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Erin Napier Says Her Kids Won't Have Social Media Until After High School: 'Not What They Need' (Exclusive)

The mom of two is committed to joining together with other parents with similar values and creating a community so no kid is left out

<p>Erin Napier/Instagram</p>

Erin Napier/Instagram

  • Erin Napier and Ben Napier started Osprey to create community among parents who are looking for screen-free childhood experiences for their kids

  • This weekend, the two will enjoy workshops and informational sessions with experts in the field of child psychology and technology at the Osprey Festival in Laurel, Mississippi

  • The Napiers share daughters Mae, 2½, and Helen, 6

Erin Napier is reveling in a turn of the tide.

The mom of two and HGTV personality, 38, is all about reclaiming childhoods around the country with a pledge to live screen-limited and social media-free childhoods until they graduate high school. Her organization, Osprey (Old School Parents Raising Engaged Youth), aims to unite families who share these values and build a community for parents and kids within that.

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"I think there are just masses of us who are millennials who started college or finished high school around the time social media began. So we clearly see what life is like connected in the digital age, but when we were more mature and could handle it — and we still see how difficult it is," Erin tells PEOPLE. "I think that's a perspective Gen X isn't familiar with. They didn't know what could come with that and let their kids have phones young without knowing."

Erin cites celebrity parents like Matthew McConaughey and Drew Barrymore, who are opening up about their own guidelines for social media use in their families. More professionals are looking into the impacts of social media on kids and adolescents, and parents are more aware of the data than ever.

"I think we're going to see a huge change with parents that are millennials. I don't have a single friend who is open to letting their child have access to a smartphone before the age of 16," Erin shares. "It's not something we all discussed and decided on together. It's something we just know. It's not what our kids need."

Some people look at childhood and adolescence without screens and social media as restrictive, but Erin argues that it opens up so much more.

"For us, it's less about what we don't want them to use and more about what we want them to do with the adolescence that they're going to be given," she notes, using an example from her own experiences as a mom to daughters Mae, 2½, and Helen, 6.

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Related: Erin and Ben Napier 'Shoutout' Their Hacks for Traveling with Kids While on a Plane

"Our oldest is only 6 years old, but she's been in ballet school for three years. She loves it and when she's hanging out with her older cousins — who are 10, 11 years old — she gets a little shy. She feels like the little kid."

She continues, "Around Christmas, we noticed a very cool thing happen. The Nutcracker soundtrack came on, and she started doing her ballet for the recital that she was getting ready for. And the big girls were like, 'Wow Helen, that is so cool.' She had so much confidence suddenly because she had this skill."

Erin says situations like this make her feel assured in the decision she and husband Ben Napier, 40, have made for their family.

"I feel like when our kids have more opportunity to be engaged in the real world and learning skills and finding their talents, that's where self-assurance comes from. And the opposite of finding self-assurance is in social media. Everything that tears down our self-confidence and self-assurance lives there," the mom of two levels.

"So that's really what we want to focus on is helping our girls find their gifts in the real world, and when they're older, much older, I think they'll be mentally prepared for what social media is and the tool that it can be."

This weekend, Erin and Ben are hosting the first-ever Osprey Festival in Laurel, Missouri, celebrating old-school fun with workshops for kids, with activities such as woodworking, art, gardening and music. For parents, there will be presentations from experts on best practices and safety for kids in the digital age.

"Parents can learn from experts from the Secret Service about issues like sextortion and cyber crimes, so parents can really understand that danger. On the other hand, there are also workshops for the kids, who can maybe find a skill that they love. We're going to have Ben teaching a woodworking class. There's going to be our friend, Emily, teaching gardening and more. We hope that the kids who come might find a little spark of something that they really enjoy."

The event, geared toward kids ages 5 to 16, will be family-filled, with the couple's oldest daughter also joining them.

"Helen will love the workshops. She'll be bored with the one her daddy is teaching, but she'll probably do other ones," Erin laughs. "I'm looking forward to hearing from the Wilson siblings, whose parents are some of my mentors in parenting. They delayed their kids getting social media until they were seniors in high school, and the way they move around in the world is so different from their peers."

Erin says she's "really excited" about the event, though she notes there have been challenges in sharing word of the gathering on social media.

"It gets suppressed. Posts get a tiny fraction of the views that my usual posts do, which is disturbing. I think social media should be the adult town square for sharing information. But if you're only able to share selective information, that's scary."

When it comes to her own family, not only does Erin live by these principles, but she also has fixed her own behaviors to fall in line. These days, she doesn't share her girls' faces on social media on the rare occasions she includes them in a post.

"We mostly just try to be outside as much as possible. There is another organization called 1,000 Hours Outside and the goal is to spend that many hours outside every year. Most of our days are spent exploring and digging in dirt and climbing trees. And the girls, we can see that they love each other. They don't fight when they spend time outside. I don't know what it is, but there's a magic when you get them out of the house. and away from a TV. They are the happiest, and they're learning."

Recently, the sisters have "built a little restaurant outside by our backyard greenhouse."

"They like to pretend they're picking vegetables and take them to their restaurant to cook. Their imaginations are so much bigger when they're outside in the great big world," the proud mom shares.

Of course, the whole world doesn't subscribe to these parenting ideals, but Erin and Ben haven't had too much trouble navigating that just yet.

"There's an episode of Bluey — and we love Bluey in our house — and in the episode, they have a friend at school and in their house, they say dunny, which is the Australian term for toilet. And at Bluey's house, they don't say dunny. The way Bluey's parents explain it is that 'That family, they say dunny. In our family, we don't say dunny.'"

"Our girls are starting to understand that every family has different standards and a different way of life. At this point, Helen understands and accepts that. It's going to get more challenging the older they get."

On the other hand, Osprey gives them and other kids the opportunity to be around people who live by the same rules and "have a similar value system."

"If everybody's on the same page, nobody gets left out, and that's really the whole mission. No one wants their kids to be left out."

Erin notes, "The point of Osprey and our biggest goal is that Osprey becomes obsolete in just a few years. We hope that it doesn't exist anymore, that there's no need. We hope that it becomes common sense. When you're 16, you can drive a car, but not before then. No one questions that. It feels that clear to us, and I think it's becoming more clear to everybody."

The values celebrated by Osprey change life not just for kids, but for their parents too. A busy couple, Erin and Ben work hard to model good behavior from their kids as another way of setting them up for success.

"The moment we get home, we put our phones in a cabinet and the TV is turned off, They only really watch TV when it's raining outside or if they're sick. It is hard to be intentional about it. It really is. We both got Apple watches, so if you need to call us, that's how you can reach us. But otherwise, we're not looking at our phones."

Erin cites an analogy presented to her by one of her friends who is also living these values with her own family.

"My friend Emily said, 'This weekend, I'm trying to treat my phone like a blender. I only get it out when I need to use it, and otherwise, it stays in the kitchen,'" she shares. "And I think that's really a cool way to think of it."

Right now, Erin and Ben are soaking up fun times with Mae and Helen, who are "learning how to be a team, and how to share things, and how to help each other."

"It's really, really cool. I think, 'Gosh, I want them to stay this age forever,' but I said that last year and the year before that, so I love all of it. Parenting is the greatest thing I have ever gotten to experience."

The family of four has been enjoying time in Florida filming Hometown Takeover's third season, where "the girls are having the time of their lives."

"Getting to see orange groves and enjoy a totally different landscape has been so fun. They're swimming every day. They said, 'This is the best vacation we've ever been on,' and we're like, 'We're not on vacation. We're at work,' " she laughs. "We love having the experience of traveling with them. We take Helen's school work, and she works on it here, and then her teacher signs off on it when we get back to Laurel. So it's been great so far."

Erin hopes that people will see that the time away from screens helps the whole family make the most out of their time together.

"Every minute we have with them is so precious. They go to bed, and they wake up the next day, and they're just a little different. They're a little older and that child you knew the day before is gone. And I feel like, if we are staring down at our phones, we're missing it," Erin explains.

"They say if we keep it up, we're going to spend 31 years of our lives on our phones. We're going to miss 31 years of our life. I don't want to miss that. I don't want to miss my little girls growing up. I'll only have them once, and then it's gone. I want to be super present for all of it and so far, so good. I know the older they get, it gets more challenging, but we're ready. We're ready for whatever it takes. We're going to do whatever it takes."

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