Whether you are an expecting parent, have infants or toddlers, or have kids who are school-aged, this question has or will surely come up in your life. We live in an incredibly technologically-advanced world, and there is just no escaping the fact that screens exist and kids are drawn to them.
So, do we fight this natural urge kids have to explore new things and adapt to the society they are being raised in?
Or do we allow them to be immersed, much like we adults have, into the digital culture that is all around them?
Before I dive too much into this, I'd like to point out that my only advice on this subject comes from personal experience and some online reading I've done. I like to think of myself as an intelligent and objective person, but in the end, I'm no doctor or researcher - just a Mom who has faced this struggle time and time again. So please read on keeping this in mind.
Like many things in my life, in order to sort out whether I should allow something to happen or not, I create a pros and cons list. So here's what I've come up with for pros and cons of screen time for kids:
Now for those of you parents who loathe the idea of giving your kids devices or screen time of any kind, I promise I am going to appeal to you, too. I'm not oblivious to the harm screen time can cause. So keep reading to see the potential cons of screen time, because they certainly do exist.
So, what is a parent to do?
Do the benefits outweigh the costs? In my opinion, they do - but only slightly. So my best advice here is to allow screen time, but follow the guidelines below to make sure that it is only helpful and doesn't become a negative influence in your child's life:
Be in control of what your kid can view: We downloaded the YouTube kids app for our iPad, which purports that it only has kid-friendly and kid-safe content. However, there are some videos my daughter finds her way to that I simply won't allow her to watch. Like videos of candy being taken away from babies to make them cry and ones that are in a foreign language (because she hasn't even mastered English yet). So the only way to combat this is to be within earshot of what she is viewing and be vigilant about making sure it's quality content.
My mom also purchased a Kindle Fire for her, and this actually allows you to have a separate portal that is just for kids and literally only plays what you put on there. We downloaded a few Caillou, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood games and episodes, as well as some sing-a-longs. She can't get into anything else and that gives me a lot of peace of mind.
Moral of the story, though, don't just give your kid the device and let them go do what they want. Be near enough to control what they are viewing and evaluate everything based on your own beliefs and standards.
Moderation, moderation, moderation: Whether it's setting a timer or just keeping an eye on the clock, we have to limit our kids to a reasonable amount of time using screens. There is just so much more to do in a day than what a screen can offer!
My daughter uses one of her handheld screens (iPad, Fire, or sometimes my phone) roughly 1-2 hours a day, broken up throughout the day. That might sounds like a lot, and I could probably do a better job moderating that time, but that's where we are at right now. She also watches probably one movie on our TV a day. We try to mix in other things like building blocks, painting, swimming, walks, play-kitchen, and other hands-on activities to break up the screen time.
Simply being conscious of how long your kid has been doing a certain activity on a device is just another way of combating the addiction that can develop as well as letting your kid know that limits have been set.
Set a good example: Kids learn a lot from watching others, so it makes sense that their screen habits stem a lot from what they see us do. If everyone is on their phones at dinner, it makes sense that your little one would want something in front of them as well. If you are using your laptop and they come into the room, it makes sense that they might ask for your phone or an iPad because, well, monkey see, monkey do.
If we want our children to be social, do hands-on activities, and find value in things not on a screen, we have to set this example for them. We have to show them what moderation looks like and when it is appropriate/not appropriate to be on a device.
Kids wants to make their parents happy and proud, and sometimes that results in them imitating us (the sincerest form of flattery, right?). So when it comes to screen time, practice methods you want to be mimicked and avoid ones that you don't (at least in front of your child).
Be a part of the activity: A great way to control what they are watching and how often/long they watch it is be right there with them. This gives you a birds-eye view and allows you to quickly change it if something seems inappropriate or not beneficial.
The other benefit to being a part of the activity is that your kid then associates screen time with one-on-one time with their parent. It allows interaction between the two of you and the screen. It also shows them that you simply care.
When we flip on a movie for our daughter, it would be so easy to just plop her on the couch and go do adult stuff, but some of my favorite times are when we're watching Moana and she lays down on my legs or cuddles in my lap. A screen is what brought us together, but that kind of bonding will last even after the movie is over.
Go with your gut: This is really my most sincere advice - if it feels wrong to see your kid on your phone or watching TV, then don't do it! You are the parent and you know what is best for your kid.
There are times when my daughter asks to play on the iPad or watch a show on the Fire, and it just doesn't feel right. Maybe it's a day where we've been inside for a long time, or she's just finished a movie or listening to music. When I feel this way, I try to find an alternative that will still keep her happy (after her initial tantrum over me saying 'no') and is a good use of her time. This usually involves me getting down on the ground and playing with her, which is never a terrible idea.
Other times, I know it's been a while since she has used a device or it's been a busy day out shopping or at the pool, so I am totally okay with letting her veg on the couch and watch some sing-a-longs. It's all about balance and trusting your parental instincts - they are there for a reason!
This quote is so incredibly accurate, and the screen time debate is just another reason why our role as parents is so vital. These are the tough questions we have to ask ourselves, and sometimes the answers aren't so easy to find.
I hope that in some small way, my thoughts on this subject here in this post have made this whole screen time debacle a little more clear for you, whichever way you choose to go. At the end of the day, making an informed decision is your right as a parent and I respect the heck out of each one of you for taking on that task - it's not easy but it is so worth it for our kids!
Do you have a screen time policy in place in your family? What does it look like, and how well does it function for you? Please share the wealth in the comments below!