Don’t Cut the Screen Time—Just Make Sure It Counts
During those idle moments when I’m too tired to think, I start surfing the web. Without fail, I’ll usually come across some kind of article warning parents about the perils of screen time for their children. I’ve read that screen time can hurt children’s social skills, can cause obesity, or it hurts children’s brain development. I’m not arguing that these points are completely false. Too much screen time isn’t good for anybody, but I’m growing wary of these articles. How about an article telling parents to trust their instincts when it comes to screen time? How about an article saying that if your life is well balanced with many different activities throughout the day, including screen time, you don’t have to worry so much?
If your child begins to misbehave, or you notice other negative consequences from letting your child play digital games or watch television, then by all means, create the boundaries you feel they need. For me, I believe screen time should complement an already busy day. We watch a lot of documentaries and entertaining shows together as a family (about 30 minutes each at lunch and dinner), and as we watch, we laugh, pose questions, and sometimes get inspired to try new things. You might be surprised that we allow this during mealtimes, but my husband and I very much consider our program-watching part of our home education. It’s yielded too many good things to consider it otherwise.
In the late afternoon, the boys have about 1-1.5 hour to play digital games. After this, they either go outside to play if the weather is nice, or they watch some television, if the weather isn’t nice. At night right before bed, they also watch a couple of programs.
When I talk to other mothers and learn about their screen time allowances, I realize we let our kids watch and play more than most parents allow. But I also hear a lot about children’s misbehavior…or perceived misbehavior. They cry and fight because they want more television. They get lost in a video game and won’t stop, etc. I don’t know if it’s my boy’s personalities or the way we deal with screen time, but my boys never ask for more screen time or give us other trouble about it. At the most, I sometimes have a hard time getting them to quit a game, but it rarely escalates. I always allow them to reach a natural stopping point, which seems fair to me, so they are usually fine when it’s quitting time.
Speaking of quitting time, we’ve kept the same schedule, which evolved naturally when my eldest was very young, for all these years. Our mornings and early afternoons are steeped in activity…lessons, playtime, time to create or run around outside. The late afternoons and evenings contain most of the screen time, though we often go outside for a while during this time too, and my eldest practices piano after dinner as well. Children crave routine, and I think this schedule has made it easier for them. They know exactly when it’s time to watch a little TV or play their games. They also know when it’s time to work on lessons, play outside or inside, make some art, practice piano, eat a meal, clean up, cuddle with mom, visit with a friend, take a family day trip, or do some other activity.
One thing I have noticed with my boys is that the time they get to play a game or watch TV is extremely important to them. It’s the thing they look forward to most in their day. I think a lot of parents (including myself) can feel disappointed when a child values screen time over, say, playing outdoors, reading a book, or any other number of activities we like to consider “productive.” But I’ve come to see that my boy’s screen time is very productive. Not only are they learning skills through the games they are playing (or the programming we allow them to watch), they are interacting, collaborating, and having discussions with one another. When they aren’t playing, they often discuss their games with each other, planning strategy ahead of time.
As their mom, I want to recognize and honor what is most important to them. So this means allowing them to have their screen time. Also as their mom, I want to make sure they are participating in a variety of activities, so I consider it my job to facilitate time for reading, playing outside, going hiking, going on a field trip, time with friends, or even science experiments… all things my boys love to do, but they aren’t necessarily going to make plans to do these things like they would plan on building a zoo in Minecraft together.
Screen time is and should be unique to each family. Follow your instincts for what works and feels healthy for your children. Don’t let the media (or even me) make you feel bad for what works for your family.