kids and screen time

Mom, can I watch TV? A movie? Can I play on the iPad? Can I look at your phone? Where’s my DS? I want to play Angry Birds! Can I use the computer? I want to play on the Wii!

I’m sure that there are many more variations to these requests that are heard all over America on any given day. Every family has their dealings with technology and specifically those devices that have screens. Television watching has been categorized as a “danger to our health.” Video games can be blamed for antisocial and violent behavior. Parents are warned not to allow too much screen time for fear of cultivating attention issues and obesity. Ahhh! All this makes media about as scary as the thought of taking candy from strangers.

How do you feel about screen time in your house? Is it one of those never ending battles? Are there tantrums or tears when it’s time to say goodbye to the tube? Do you dread having to come up with and enforce timetables for video game playing? Is it a privilege or a right to watch TV? Should we be rigid or loose about screen time?

Screen Routine!

When I was growing up, we didn’t have quite so many screen choices, so that made monitoring our time easier. But even now, my parents have a routine and some rules with my brother that hold true on all of his devices. On school days, we were only allowed to watch TV or movies between school and dinner. We did not watch after dinner as a rule. I had to petition my folks to allow me to watch My So-Called Life, with promises of baths taken and homework completed and with the understanding that if any of these things weren’t done, then my “right” to watch would be forfeited.

My mantra does tend to be to set up a routine around something so that you don’t have to come up with rules on the spot and so that you and your kids will be on the same page (and then also, if I forget the rules about something, I can refer my questions to the kids who will be able to remind me). This can go for screens too. Instead of hoping that they forget to ask you about watching or playing on the computer today, be proactive and set up some parameters for screen time. If your kids are only allowed one hour of video games, TV, etc. per day, then they can work with you to be their own monitors. A timer can come in a handy or just a quick glance at the clock to keep track of their time. If there’s fuss when their time is up, then tomorrow’s time can be shortened. Once the routine is in place and your kids know that you’re going to stick to it, screen time will be pain free.

In Defense of TV

When deciding on the parameters of your screen routine, it’s important to take a couple of things into account.

  • Try not to let guilt motivate your screen-time decisions. If you find yourself feeling badly when you say no to TV and iPad time or feeling badly when you let it go on for “too long,” then you should try to come up with reasonable time frames when you are not face-to-face with a beseeching child.
  • Lessen your feelings of guilt by worrying less about what TV or video games do to kids. If you have a sensible routine in place, then try to ignore any doubts you have about the time that your kids spend in front of a screen. Just like adults, kids need down time. They need a space to rest their brains. I have heard adults complain about electronic toys and video games saying that they do the playing for kids instead of the child having to use their imagination and play on their own. This is certainly true, but if I were expected to use my imagination all the time and entertain myself all the time, I would go nuts! TVs & video games allow our brains to be passive for a little while. There are plenty of other ways to let our minds relax, but it’s ok if TV or screen time is one of the ways we use.
  • TV & games are ways for kids to relate to each other. Kid culture includes many more technological and entertainment references these days. If we completely take away TV or video games, then we can be limiting our kids by excluding them from experiences that their peers are having.
  • TV and movies can show you new worlds & give you shared experiences. Depending on the kinds of programs your kids are watching, they can be learning plenty of new things about space, the alphabet or how bees make honey. Watching a movie together also gives you something in common with your kids. You can reference characters or themes and show them that you’re interested in something that they like. Sharing is caring!

It’s easy to plop your kid in front of a screen so that you can make dinner. What’s difficult is not feeling guilty about it later. It’s also easy to have a “no TV” policy. What’s difficult about that is not feeling righteous about it. In my opinion, screen time doesn’t have to be so taboo. It should just be handled with moderation and sense. We can do that!

Who’s excited for the new season of Downton Abbey?! Me, me, me!