Screen time for kids seems to be a common parenting concern these days. How much is too much? Should we be worried? Can screen time and technology be used to positively enhance our children’s lives?
A Little History
Parents who are raising children born after 2008 are navigating brand new territory. Any guesses why? Take a second and think long and hard about what was released in 2008 that completely changed how we live our lives today……….
Sure, phones, computers, and TV’s were all around long before that. But when the iPhone was released it was the first time that all 3 were together. In your pocket. And in the last 10 years technology has continued to make incredible advances.
Fun fact: when my 4-year-old talks on the phone with one set of grandparents he holds it out from his ear as if he’s Facetiming them. Why? Because he has only ever known a phone with the ability to FaceTime. How crazy is that?
And now parents are facing a brand new set of parenting challenges that no parent before has faced. At least not to the extent that we will. We must worry about our children’s safety online (read my thoughts on sharing my kids photos online), and we must be vigilant in helping our children find a healthy balance between screen time and time away from technology.
And if you’re anything like me, you’re constantly asking yourself how much is too much?
My Personal Take
I hear a lot of people these days griping about how much time kids spend in front of screens. Yes, there is a lot more technology available today then there was even 10 years ago. But it’s not all bad.
I seriously wonder sometimes how my mom survived staying home two kids and no Netflix? How did she manage to take a shower or have a moment of peace?
I am all about taking full advantage of resources that are available to you and that includes technology. We have subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and cable. We have an iPad, computers, and iPhones- and Bubba knows how to use all of it (Nugget isn’t quite there yet and the baby is just happy to nap in peace!).
Yes, it can be struggle to find a balance sometimes. The fact is that when I was a kid, my parents probably didn’t have to worry as much about limiting my TV time because there just wasn’t that much to watch. But my kids can binge watch just about any cartoon of their choosing with just the touch of a button.
I’ve thought long and hard about my philosophy to TV and screen time. What is my position here? How will I regulate this? And where I landed surprised even myself:
I just don’t stress about screen time for kids.
That’s it. That’s my approach to tech time. I don’t stress. Some days Bubba watches more TV than other days. Some days he doesn’t watch any. He’s pretty good at self-regulating the TV and I don’t really count hours or episodes. When he’s done watching he’ll get up and go play.
Now that doesn’t mean we don’t have some rules around TV and games. Of course we set boundaries, especially around what he’s allowed to watch. But my goal is to help my sons learn to have a healthy relationship with technology.
I want them to understand that technology is a tool and can add positively to our lives. Even if it’s just to relax and unwind from a long day. But I also want them to enjoy other aspects of their lives, like playing outside and making real life connections.
Otherwise, I just don’t stress about it. Technology isn’t all bad, and I have made a list of 10 benefits I see in screen time:
- Independence: My oldest son has shown a ton of growth and independence when it comes to tech time. Whether it’s learning how to turn on cartoons for himself or using my phone to call his grandparents on his own he loves that he can do it on his own.
- Vocabulary: My son loves to watch shows about animals, one of his favorites is The Wild Kratts on PBS. I can’t tell you how many times he has used a word correctly (like hibernate) after watching that show (or another TV show). Sure, vocabulary development comes from a lot of places, but TV can be one of them!
- Imagination: Sometimes watching a show or playing a game on his tablet inspires my son to play with his toys in a new way or invent a new game!
- Rest time: Sometimes we all just need a break in the middle of the day and the ability to sit down and watch an episode of Curious George is the perfect way to take a rest!
- Social Skills: Not all shows are pure junk (looking at you My Little Pony, seriously, what is that show even about??!!) some shows are educational and teach great life skills. Daniel Tiger on PBS is my absolute favorite for this! Plus, let’s be honest, I can tell my sons to share 4,897,564 times but if Daniel Tiger says it they might actually do it!
- Skills for the future: Let’s face it, technology only keeps getting better and more advanced. My oldest is (almost) 5 right now, can you even imagine what tech will look like when he goes to college? Or when he’s my age? Learning how to use technology safely now can only help prepare him with a foundation of technological skills he will surely need later in life.
- Family Time: We find a lot of different ways to bond as a family: we play board games, play in the backyard, take family trips to the park, and even watch movies together. My husband and I enjoy sharing some of our favorite childhood movies with our children, it’s so much fun to watch a classic Disney movie through their eyes.
- Education: Just like the social skills, there are a TON of TV shows and tablet apps that are educational. When my oldest was about 1 I started trying to do flashcards with him every day. I wanted him to know his letters, numbers, shapes, and colors by the time he was 2!! Hello, I used to be a teacher! And you know what? He hated it. And we never got anywhere. But turn on an episode of Sesame Street or let him play a game about shapes and numbers on the iPad and he’s in! As he’s gotten older he’s more responsive to me, but I had to learn to embrace the new (technology) and say good-bye to the old (flashcards).
- Motivation: I know I said I don’t stress about screen time for kids, and I don’t, but man can it be a good motivational tool for my son. If he asks to watch a show or a movie there’s a short list of chores we go through first:
- Have the dogs been fed?
- Are you dressed for the day?
- Is your room clean?
- Do the toys in the basement need to be picked up?
- Can you help around the house?
Once he has accomplished some tasks then we can talk about screen time. At this point, he will complete his tasks independently and then when he asks for a show he tells me everything he has done to earn his screen time. It’s such a great motivator for him!
10. It’s Fun: Let’s be honest, screen time is just plain fun! Even for adults, it can be entertaining, and there’s nothing wrong with having a little bit of pure entertainment every now and again.
And that’s it. It really is just that simple in our house. We’re pretty active around here and we stay fairly busy so I never worry if we have day when we lounge and watch more TV than usual. Because the next day we’ll probably go for a hike or run errands and won’t watch any TV at all.
It’s important to be vigilant about what your kids watch and the games they play. Take an active roll in their screen time. Don’t just let it be your babysitter (although, who among us hasn’t put on an episode of Magic School Bus so you could take a shower or make dinner??). This is a learning process for all of us, including the kids. They’re learning how to moderate screen time with all that life has to offer.
Just remember: technology doesn’t have to be bad, but it’s our jobs as parents to help them learn how to use screen time in a healthy manner AND to protect them from the potentially negative consequences.
What are your thoughts on screen time for kids? Please share below!