Your Living Room Needs a Makeover: How to Increase Family Time and Decrease Screen Time

I recently looked up from my phone after a quick cruise through Facebook, Goodreads, my email accounts, and a couple of websites. My baby son was watching me from across the living room in silence. When our eyes met he smiled, and I smiled back. But my heart stung a little because I realized that as soon as I’d latched onto my phone, I forgot about him. My body was there in the room with him, but my attention had wandered far away. Sure, it was only for a few seconds—or was it minutes?—but I forgot him.

Time at home sometimes feels slow and monotonous, and a smartphone takes the edge off of the boredom. But what’s the cost of using technology to escape—especially to escape from home? And who pays the price?

Like trading diamonds for gravel, we’re trading thousands of interactions with our little ones, teens, spouses, parents, etc. for time on our devices. Our homes fill with the beeps, buzzes, blare, and glare of multiple screens, replacing conversations, eye contact, creativity, and play—the warmth of really being together. If we allow it, technology will weaken our family relationships, one swipe at a time. We need some alternatives to those glowing escape hatches.


Becoming a Tech-Wise Family

In his book The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, Andy Crouch offers this advice for families who want to spend less time on their devices and more time together:

“Fill the center of your life together—the literal center, the heart of your home, the place where you spend the most time together—with the things that reward creativity, relationship, and engagement. Push technology and cheap thrills to the edges; move deeper and more lasting things to the core.”1

When TVs and smartphones are the most visible and accessible “activities” in your home, it’s unlikely you or your children will choose anything else. So what changes can you make to “the heart of your home”—for most families, that’s the living room—that will encourage meaningful connection rather than mindless scrolling? Here are a few ideas:


  • Put a box of board games and playing cards in your living room. Don’t let the game box go stale—stoke your children’s interest by buying new games every now and then.
  • Start a challenging jigsaw puzzle that will take several days or weeks to complete. Puzzles provide wonderful opportunities for family teamwork and conversation. But beware: puzzles can be as addicting as Candy Crush!
  • Do you own musical instruments? Display them so your kids will reach for them instead of the TV remote. If you don’t have instruments, consider buying recorders, a harmonica, guitar, ukulele, or some simple percussion instruments. With a little searching, you can often find old pianos for under $100.
  • Collect coloring books, sketch pads, and craft supplies and store them in a handy spot. Many children also enjoy books with step-by-step instructions for drawing simple pictures.
  • Set out family photo albums from your childhood, youth, wedding, etc. Your kids will study them with amazement. Get ready: they will bombard you with questions that will lead to wonderful conversations!
  • Showcase eye-catching picture books in strategic places (i.e. where your children are sure to find them!).
  • If you have a young reader, try setting out children’s joke books on your coffee tables. Author Rob Elliott has written a series of joke books that will transform couch potatoes into comedians in no time!


Like any change, shifting your family’s focus away from screens will take time. It may require drastic measures: for example, requiring a daily break from all screens to encourage you and your kids to explore other ways to spend your time. I wish you and your family many happy hours of screen-free fun, conversation, and creativity!



1. Crouch, Andy, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017): 71.

Dr. Bethany Bowen-Wefuan (Ph.D., Carolina-Duke Graduate Program in German Studies) is a teacher, writer, wife, and mom. She has taught German language and literature at Duke University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Wilmington, and the University of Missouri. As an educator, one of her greatest pleasures is seeing students cultivate a joyful curiosity in words (German and English!) and the world.


The Family That Reads Together

I can see them in the distance. They’re coming for us. If my calculations are correct, they will arrive in four to five years.

Their target? My family.

Their goal? Complete annihilation of our family time.

They are an army of activities: school, piano lessons, video games, after-school jobs, choir, soccer practice, friends, homework, TV, social media, etc. They flood calendars, drowning family dinners, conversations, and togetherness.

I know, I know—I’m being melodramatic. But it’s true: in a few short years, the simple schedule my family enjoys will be a fading memory. As my baby son grows older, his opportunities and obligations (and devices!) will increase, and without a plan, our family time will be the first casualty of busyness and screen time.

So I’m strategizing. Books are a key part of my strategy to preserve our family time and strengthen our relationships. That may seem odd, so let me explain. Massive doses of two ingredients are vital for parent-child relationships: conversation and togetherness. You need to talk about anything and everything, and similarly, you need both quality and quantity time with them. Reading is a fun, easy, and cheap way to get more conversation and togetherness with your children.



You’ve probably seen the commercials that encourage parents to discuss the dangers of drug and alcohol use with their children. Those ads assume you’re delaying difficult conversations. After all, it’s hard to move from, “How was your math test?” to “Have you ever felt pressure to try drugs?”

Discussing books regularly with your kids normalizes conversations about serious topics. Books portray many of the challenges that kids encounter at school, with friends, and in their families. Peer pressure, bullying, learning disabilities, death, loneliness—these issues are common in novels and even in books for younger children. I’d encourage you to craft several open-ended questions that will jump-start conversations with your child about the book she is reading. Here are a few ideas:

  • What places in this book do you wish you could visit?
  • Which character would you most like to meet in real life?
  • Which character do you wish you could be like?
  • Is there anything in the story that you would change?
  • Would you call the ending a “happy ending”?
  • What do you think would happen if the main character came to your school?

In your conversations about books, be aware of what your child’s observations reveal about her own ideas, desires, and insecurities. Be ready to lead the conversation in a more personal direction. Your goal is to know your child more deeply and give her space to open up to you.



Have you noticed how cooking with someone creates a sense of camaraderie? Or how sharing a meal can turn a co-worker into a friend? Or how supporting a friend as she grieves strengthens your relationship with her? Sharing experiences draws us closer to each other. In a small way, books offer many opportunities to share experiences with your children. Here are a few ideas for sharing experiences through reading:



Read a novel aloud together. Choose a novel and schedule a weekly family reading time (put it on your calendar!). Your family will feel a sense of accomplishment when you finally read the last page.

If you’d like more information about the benefits of reading aloud, check out the delightful podcast Read-Aloud Revival. Sarah Mackenzie, who hosts the podcast, is also the author of The Read-Aloud Family, a guidebook for connecting with your children through books.



Tackle a family reading challenge. This is another way you can work together through reading. Set a goal for the number of books your family will read, both individually and together. Decide on a reward you’ll enjoy as a family if you meet your goal, such as a special meal, a trip to the movies, or an evening at the bowling alley. Your kids will be so proud of their efforts towards meeting the challenge!



Travel together through books. Maybe you can’t travel to India as a family, but you can do the next best thing—read a story that takes place there! Once you’ve finished the book, eat at an Indian restaurant or prepare an Indian meal to crown your literary journey.

If you want help finding books that will transport your family to foreign destinations, Jamie C. Martin’s book Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time offers extensive lists of books set in many countries and tips for your global reading adventures.

Maybe you’re thinking, Family reading might work for some kids, but mine would never go for it! You’re not alone. Many children won’t be thrilled to put down their cell phone or leave their Netflix show to listen to a novel. Some kids might be weirded out when you suddenly show interest in what they’re reading. Don’t give up! Spending time with your kids is worth whatever eye-rolling and grumbling you have to endure. With persistence, I think your kids will come to enjoy connecting with you over books. I wish you and your family many bookish adventures together!

~ Bethany

Bethany Bowen-Wefuan is a wife, mom, and teacher. After receiving her PhD in German Studies, she began teaching German at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She loves teaching in the college classroom and loves being home with her son Simeon. When he’s napping, she’s either writing or reading.