Culture of Death,  Family Life,  guest post,  Parenting,  Pornography,  reality check,  social media,  technology

Screens, tweens, and teens {guest post}

Last summer I reached out to my internet buddy and running-mom extraordinaire Colleen Martin and beseeched her to impart some of her wisdom as a seasoned boy mom in the tech era. She’s not super seasoned as in old, mind you, but she is super seasoned as in holy 6 boys, batman! And one sweet girl sandwiched in the middle.

I’m bookmarking my own blog here to reference in a few short years when my kids reach phone hankering age (let’s be honest though, despite attending a low tech classical Catholic school with zero screens permitted among the student body, our 8 year old is already badgering us for a phone. Oy.)

Colleen, thanks so much for sharing how your family handles screens:

Jenny asked me to write this post awhile ago, before summer had even started, but I think having waited this long and made it through another summer (aka screen season) has given me more food for thought to write this now. So I guess procrastination does pay off sometimes!

But not when it comes to family rules about screen times.

It’s never too early to discuss expectations, set rules, and enforce them even if it means being the mean parent. I recently came across this quote:

Scary, isn’t it? These times we live in are full of screens. (Screen time, just to clarify, for us, is tv, movies, video games, tablets, computers and phones…anything with a screen.) It’s called social media because it’s literally how kids (and adults) have social lives. Gone are the days of bike riding through the neighborhood and ending up sleeping over at some friend’s house. We may feel like we can’t let our kids be kids like we were because of all the terrible and disgusting stories of abuse we hear from the people we trust most, that we have to keep them safe and a lot of time that means indoors … and if your kids are anything like mine, indoors = boredom = asking for screens. That’s the hardest part about summer, I think, the perpetual boredom unless we take them somewhere to do something. So we are a little more lax on the amount of time our children can be on screens, as long as they have been active for most of the day. Phil and I like to relax at the end of a long, busy day by watching a little TV, and I’m fine with my kids doing the same. We all need some downtime, ya know?

We have some great (pretty strict) screen rules during the school year for our kids:

  1. Any school-aged kid gets ZERO screen time during the school week.
  2. On weekends, they can have individual screen time during the baby’s nap time and then at night, we will let them watch a movie/tv show together.
  3. The little preschool guys get a half hour show each evening, after dinner and bath time, and it’s something completely preschool appropriate.

The bigger kids can usually be found watching this with the little kids, but I’m cool with letting them all sit together if they want to see the same episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for the 17th time. We always say it’s time for a “little kid show” and make sure it’s nothing any of the school-aged kids would ever choose for themselves, though I often hear them trying to convince the 2 year old to pick Spongebob or Power Rangers. Umm, no, but nice try! We are not monsters and do allow exceptions to every rule when it comes to things like important sports games on tv, etc. The kids know what the standard rule is and enjoy the occasional treat.

Little kids are easy to deal with when it comes to screens. Just don’t give them free access to it. Be in control and get them into a good routine. Decide what you want to do for your family and that becomes the norm. There are going to be seasons in family life when the kids have more screen time due to whatever else is going on at home (illness, sports schedules, travelling, new baby, etc.) and as much as I have wanted the ideal screen time rules, flexibility is key to not feeling discouraged. There’s not one right way for every family, and little kids = little problems so they are a good “trial run” for what comes ahead.

Tweens and Teens, that’s what comes ahead. (And they are awesome!)

The hard part of policing screens in our house comes when they are tweens and teens. Our kids all go to school and are involved in tons of sports and lessons (which is also helpful in keeping them active and off screens). Because of this busy family life we lead, once a child reaches the age of 13, they become a babysitter. Since we have no home phone, this also means the 13 year old gets their own cell phone. With this phone comes a whole new set of rules (I swear we are fun parents, we just are really trying to get these kids to heaven!) We buy them an inexpensive smartphone but then make it dumb. Ha! We want our kids to be able to call, text, and have some apps on their phone, but we don’t give them any data so that they can only have internet access while at home on Wifi and we don’t give them our Wifi password. We also make all phones “live” on the kitchen counter, and they are never allowed to bring their phones upstairs.

My kids are far from perfect (like their mother) and get their phones taken away for any violations. The removal of individual screen time is actually a go-to punishment in our house, that way the kids lose the choice of what to watch/play but the parents aren’t punished because we can still put on a family movie when everybody just needs some chill time and forced family bonding.

Once our kids go to the Catholic high school, they are required to have a laptop because most of their books are electronic now. So not only are they reading textbooks online, but they are also writing their papers online, using Google Classroom, taking notes in class on their laptops, and communicating with teachers via the internet. It’s a whole new world and a whole new set of worries for parents. I can’t say “You’ve been on your laptop for three hours, get off!” because he is just doing his homework and studying. (But also fooling around and watching a dumb youtube video here, googling a sports score there, you get it.) As it is with adults, it’s hard for teens to stay focused on the task at hand (homework) when you have the whole wide world at your fingertips. So how do we try to watch everything they’re doing online?

I’ve written about why we started using Covenant Eyes before, but it has been a real lifesaver for us. It’s a tool that allows parents oversee what their children (and each other if desired) are doing online without actually having to stand over their shoulders. t’s a tool that opens the door for communication and also blocks dangerous sites. Kids just log in to Covenant Eyes before they can get online, and it tracks their usage, and sends a weekly report to the account user (the parents). Sometimes I dread opening the report on Tuesday morning to find out my teen has been watching dumb YouTube videos at 9 pm when he said he was studying, but honestly I’d rather know about his mistakes then have no clue what he’s doing online. At least this way, he knows he’s being checked in on, and that alone is an easy way for him to avoid temptation.

I definitely dragged my feet on this for too long, not wanting yet another issue to have to think about, but when one of our tweenage kids googled an inappropriate word on the iPad, we knew it was time to take the plunge. The monthly subscription for a family is $15.99, and even less for an individual or couple. It’s so much easier to never get hooked on pornography than to try and break the habit, and we want to give them their best chance at fighting that battle. Covenant Eyes gives them the freedom to be online while also helping them make good choices, and that’s priceless once you have kids on screens so often. Perhaps I should work in their Sales Department because I love them so much!

I feel that just like every parent, we are constantly trying to evaluate the new social media tools and keep up with current internet trends while also helping our kids get to Heaven. We don’t allow a few things that we feel can easily cause trouble, like sleepovers, hanging out at people’s homes we don’t know, and being online without supervision. We’re just doing our best to keep them safe and happy and holy, and our screen rules are part of the process. Like I said before, starting with screen rules when they’re young is easy, but it’s important, because it sets ground rules for the rest of their lives. Will they binge on video games while at a cousin’s house? Yup. Will they find disturbing images online when they’re at college. Of course. I can’t worry about all the possible scenarios that might occur, I’d go crazy.

I know they are human and all I can do is try to make them the best humans I can while they are under my roof. Lots of love and fun and freedom comes alongside rules and chores and boundaries. Communication is key and the ability to have fun together is huge as well. We try to be Yes parents whenever we can, so that our Nos are serious enough to be understood.

You need to decide what is important in your home, and start setting the ground rules now.

Don’t be afraid to go against the culture if it means raising quality adults, that’s literally our job.

Screens aren’t evil, so find a system that works for you and hopefully I’ve been able to share some good tips and tricks. I don’t have all the answers (I haven’t even had a college kid yet!) and I don’t pretend to. I’m just over here trying to raise good kids to survive this present world and to one day make it to heaven in the next, same as you.



  • DH

    All of this is great advice. I’m just adding my two cents. Over the years, we’ve used many different subscription-based services for filtering the internet. The best thing we’ve used, by far, is the Circle from Disney. No monthly subscription necessary; you just buy the device and it automatically stays up to date. You can set up individual accounts for every user and for every device that enters your home, so for example, the 10 year old is filtered differently than the 18 year old. Guest devices are automatically filtered as well. It monitors every single device using wi-fi in your home.

    There is a subscription portion available for when your kids are off wi-fi, and we’ve deemed it worth it to use that as well. So my 14 year old daughter’s phone is filtered whether she’s on our home wi-fi or out somewhere and using the cell network. Also, this eliminates the possibility of the kid disconnecting from wi-fi and using their phone’s data to circumvent the system (not that my kids ever did that:)).

    It’s incredibly simple to use once you’ve set it up, and you can set time limits, off times, bed times, pause or shut down their wi-fi, and even time limits for individual apps. So if you allow the to use Instagram, maybe they only get 15 minutes a day. You can also view their history. Anyway, highly recommend!

  • Kathleen O

    Colleen, You are a ninja! Thank you for writing, girl! One education trend, I absolutely hate is that our children are reading textbooks online in high school and so now every freshman suddenly needs a personal laptop. I have a friend who is an eye doctor and she is seeing patients with irreparable eye damage and chronic eye pain. These patients are in their early twenties. The studies (Havard!!) show that taking notes by hand and writing by hand actually increases comprehension and mastery of a subject and a better synthesis of ideas. I am now teaching 8th grade literature at a Catholic school and my my students write by hand for many assignments. They sometimes complain, but I keep telling them they will thank me later! They need to learn how to spell and have decent handwriting, things we took for granted as part of education waaaay back in the 90s. All that is to say, Catholic schools should rethink this digitalization. I could add a million articles that back up my “cranky old man” opinions. But yes technology can be used for good, but seriously want to start a campaign to make pencils and paper cool again! Anyway, awesome post, Colleen!

  • Michelle

    Love this post! I’m not a parent, but I’m sharing this. My heart breaks to see so many young kids addicted to iPads and the internet at such a young age, because their parents are simply oblivious to it’s effects and damage! But thankfully, posts like these are super helpful. We need more parents and teachers to speak out about this. It’s never too late to change and to implement good behavior. Heck, adults are addicted to these things – you have to imagine it’s worse for kids who don’t know a world without a cell phone!

  • jeanette

    As Catholic parents, we tend to think about the moral consequences of using technology, and in this blog post the physical consequences was touched upon as well. But there are a host of mental and developmental consequences that parents should be aware of, too. It is getting very worrisome to see personality changes in adults who use too much tech, but even more worrisome to see how general use of tech can impact normal child development in serious ways. Most parenting books don’t talk about brain function, neural networks, cognitive processing, etc. You need to know that screen time, aside from moral concerns, can be detrimental to your child’s growth and development. There are lots of studies and lots of articles, and some are better than others, but there is a common strain of caution in all of them. Below are links to two random ones I read when looking up the subject, and I think it is an easy way to see what the concerns ought to be. I hate to think of a whole generation of children being used as guinea pigs discovering how damaging this really is.

    I’m deeply concerned, and parents have a hard enough time navigating the usage issue, so I feel for you all. But always remember, tech is not static, there are always emerging technologies and you can’t even begin to anticipate when they will come out and what effect they will have on your children. So, while you can monitor and make rules, the real truth of the matter is that you need to form their interior to seek what is good so that they can be drawn to it and repelled by what is evil. An understanding of what true happiness consists of is what will lead to that. Being sure to create a life that has a fullness to it that leaves little time for addiction to tech will help curb those bad habits: cultivate talents, spend time together in hobbies or interests, read books together, enjoy nature hikes or bicycle rides together, etc. Anything that is wholesome and doesn’t include tech will help them to figure out ways to make use of their time and show them how to enjoy life unfolding around them in the real world. You have very little time to do it. They grow up fast, as the saying goes.

    Screentime Is Making Kids Moody, Crazy and Lazy

    10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Give A Child A Smartphone Or Tablet

  • Eva

    Thank you for writing this, will definitely look at Covenant Eyes!

    We are currently in “battle” with our son’s school as they are promoting IPad use in KINDERGARTEN. It is a Catholic school but seem to have lost sight on “getting our kids to heaven” and what that means for families. We are strong believers in developing virtues before getting involved in activities and tools (like screens, for example) that require practiced and tried virtues. Our son had never used an IPad before and now comes home asking for games (the school insists it is for math), when in reality he has no idea what it is for all he remembers is “getting points” – aka, a dopamine hit.

    Any resources or suggestions are welcome. Trying to not cause a schism, but would like to have admin see our point of view and consider the dangers of starting screen time so young.

    • Mandy

      Eva, check out the “Wait Until 8th” movement and They might have resources or advice you can use in your situation with your school. Some other resources I’ve looked into: The book “Reset Your Child’s Brain” by Victoria L. Dunckley; Collin Kartchner of This podcast contains some compelling information:
      I fear I’m soon headed for a similar showdown with our neighborhood school, where my eldest (who has never played with a phone/tablet/computer) will start kindergarten next fall.
      It’s going to take an enormous, sustained wave of us speaking out on this, educating others and demanding a different standard, and of course living our own lives somewhat against the grain, to give ourselves and our kids a chance at fulfilling the potential God gave us amid this culture. I often wonder what kind of communities/intimacy my children will be able to forge for themselves as adults, when 9 out of 10 peers are lifelong screen-addicted waste-oids?

      • Eva

        Mandy, thanks for posting these links. I’ll definitely look into them. It’s shocking how upstream the battle is.
        Praying for your family!

  • Colleen Martin

    Yes, it is all so scary! My husband is a teacher and hates trying to teach while kids are on devices “for note taking” when they are really just on social media and playing games. It’s ironic that people who work in tech in the Silicon Valley send their kids to schools that are screen-free. They know best the damage it can do!!

  • kmk

    Love this article, thank you!! Images, especially negative ones, can stick in the brain – better to avoid them when possible. Children need/want to know that an adult is in charge.

  • Julia

    Colleen, or anybody with some wisdom on this topic, I would love to hear your thoughts on how to help your sons feel integrated into the surrounding neighborhood/ school community when screens are strictly limited in our home, but made readily available in the homes of friends… it’s unbelievable to me, but I have found that some parents don’t set boundaries with screen use for their children. My son sees this and struggles immensely with our rules (he might get 10-15 minutes of screen time per day, if he’s completed homework, piano practice, chores, etc. and IF there is enough time left over before bedtime). These children rarely come to our house because there are no screens to play on. My husband thinks we should get a video game system, but I’m loathe to open that can of worms. I want our son to develop other interests!

  • Sj

    Hi Julia, we have 8 kids, six boys and two girls, and it’s only with the last two that we’ve had to deal with social media, but maybe our experience might help you.

    We did like Colleen and gave our kids dumbed-down smartphones that can only call and text, and have had many long discussions/arguments about not having social media with our now 18-year-old, who is the #7 child. He has told us how alienated he feels from his peers (we also homeschool, but he has lots of activities like theater, youth group, sports, etc., where he’s met friends). However, he also complains that all his peers do is spend time on their phones. I asked him if he wants to be those kids and he admits he doesn’t.

    What has helped has been video games. If you’re very attentive to time limits, and to the type of games they play, they can be a life saver.

    All our kids have been able to play video games from about age 11, subject to time limits depending on age and upon behavior. We don’t allow games that model immoral behavior, but I don’t have a problem with fighting games as long as gore is turned off. I have also taken away games if it makes them too agitated.

    When the child I mentioned above became a high school senior, I gave him unlimited game time, subject to change if he’s irresponsible with his work, and he told me that compensated a lot for not having social media. I haven’ had any requests for social media this semester, and he even used his restrictions as the subject of a college entrance essay, concluding that he’s glad that his friends are real and not virtual.

    My 15 year old has much stricter time limits. For both boys, video games are something they can talk about with other kids, and it’s also a great leverage tool for getting things done.

    Video games have also become a bonding experience with siblings who are away from home. We first gave them to our kids so they could have (very limited) family time together, and we didn’t allow them to play with friends, because we wanted them to do other things with their friends when they were over. Now, the grownup kids play long distance games with the kids at home, and it’s become a bonding thing. They play games together the way old men plan dominos together in the park–bantering and chatting together while the games are going on.

    So my experience has been that video games can be a tool both for positive reinforcement and for family bonding, subject of course to a lot of parental supervision. Hope this helps!

  • Sj

    I just wanted to comment about college kids. We found out that one child started accessing pornography as a college freshman, and since then every child whose gone to college has had Covenant Eyes on their computers. We tell them that as long as we’re responsible financially for them, they are going to be accountable to us, because we as parents are going to be accountable to God.

    When the current high school senior goes to college, I’m going to allow social media, but I’m going to put both Covenant Eyes and Bark on the phone, with plenty of discussion about why we’re doing this (Bark is a social media text and image montor, and complements Covenant Eyes:

    Yes, the software costs money, but it’s an investment in our children’s precious souls. And yes, it’s possible for them to access bad stuff somewhere else, but at least they know that what they’re doing is wrong. It’s also important to start the conversation early, and keep it going. Even when they’re in college, I’ll periodically ask them if they’ve looked at bad stuff.

    And don’t forget prayer. After all is said and done, my first line of defense is their guardian angels, and I fast every Friday for my children’s purity. So far, all six of the college grads still have their Catholic faith, and one girl is a novice in a Benedictine convent. One son confessed to me two years after he graduated that he’d been struggling with purity, and now he is back to using Covenant Eyes with me as an accountability partner. So, even though we weren’t successful in the short run with him, it’s paid off in the long run, and that’s all that I could hope for.

  • Linda Bologna

    I agree with everything that has been said, in the post, and in the comments. It is such a relief to see how parents are handling “screens” with their kids, and that it’s working! We have been very watchful of our 12 year old granddaughter since she began using computer and cell. We are definitely going to look into Covenant Eyes. We have learned some new information during our vigil. Our girl has learning disabilities because of brain damage due to birth trauma. She struggles in school, yet she is very intelligent. Math is her most difficult cross to bear. She adores the computer, YouTube, and games. But, there is a difference. She does not have the fine motor skills to be successful at gaming. So occasionally, she watches videos of other kids playing the games. But it only holds her interest for ten minutes or so. Her gift in life is a remarkable voice, and an affinity for languages. She watches YouTube to see videos of singing, and movie clips that contain singing. She can sing in French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, German, and Japanese. Her voice teacher says she can hold a note for days, LOL! And she can sing really high notes. She has muscle problems due to Cerebral Palsy, but has become very adept at using the keyboard and all things technical. It is great occupational therapy for her hands. Her second favorite activity is dance. So she plays videos of ballet, tap, jazz, and all modern dances. She changes costumes, and dances endlessly. Her dance teacher says the physical therapy is improving her muscle tone so well, that you can’t tell she has CP. But the biggest surprise is her focus. For years she has struggled in school to stay focused on lessons and reading. With the computer or Kindle, she reads for longer periods and her comprehension has improved. Obviously, this is not for every child with disabilities. Many would be distracted and not do well. But we have watched her so closely, that we were able to observe and modify as we go. The improvement is remarkable.
    She has always had difficulty with transitions, so we often have to coax her to change to a different activity. But it is so great to see her able to stay focused when she needs to. I send this reply, just in case there are others with children who might benefit from monitored routines on computer, cell phone, Kindle, etc. The best advantage is that she is not just sitting and looking at a screen. The physical activity is almost constant. The one major drawback is that most activities are one-person. So we have to be sure to provide lots of activities with family members and friends, too.

  • GK

    This was a timely post. My husband and I just bought Fire tablets for our 3 year old twins as we have some upcoming holiday travel. The tablets feature Amazon’s highly touted “parental controls.” Sounds great, I thought. Well, the content controls work by me telling Amazon how old my kids are. Apparently they know what is appropriate for 3 year olds. Sure, I can block things I don’t want them to see, but this is a completely manual process, requiring me to stay on top of the 5000+ recommendations they are offering my kids. This seems completely backwards to me. Shouldn’t I be opting in the content, rather than opting it out? I’d love for someone to tell me that I’m mistaken and that this opt-in functionally exists. For now, the tablets are back in their boxes and will be returned.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *