Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Screen Time: Considering the Good

Benefits of Screen Times

Screen time. Such a sensitive, hot button topic. We all let our kids have way more screen time than we feel they should, and we all feel super guilty about it. Or we don't let our kids have any screen time and get completely worn down by the fight of it.

I've been thinking about the topic recently because my husband and I have been discussing just how much screen time our kids should get, and we disagree. If you guessed that I'm on the side of "the less screen time the better, and we should really try to not let them have any at all" then you'd be...


Surprised? Me too actually. But here's where the disagreement stems from. My husband has fully absorbed the cultural truism that less screen time is better, and he recently installed a lock on my phone so that the boys can't access it without my permission. Now that our oldest can read and write, he's fully capable of typing in searches and finding things on the web on his own, and this scares my husband to death. He doesn't want him to have access to any device (Netflix, internet, etc.) where awful stuff can just be stumbled across through fairly innocent searches. We're to the point where we really need to sit down and figure out filters and other safety locks, but right now the easiest solution seems to be just outlawing screens in general.

And I totally get these concerns. I'm not brushing them off at all. Thinking about all the dangers lurking on the internet, on phones and computers, that my children could stumble into is the stuff of nightmares and keeps me up nights worrying about their futures. Even a simple image search ("Mom, what does earth look like from outer space?" "Let's find a picture!") can bring up things not meant for a five-year-old's eyes. And beyond just content, screens can be dangerous in other ways. Most screens are used to provide kids (adults too) with mindless entertainment, which is probably fine in small doses, but becomes a real problem when it triggers addictive pleasure-seeking. Addiction in any form is unhealthy, but kids seem particularly susceptible to screen addiction. This is a real and serious problem for some kids. And the types of entertainment they become addicted to, from TV shows to any kind of game, can have negative effects on mood and attitude.

Believe me, I understand when most parents (my husband included) want to throw their hands in the air and just outlaw all screen use.

But where I disagree, or at least what I'm trying to argue with my husband, is that not all screen time is equal. Not all screen time is bad, and not all kids respond to screens the same way. Because here's the thing. Our oldest is a fairly bright, surprisingly responsible little rule upholder of a person. He knows he is only allowed two hours of screen time a day, and he self-regulates, choosing when and how he wants to spend that time. He has a few favorite TV shows he watches while I shower or during quiet time in the afternoon, but for the rest of his screen time he likes to type stories on my computer and watch YouTube videos on my phone about the solar system or geography. He's currently obsessed with memorizing all 194 countries in the world, and so he watches these songs over and over (he's pretty nearly got it down).

And so every time my kid asks me if he can watch the geography video one more time, or type one more story on the computer, and I have to remind him that his screen time is up, I just can't help thinking, "Wait, don't I WANT him to learn these things? Isn't it AMAZING that he's trying to memorize all the countries in the world? Don't I LOVE that he's writing stories? Why am I telling him he can't do this? Oh yes, because all screen time is evil and bad and must be restricted."

This is where I feel a no screen time stance falters. Because I can't help feeling like all those mothers from two hundred plus years ago who thought that books were evil and idle and would ruin their children. Today we laugh those old fashioned mothers to scorn. What mother in her right mind would pull a book out of child's hand today? Two hundred years from now, will people look back on us and laugh for the way we restrict our children from screens? After all, it's pretty clear that screens are the future of our species. Books aren't going anywhere (of course they aren't) but screens provide remarkable learning and creating opportunities, and sometimes it just feels ridiculous to restrict my child from learning and creating simply because it takes place on a screen.

I still definitely believe in restrictions. I still believe that kids need plenty of active play outdoors, plenty of time using their imaginations, playing with other toys and reading books. And I know there will be plenty of time later in life for them to pick up all the computer and screen skills they will need. But I also believe that screens can be tools for good, for learning, and for creating, and I don't want to be the one squashing my child's curiosity or drive to create.

What I want to encourage, above all else, is a healthy, positive relationship with screens. Screens will be a part of their lives, and I would like it to be a healthy, self-regulated part of their lives. I would like them to be able to use screens for good things, then turn those screens off and do other things. Maybe this healthy relationship comes through parent modeling (don't we all need to evaluate our relationship with screens?). Maybe it comes through rules and restrictions. But maybe it comes through a little bit more freedom (always with parent monitoring, though).

Like so many other things with parenting, it depends on the child. I think my oldest child has the natural personality already to interact in a healthy way with screens. Sure, he spends some of his screen time on silly entertainment, but he's also extremely motivated to learn and create, and capable of some self-regulation (as in, he follows our rules and limits without me needing to fight him for it). It might be different with my other children. They aren't quite old enough yet, but perhaps they will show a stronger tendency to mindless entertainment and screen addiction, and I'll feel the need to restrict entirely. I think that rules and restrictions should be set based on the child's personality.

All of this anxiety and debate is just about how my preschoolers interact with the screens in their lives (namely, the TV, my phone, and my computer). We're not to the stage yet of dealing with them owning their own phones or computers (which opens a whole new can of worms), though I have a feeling that question is going to face us so much earlier than I want it to. So much about raising children in our new modern technological world is downright scary. But other parts of it are wonderful and amazing and so, so good.

Those are the parts I want for my children.

P.S. For some brilliant practical advice on kids and screen time, check out this post on four easy ways to limit screen time and this one on ending screen time tantrums from Erica of What Do We Do All Day?


  1. There is good, and insanity ;-)
    One of my husband's arguements for screen is the opportunity for interactive play with siblings that happens in our home. Their computers are networked and they can play with each other and their young adult sibs who have left home.

    Whilst you're thinking computers, I really liked these two articles

    Truthfully I find it a constant battle to find the happy medium.

    Giggling over the mothers of 200 years and books, perhaps, thought provoking idea

    1. We obviously think on the same page, because the day after I published this post I thought, "I should link to those great WhatDoWeDoAllDay posts on technology." Adding them to the bottom of my post! Thanks!

  2. I hope you know what a unique and remarkable kid you have! Most of the screen time my kids whine for is the mindless gaming.
    And I am guilty of taking away books from my oldest so she can go to sleep, practice, eat, catch the bus, or be part of the family.
    Everything comes with a balance and adapting to each family dynamic and child personally.

    1. Well, I hope you know what a remarkable kid YOU have, needing to take her books away like that! ;) But yep, every child is different, and every child needs different things. It's good to remember that and not compare or feel pressured to parent a certain way because of that.