It seems like some parents have forgotten what parenting was like before smartphones and tablets.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, some parents in the U.S. are hiring screen-free parenting coaches to help them raise phone-free children.
The trend, which is picking up in several U.S. states, allows these screen-free coaches to go into homes, schools and religious institutions to lecture parents on how parenting worked before screens.
“I try to really meet the parents where they are, and now often it is very simple: ‘Do you have a plain old piece of material that can be used as a cape?’” one coach told the site. “‘Is there a ball somewhere? Throw the ball… kick the ball.’”
Another parenting coach, Gloria DeGaetano, based in Seattle, told the site coaches in small cities can make up to US$80 an hour in small cities or rural areas and up to $250 in larger cities.
For the most part, coaches added, parents had forgotten what life was like before screens because they’re glued to their own devices.
Screen-free parenting has also been around for years. Screen-Free Parenting, the blog, is a community of people who don’t use screens in their households.
“For the time being, we are screen-free parents. We have gotten our fair share of awkward stares and silences when we explain our four-year-old has never watched Doc McStuffins, Calilou or pretty much any Disney movie. Screen-free may not be for everyone. But, it’s working great for us right now,” the blog’s authors noted.
The blog notes the community is for all type of screen users — or wherever you are on the “screen spectrum.”
“Limiting screens is incredibly freeing, boredom is the friend of creativity, and your child’s brain is an amazing thing. So, if you are not ready to go full-on 1940s and throw your smartphone in the toilet, maybe you are willing to see how it is we parent screen-free and why we think it’s so great.”
Early childhood consultant Julie Romanowski of Miss Behaviour in Vancouver told Global News there are two ways of looking at screen-free parenting.
“One is going hardcore and getting rid of screens all together to get rid of the problem, however, if this can even be done, there are new problems that will arise from this decision,” she explained.
“The second way of doing this is with a supportive method that includes discussions, expectations and guidance. This approach can help kids ‘learn’ how to live without it, control it and accept it. There will still be challenges as this will take time and success will come in time.”
Cutting back on screen time
And with countless studies and reports on how too much screen time can “delay important developmental milestones” or even how some Canadian kids are losing the ability to play in general, it’s no surprise parents are looking for more screen-free solutions.
But Romanowski said parents should not go completely screen-free if they don’t have a plan set in place.
“There will be times where children will constantly ask for it, beg for it, get angry about it or worse,” she said. “Support for everyone involved is essential because at the speed to which life is running, it’s easier to cave or just let it go, which never proves to go well.”
Not being consistent with new expectations can cause confusion and insecurities, she said.
But she said for most parents, going screen-free is often never the reality.
“It’s like getting rid of all the sugar so our kids stay healthy,” she continued.
Instead, she said, parents should acknowledge the dangers, pitfalls, risks and challenges and work around them — setting up expectations on how much screen time is allowed and making sure all members of the family follow them.
If this means establishing a rule that means no or limited screen time before bed that children can spend on their phones or tablets, make sure the whole family is on board.
And while some argue children have been raised without screens for decades, Romanowski said the world is much more fast-paced today.
“The level of stress is out of this world for most people, of all ages,” she said. “It is challenging to go back to how things were — a simpler time of playing outside, hanging out at the playground, reading books and sitting down for family dinners.
“I don’t think ‘screens’ are necessarily the problem. I think it’s more of an unconscious way of living that’s the real issue because of the combination of life’s speed and stress.”