It Takes a Village to Raise a Child in a Screen-Addicted Culture

Screen use can devour your kid's childhood, but you can give it back with help from like-minded parents
By Melanie Hempe
Melanie Hempe
Melanie Hempe
June 30, 2021 Updated: June 30, 2021

I was recently invited to a gathering of eight moms who had been to a ScreenStrong workshop at their school. They were learning from each other about how to deal with the screen dilemmas in their homes. We sat together in a cozy den and chatted about what grades our kids were in, what they were doing online, and how hard it was to manage video games and social media. It made me realize again that parents need a close community when facing an issue like managing kids and screen addiction.

There Is Strength in Numbers

“We have so many questions,” one mom said.

“I just need to talk to moms with kids the same age as mine to get advice,” said a mom of a 15-year-old girl.

“How do you get your husband on board?” asked another.

Then one mom got teary-eyed and said in a broken voice, “I feel so alone, I am so stuck and have made so many mistakes already. I just have to say that I am so glad to be here.”

A moment of silence was followed by such wonderful support for this mom as everyone agreed that they all felt isolated and needed to be in that room. They needed validation and support from other moms. They needed to know that they were not the only ones having problems managing screens in their homes.

I remembered all of these feelings so well from when my oldest was struggling with screen addiction in the form of video game dependency. I felt isolated and stuck too. I remember asking all my friends for help. I finally found answers when I read “Playstation Nation” written by a mom and dad who had gone through the same struggle.

I kept reading books and becoming more educated myself. Then I went a step further and gathered a group of moms similar to this group. We were eager to learn more about how to manage the screens in our homes. We met on a regular basis and read books together while our kids played in the backyard. We all decided to establish video-game-free homes and delay giving our kids smartphones. We had peace of mind when our kids played at each other’s homes for playdates. A huge burden was lifted and our kids thrived.

Until we formed that community, we felt like we were all on our own islands—paralyzed and privately losing the screen battle in our homes. It was because of our newly formed community that real change began to occur for all of us and we became screen strong families. Our kids reaped tremendous benefits from growing up screen-free, and we never looked back.

Why Community Is So Important in Battling Screen Addiction

Humans are born with a strong need to belong to a larger group. It’s in our nature to bond with and even mimic others around us. It’s a survival skill. When we’re influenced by a positive peer group, everyone enjoys the benefits. When we’re influenced by a negative peer group, the group suffers.

The need to conform to the larger group is strong—including our screen culture. We change our actions and behaviors based on this culture. For example, even though we know our kids aren’t ready for a smartphone, we give in at early ages because the community around us is giving in. We let our 9-year-olds play mature-rated games if our friends allow theirs to.

As we conform to the group, our blind spots grow. We know it’s not in our teen’s best interest to be on social media, but we give in because we feel powerless to step out from the crowd. We don’t want to be isolated and unusual. Remember the story of the emperor’s new clothes? The emperor strode around believing his clothes were invisible to fools, and the crowd cheered him on until one young boy shouted the obvious. Social conformity can make fools of us all.

Raising a child with a budding screen addiction is a lonely path. It is embarrassing to admit that your son plays video games for 6 hours a day, dropped out of his sports, and hates school. It is difficult to share the news that your daughter spends hours every day editing TikTok videos and taking selfies, or worse, that she’s sending nude photos. It’s hard because these side effects of our dysfunctional screen culture are not openly discussed by our peers. It is also hard because we live in a culture that promotes early and excessive screen use, and we feel that if we were doing our job as parents, our kids would be able to handle it. But no kid can.

So when trouble hits, and it eventually will, we privately seek the help of another community: counselors. Sometimes counselors tell us that “Tech is here to stay; this is our teen’s world.” “If we don’t allow toxic tech, we are a controlling parent, and our kids will hate us.” Or, worse, “Parents are in the dark and don’t understand their kid’s virtual world, so most kids need counselors today.” These opinions are not accurate nor are they based in science. As a result, we come up empty-handed, more isolated, and afraid. Meanwhile, our children’s problems due to screen addiction grow worse.

Real Change Happens Best in a Small Group

Are you feeling isolated on your screen journey? Do you feel like your child is the only one without a phone? If you’re having trouble finding like-minded peers, it may be time to start your own small community. The good news is that you won’t need an army of like-minded friends, just a small core group. You can begin by hosting a book club-style meeting in your home and become more informed on the science behind kids and screens. As you meet together to discuss and troubleshoot problems on a regular basis, you’ll gain confidence.

Our organization, ScreenStrong, has everything you need to delay toxic screens and begin your journey—from the educational pieces to organizing your own ScreenStrong small groups. Begin by going through the Kids’ Brains and Screens mini-course workshop and listen to the ScreenStrong Families Podcast.

The journey will be much easier for your kids if they have some friends to join in with them. So organize some gatherings for them too. Plan regular non-tech activities for your kids’ friends. One or two screen strong friends is all your kids really need to be happy as they reboot and transition to remove the tech distractions from their lives.

I recently spoke with a mom of five children who has been able to keep her kids screen free through the high school years. I asked her what her secret to avoiding screen addiction was. She said, “The best thing I did early on was to find one other family to take this journey with us, that made all the difference. Today we have two other families who are as serious as we are.” I agree. That advice is priceless.

At the end of our meeting, all the moms felt better. They were empowered and they had made some new friends to call when they needed support. A few had plans to get their boys together after school at a local park. A few more were discussing ideas for getting their daughters together the following weekend. Another group was planning a Friday fun night for their middle school kids.

I left that meeting remembering how great it felt to finally have a plan. These moms now have a number to call when they need help, and they can look forward to having kids come to their homes just to have fun and be kids without video games or phones. I’m so happy for this new small group of parents. I got a big smile on my face as I remembered that turning point in the life of our family—we got our kids back. We have never regretted our screen strong decision, and we’ve never looked back. I don’t think they will either.

Melanie Hempe, BSN, is the founder of ScreenStrong, an organization that empowers parents to help their children to gain the benefits of screen media without the toxic consequences of overuse that threaten healthy mental and physical development. The ScreenStrong Solution promotes a strong parenting style that proactively replaces harmful screen use with healthy activities, life skills development, and family connection. This article was originally published on ScreenStrong.com

Melanie Hempe
Melanie Hempe