52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid: The Co-viewing Connection

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Words by
Jonathan McKee

Published on

09.28.2021

The following article is from national speaker Jonathan McKee, author of over 25 books, and most importantly, husband and father of three. This particular article is the first of a series of articles about the individual chapters of his incredibly practical book, “52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid.”

It’s never an easy reality to accept that you know your kid far less than you thought. Several years ago, I read about a mother in California who learned this the hard way:

“Bobbi” MacKinnon died from injuries after being flung from a playground merry-go-round, propelled by a rope tied to the back of a vehicle. Bobbi and her friends had watched the popular MTV show Jackass and decided to mimic the same merry-go-round stunt. The result was fatal. 

I read about the story in my local newspaper. Joan MacKinnon, Bobbi’s mother, said, “I had no idea that she even watched the show. Maybe I would have made her stop and think that this is dangerous fun, definitely not meant for kids.”

I clearly remember my reaction to reading Bobbi’s mother’s words that day. I swallowed hard and thought, “that could be me!” I don’t know every show my kids watch.

In the silence of the moment, I heard the TV on in the other room. I thought, “Oh great! My kids are watching something right now, and I don’t even know what it is!”

I popped up from my chair and ran into the other room- they were watching SpongeBob SquarePants.

As I stood there in the doorway, I recalled a study I had just read in the journal Pediatrics, revealing the importance of prenatal guidelines with entertainment media. One of the techniques the authors suggested was “co-viewing”- simply sitting down and watching entertainment media with your children and using it as an opportunity to talk about important family values. 

So I sat down and watched SpongeBob SquarePants with my kids…and found it quite hilarious. 

We are constantly battling with kids and their screens. Co-viewing can be a fun practice to enjoy screen time together. 

That pocket-size screen your teen/preteen carries around all day is the same screen they stare at more than any other device. According to Common Sense Media, teens spend two hours, forty-two minutes per day on their smartphones alone, then one hour, thirty-seven minutes on a computer, and another one hour, thirty-one minutes watching TV. That’s just the “average kid.” So your kids may spend more or less time on each of these devices. And you can be sure that if your daughter doesn’t watch ninety-one minutes of TV per day, she spends time at a friend’s house where the TV is on. 

The point: parents need to make use of some of this screen time. Use it as a point of connection. No, co-viewing is not the most social or productive activity you can do with your kids, but it does accomplish these two tasks: 

  1. It gives you a peek into their world of entertainment media. What shows do your kids watch? What online videos do they frequent? What is the content of all this entertainment? What lessons are they walking away with after watching? Many parents have no idea what kind of entertainment their kids are consuming on their screens. Do you? 
  1. It provides you a springboard for conversations about what you just watched. When a character makes a decision, ask your kids a question when the show is over. “What he right?” Sometimes that simple three-word question can spark a debate between siblings where all you need to do is sit back while they do all the talking. Other times it may necessitate asking more questions to provoke further discussion. Don’t feel the need to discuss everything you watch, but don’t hesitate to jump on the occasional opportunity. 

Coviewing opens up a host of possibilities for conversation. No, I’m not endorsing watching just anything with your kids. If you begin watching something with your kids and the content becomes questionable for your kids to watch, then it’s your responsibility as the parent to say, “Sorry kids, we aren’t going to watch this.” Or better yet, “Kids, do you think we should watch this? Why not?”

Avoid overreacting. If you freak out every time you sit down to watch something with your kids, they’re going to stop watching at home and go to their friend’s house to consume the entertainment of choice. Make these co-viewing connections a pleasant experience. Discover fun shows that you all enjoy watching together. 

So, look for those opportunities to enjoy some entertainment together. This practice can provide fun boding times and sometimes a good inspiration for conversation.

Questions to Ponder:

  • Do you know what your kids watch on their devices, on the computer, on the TV?
  • When is a good time to sit with your kids and co-view with them?
  • What are some examples of content you won’t allow your kids to view?
  • How will you address objectionable content without “freaking out”?
  • What is an example of a show your kids like that you can enjoy with them?

With the weekly release of these new ideas, I encourage every parent reader to put them to practice. Challenge yourself to be involved with your children on a more personal level. Entice them to reflect on the content they consume daily and compare it to the values taught in the home. Support and applaud their choice to change their consumption habits if their entertainment does not meet the standards you have taught them. 

When parents lay a foundation for integrity, trust, conversation, and reflection, our connections with our children will blossom. What more could a parent want?

Jonathan McKee

Founder at Becoming Screenwise

Jonathan McKee is the author of over 25 books including the brand new \"Parenting Generation Screen\"; and the best seller, \"The Guy\'s Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket.\" An expert on youth culture, Jonathan speaks to parents and leaders worldwide. You can read more from Jonathan on his website BecomingScreenWise.com

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