How would you handle tech time when playing computer games together is one of the special daddy activities? Would you count together time toward total screen time? And what about siblings watching others playing? If each of my children plays 30 minutes with Daddy, but they all watch, that's one and a half hours!
Egads! Upon reading this question, my first thought was, Whatever happened to the kind of fun parents had with their children that didn't make them worry about whether it was too much?
But I do understand your question and its importance. In today's world, digital experiences permeate every aspect of our daily lives, and that includes what we once referred to as "Quality Time" between parents and children. Here are my thoughts:
• Special Daddy Time should be special. For many fathers, playing video games is a lot more fun than, say, basket weaving or playing on the floor with action figures. But special time between a child and their father should include conversation and eye contact.
• Consider alternatives. Ask your husband if he would be willing to brainstorm additional ways he could have special time with your children. This could include inventing a new dessert, sidewalk chalk drawing, taking a rock climbing class, writing a song together or the old standbys: bike riding, walking or playing board games.
• Create one-on-one time. In my work, I talk about strengthening attachment, both to trigger children's instincts to cooperate and to motivate them to confide in parents rather than peers. If your husband has little time to spend with his kids and chooses to spend that time playing video games, I suggest that he designate it as one-on-one time, without the other kids hanging out as an audience in the peanut gallery. Children need at least some undivided attention from their parent, even if they enjoy showing off to their siblings that they can beat dad in a video game!
• Choose games that are active or collaborative. Many video games focus on blowing up things (and people) and clearly provide a gratification missing in a world where we are no longer challenged each day to survive. But there are games that are designed to develop skills for solving real-world problems, like poverty, hunger or global warming. Trailblazer Jane McGonigal has created video games with a purpose, including Evoke and World Without Oil. Read more at http://janemcgonigal.com/
Most parents feel that they are stumbling in the dark when it comes to figuring out how to integrate screen time into their family's lives. We try one thing -- perhaps giving our kids unlimited access to their devices -- only to realize that we have to course correct and set time limits. Ultimately, the answer to your question will have to come from you and your husband. Trust your instincts. If you sense that although your kids may be getting plenty of time next to Dad, but not enough meaningful connection with him, then adjust accordingly.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach, and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
Do you have a question for the Parent Coach? Send it to email@example.com and you could be featured in an upcoming column.