why I’m over the whole screen-time thing…

It’s summer vacation, so along with groans of “I’m so bored” and “We never have any free time” between summer camps, the dreaded question of screen-time has been looming about our house.

During the school year, we have a rule in our house during the week around no screen time unless it’s for schoolwork. And really, between after-school activities, homework, dinner and showers, the rule is pretty much a no-brainer–there’s no time for screens. We turn off screens on Friday nights  and Saturdays so really, that just leaves Saturday night movie night and Sunday for cartoons and Xbox.

And during the school year, this mostly worked. Until my 13yo got an iPhone. And then he had a screen in his pocket at all times. We implemented texting curfews and even thought about turning off the wi-fi at a certain time in the evening, but this got in the way of our own work schedules and screen time.  So, we tabled the discussion and .

And then summer happened.

Screen-time used to be just about the television, but threatening to cancel cable so that the Disney channel will go away doesn’t keep a kid from YouTube or Disney online, especially if you’ve got the trifecta of Apple devices lying around the house. Reading time on the Kindle often very quietly turns into YouTube videos of Michelle Phan applying eye makeup or music videos.

So as someone who has spends an inordinate amount of time on screens and who loves screens, and actually was never asked to adhere to any screen time limits as a kid, I felt like this summer was the time to come to grips with my stand on screen time.

And here it is…  I’m totally over the whole screen time thing.

Yes, there are better things to do than watch Good Luck, Charlie episodes back to back for hours. And it’s true that when they’re watching TV or playing Toca Boca Hair Salon (OMG, don’t even get me started about that game and how I cannot even BEGIN to understand why it’s so incredibly interesting to all the kids in my life) they are not being physically active. Is it better that they read some of the ridiculous comic books out there when the content is about the same? Or listen to popular music with questionable lyrics?

A benefit and fault can be applied to almost any kind of entertainment (educational or not) out there. Kanye West’s new album is amazing musically and I love that my kids can appreciate that even while I pray they don’t understand enough yet to ask about the lyrics. And while they love to dance to Taylor Swift, she’s not a role model I’m particularly happy with for my girls.

And apparently I’m not the only one who is getting over the screen-time controversy.

In a recent national survey from Northwestern University, Ellen Wartella found that nearly 8 in 10 parents surveyed about their children’s media said that their children’s media usage was not a source of family conflict and 55% said they were “not too” or “not at all” concerned about it.

Yes, I do feel somewhat guilty when I intentionally put a movie on or hand a kid the iPad so that I can get some work done, but the truth is, I don’t do that all that often and really, would I really feel so much better if I set out Legos or a book and then proceeded to ignore my kids? Maybe.

But, why?

In her Atlantic monthly article, The Touch Screen Generation, Hanna Rosin discusses the technology writer Marc Prensky’s view on this subject and even adopts his philosophy into her household.

“We live in a screen age, and to say to a kid, ‘I’d love for you to look at a book but I hate it when you look at the screen’ is just bizarre,” says Prensky. “It reflects our own prejudices and comfort zone. It’s nothing but fear of change, of being left out.”

And I have to say, it makes a lot of sense. I’m on screens to read, study, catch up with friends and to write–all activities I feel are worthwhile for my children. And honestly, when it comes down to it, I love video games and always have. They provide relaxation, challenge and escape. Yet, as a parent, why do I feel socially compelled to limit these activities?

And I think that’s where Prensky’s point about our own prejudices comes to play. What is it about screen time that I hate?

I hate the way Disney shows portray parents as ridiculous and stupid, but I’m not sure that the many of the childrens’ books I read to my children portray parents in a way that I like all that much better. And so I brought this up to my kids who were totally clueless about this portrayal and basically never noticed the parents. Which is sort of the way it works in real life, too, unless they have to. And at least they’re now aware.

I hate the way that too much screen time leads to dazed and emotionally fragile kids, but again, this is where it means I have to understand how each kid reacts differently to input. And now that my kids are old enough, we can even discuss this fairly openly.

And then there’s just plain moderation. In our house, we have Dessert Books (i.e., light graphic novels and comic books, books that are too easy for a kids’ reading level but still fun, etc.) and Meal Books (books that sustain you and help you grow). But maybe it’s time for extend these categories to activities and not just reading. Writing and researching online, educational sites, TV series that inspire conversation, composing music on Garage Band or creating websites might fall into the Meal Activities while Halo (yes, yes, I know, but violent video games are another post), Wizards of Waverly Place and Toca Boca might fall into the Desserts category. I could spend a lot of time trying to figure out where The Voice and anything on AmericanGirl.com go, but I’ll spare you.

My point is that it all needs moderation. As long as the activities are varied, it seems healthy. Seriously, I would worry just as much if my child wanted to work on Kumon packets all summer long as I would if she only wanted to play Candy Crush.

So instead of screen time limits, I’m going for moderation this summer. Yes, there may be days when the TV is droning on while one kid is texting friends and the other is playing on the iPad. But there will be other days when they forget to even come inside because they’re too busy with some made up adventure outside involving fairies and the pile of bricks on the side of the house.

And come September, it’ll all be a moot point anyway.

Sources: Ellen Wartella, Northwestern University
         "The Touch-Screen Generation," Hanna Rosin, The Atlantic Monthly


  1. […] month, after reading a series of articles about kids and screen time, I began an experiment to do away with screen-time limits. So we’ve been screen-time limitless for three weeks now and it’s definitely time for […]

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