Two days into the ashfall, I told my nine-year-old son Jack that he still had no school the next day, but that his four-year-old sister Juno already had.
Jack: Aww (sad face)
Me: O, why? I thought you’d be happy!
Jack: Because… I’m gonna miss her ??
What a full day of no screen time can do; they are forced to play nice with each other!
Jack patiently played board games and Lego with Juno; they had a blast filling a tiny inflatable with water and made a mess “fishing” for their toys (at first with makeshift rods, then later “accidentally” stomping on the water, which made me yell, but that’s another story).
Now screen time can easily be made the obvious villain here, but it is not.
While excessive screen time does make kids cranky and feel privileged and impatient, like it or not, it has its place in the modern household.
As the oldest of four children, pre-internet, I remember our growing-up years filled with screaming matches, habulan ng itak, chokes, slammed doors and fist fights.
Somehow, with age, we eventually got along (kinda) and even enjoyed hanging out with each other (!).
So should we bother to get our kids to “say sorry!” (or shove a screen at them) just to get them to shut up?
No forced apologies
I’ve always been iffy about forced apologies, since as you get older, you realize it’s just a way to end discussions faster and get the heck out of a situation that’s not fun—and lose yourself in your own screen.
“I sacrifice the possibility of genuine peace, harmony and joy for a quick fix—a temporarily quieter home,” admits author Jennifer Clarke in “Sibling Squabbles.”
“Why do siblings bicker? Most of the time, it boils down to two heart motivations: jealousy and revenge, exacerbated by a lack of emotional control and poor communication skills,” she says.
Clarke advises to establish “a home environment that doesn’t invite unnecessary comparisons and teaches kids how to manifest the character of Christ.”
She reminds parents to reiterate why we should love our annoying siblings anyway: It’s obedience to God. (“Love your neighbor as yourself”). It imitates Jesus and his selfless, sacrificial love for us. It’s practice for future relationships.
“Loving sibling bonds offer a wealth of training in skills that contribute to healthy relationships for the rest of our lives, including conflict resolution, listening skills, and preferring others over ourselves,” says Clarke.
She warned parents against playing favorites, pitting siblings against each other and teaching deception: “Trust is important in any relationship, so teaching deception, either by modeling it or by outright encouraging it, can cause irreparable damage to the sibling relationship, as well as to your relationship with your children.”
So, how can we promote sibling love?
Clarke has recommendations:
Adjust expectations. Achieve real peace by sharing and working through problems, not just by smoothing things over or covering up injustices. Bottled-up feelings are poisonous to relationships; differing opinions should not be stifled, and conflicts shouldn’t be swept under the rug. It’s messy and can be a hassle, but this lays the groundwork for all other future relationships.
Breed positivity. Some of our behavior is formed by habit, so be purposeful in scheduling more positive family experiences. Have regular family game nights, jigsaw puzzle sessions, art jams or kitchen experiments where everyone can have a say.
Cultivate parent-child relationships. Children crave face time with, not half-hearted attention of, parents. Having precious one-on-one time with each child, without the distraction of a phone, translates into more resilient sibling relationships.
This also teaches your child that she/he has value, is worth spending time with, that she/he doesn’t need to act out to be more interesting than the latest trend/challenge/Netflix series their parents binge on.
Defer to God. Reminding children of how God expects them to relate with each other helps them realize the underlying reason behind their behavior.
Exemplify selflessness. The main enemy of each relationship is pride. The more parents model selflessness and humility, the better the chance that kids will follow suit.
Talk has mostly been about how awful gadgets are for children, but today’s adults zone out as much, if not more, making distracted attention acceptable and normalized within the family.
In any restaurant, kids and adults always have phones in their hands or on the table. Just the mere presence of it makes companions feel they need to compete with it; a smidgen of boredom or lack of stimulation, and phone owners mindlessly reach for the phone or glance at a notification, and the family bond is lost.
Therein lies the rub: parents’ screen time.