possible when we crowd out the less important things in life to make room for the most important things.

Susan McNamara is a certified holistic health counselor and holds a masters degree in counseling psychology. As an adjunct professor at Westfield State University, she explores the impact technology has on students’ health and well-being. To submit a technology-related parenting conundrum to her, email

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