In my early 20s I lived in the Dominican Republic as a missionary. One night, myself and three other volunteers arrived home to a dark house. (Electricity outages were the norm.)  

As we unlocked the front gate to our house, I looked down and saw a plastic bag sitting on the ground. “That’s strange,” I thought, but I figured someone had left their garbage for us, so I picked up the plastic bag, took it inside, and tossed it into the garbage without giving it another thought.

The next morning we started getting ready as usual when someone screamed.

It turns out that some other missionaries had decided it would be a fun prank to catch a bunch of frogs and leave them at our door as a present. I’m sure they didn’t think I would carry them into our house—to live with us.

We discovered frogs for weeks. The frogs decided to make homes and lay their eggs in our bins of laundry water and bath water. We would send them outside and sanitize our water bins, only to have new one appear the next day. We had a serious frog problem.

Eventually we were able to rid ourselves of the frogs, but that lesson stuck with me: Don’t bring anything into your home without checking it out first!

Now, years later, this lesson is timely for all parents.

Have you been surprised to learn that your good intentions to keep your kids happy and bring the latest technology into your home brought unexpected consequences? Do you wonder how this happened and what you can do to avoid a serious screen time problem?

Three ways you can tame the frogs:

  1. Be ready. There might not be a bag (think new technology, app, game, etc.) on your doorstep right now, but eventually it’s going to show up. What will you do? How will you handle it? Prepare.

  2. Open the bag. Explore options and educate yourself before you plop the bag down unattended and unopened. Don’t wait to see what happens!
     
  3. Make a plan. Assume you decide you like what is in the bag—there are real benefits for you and your family. Now it’s time to make a plan and work together as a family so things don’t get out of control.

When our 12-year-old daughter inherited an abandoned smartphone, my husband and I initiated a discussion with the whole family about proper use, potential pitfalls, and how to be responsible with a cell phone.

We posted our guidelines on the fridge for the whole family to see. It was a solid beginner’s effort to help our family get started on the right track with screens. But, what we didn’t anticipate were all the things we didn’t talk about.

We learned that even the most responsible and intelligent kid might find themselves in unexpected places on a device—and they will use that technology to its fullest potential!

Before we knew it, our daughter had a few social media apps. And while nothing detrimental happened, her after-school snack time was spent scrolling Instagram instead of decompressing from the day by reading a book like she used to. We noticed the phone became more of a preoccupation than we originally intended for it to be. (Shared with our daughter’s permission.) 

For us, social media apps became an unexpected frog in our family.

We realized that to truly be ready for our daughter to have a smartphone,  we needed to spend more time talking to other parents and talking to each other as a family. We needed to explore what’s out there by reading books and articles, becoming familiar with the tools our kids want to use, and learning to be self-aware of our personal screen time use.

With this knowledge, we could make a plan; keeping in mind that our plan may evolve as our kids get older and as technology changes.

Have you brought a bag of frogs into your house without realizing it? Many of us have! But, guess what? It’s never too late to take a step back, make a plan, and work together as a family to find positive screen time strategies that will work for you.

Don’t let the frogs run your life.

Do you have any frogs in your house right now? What is your biggest screen time challenge? Please share in the comments below!