What's the Real Cost of Our Digital Babysitters? Developing a Summer Screen Strategy

Have you ever tried to take an iPhone or iPad away from a toddler or young child?

How did that work out for ya?

I had a huge parenting win this morning. Rarely do I allow our nearly four-year-old son, Landon, on my iPhone. When I do, I’m watching it with him so that I know what he’s doing on it.

Since he’s been listening quite well lately (we’re starting to finally see light at the end of the terrible twos tunnel), I rewarded him with a few minutes on my iPhone prior to preschool to watch an interactive Berenstein Bears book. As the book was nearing an end, I warned him that he would need to soon turn the phone back over to me.

As soon as it ended, he willingly, without so much as a fuss, handed it over and said, “Thank you, daddy.”


Yes, I’m gloating. And you may be angry at me for gloating right now. But the very fact that we’re having to gloat over our children obeying ONE time for turning the phone over reveals a much deeper problem.

Remember, I said I “rarely” allow him to watch my phone. That’s because we learned early on that screens are like crack to a child’s brain.

Once they have a little, they need more.

Once they have more, they can’t get enough.

Once it’s not enough, the power struggle begins.

Since the power struggle is exhausting, it’s too easy to oblige.

But the consequences may be catching up with us.

Speaking across the United States and Canada, I’m encountering teachers and child educators in increasing numbers, voicing their concerns about the lack of preparedness and increased entitlement in children in the preschool years. Here are two of the most recent: 

In the past 2-3 years, I’m seeing increasingly more kindergartners coming into my classroom who lack the fine motor skills to hold a crayon or use a pair of scissors.”           

           -Kindergarten teacher, 16 year’s experience, Indiana

The lack of respect and increased entitlement among kids in the past 3-4 years makes me glad I’m retiring. I didn’t encounter these issues in previous decades. And it’s not just the kids. The parental disrespect toward the teacher is even worse.” 

           -1st grade teacher, 30+ years experience, Ontario, Canada

These teachers aren’t alone.

In a recent British study of more than 1,100 school leaders, nearly every leader (99.5%) said a proportion of their students are joining school below the level of school-readiness.

When asked the reasons they believe they are underprepared, the top three reasons were:

1.   Lack of social skills (79%)

2.   Delayed speech (78%)

3.   Deficient self-help skills/resilience (69%)

Educators blame the impact of technology for these results.

In the study, one primary school leader said: “…parents are more often to be seen on the phone than talking to their children.

As a dad of a nearly two- and four-year-old, what I’m hearing from teachers and what I’m seeing in the research concerns me for the generation of children we’re raising.

I’m convicted because on busy days, I’m often tempted to use a screen as a digital babysitter, which makes me wonder—even with the best intent—if I’m at risk of becoming a digital “crack” dealer.

Think of the irony—I’m giving my child a phone so I can study the data on the issues parents are dealing with...

With school letting out and the summer months upon us, let’s take note this week of how much digital interaction our children are getting—not as a guilt trip, but as a reality check.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll provide some action items we’re going to be implementing in our home to serve our children—and their future teachers—well.

I’ll hope you’ll join us on the journey to setting a summer screen strategy for your kids.

You can sign up to receive our blog in your email weekly by clicking here. If you sign up now, you'll also be able to begin our 14-day free course: How to Rescue Yourself, Your Marriage and Your Kids From the Screen.

Joshua Straub, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, and president and co-founder of the Connextion Group, a company designed to empower parents and families. Josh speaks and writes on emotionally safe parents and spouses and the influence of technology on today's family. He is the author of the newly released Safe House: How Emotional Safety is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love, and Lead Well (Waterbrook Multnomah) and along with his wife, Christi, is the producer and co-author of the video curriculum The Screen-Balanced Family: Six Secrets to a More Connected Family in the 21st CenturyHe wakes up each day striving to love others better beginning with his wife, Christi, and their son, Landon, and daughter, Kennedy.

For more encouragement and ideas on marriage and parenting in the 21st century, you can join Josh and a growing tribe of awesome families at www.joshuastraub.com and follow him on Twitter @joshuastraub or Facebook.