Screen Time

There is a ton of research out there right now about limiting screen time for our kids – both TV and tablets or phones. I’ve given my general thoughts before in several posts about various other topics, but thought I would dig a little deeper here.

I have shared this article before, and I think it is a really good starting point for a discussion about our kids and phone/iPad/TV usage – the idea that the scions of Silicon Valley are very much limiting their kids’ exposure to any and all devices. To the point that they video the nanny and may fire him/her if he/she even brings their phone out in front of the kids!

We all have to find the balance between working and play or life – this is the same for our kids and screen time! (photo by from Canva)

I think this action is a little on the extreme side. The reality is that our kids are exposed to devices. Watching a cartoon/movie/show or being able to play educational and/or fun games is not necessarily a bad thing! The key is finding the right balance and making sure that they are not sitting in front of the screen all the time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ most recent recommendations from earlier this year are that children under age 2 should not be exposed to any sort of TV or media, and kids aged 2-5 should have less than an hour per day. I think these are pretty good goals – I haven’t always followed them, but that is why they are guidelines, right?

We live in a connected world. The availability of all manner of devices is certainly more now than it was when I was growing up. I got my first cell phone in college – a cute little Nokia – and some days I miss that phone. It had no email, although I could text. I don’t remember if it had a web browser – if it did, I didn’t use it.

What would we do without Google??

I graduated college without the aid of Google. I loved going to the library to research papers – I still love the library and am happy to serve on our local library’s Board of Directors. Some things never change!

But technology has grown by leaps and bounds, and our kids are growing up in a world that puts a lot of pressure on them to always be connected. I held out on getting our oldest daughter her first phone until she was almost 12, which was my goal. A few months before her birthday, she started playing on a travel volleyball team and I decided I wanted her to have a way to reach me directly. I bought her a basic flip phone with a slide out keyboard – and she was furious! Remember, a phone in the hands of our kids is a tool for us to be able to reach them and vice versa. It is not a right, and it doesn’t have to be a smart phone right away!

My kids do have their own devices. Each of my younger kids has/had a LeapPad (our oldest had the earlier version – a Leapster). I think they are great! The newer ones do have WiFi, in order to download games, and the capability to connect to one another, but you don’t have to set it all up. All of the games are educational, and there are also learning to read programs, art/drawing apps, and videos. My kids also each have/had an old iPhone of ours that is not connected to cellular, and therefore is more functional as a defacto iPod – it has the games that they like to play on our phones, and I keep them updated on software and occasionally buy new games, but for the most part keep them all in airplane mode.

Photo by Drew Rae on Canva

I do not allow my kids to search for videos on YouTube, and I’m pretty strict about internet usage. Our oldest has more leeway than the younger two, and has run into some bumps along the way with social media this summer, but for the most part I trust her and she is growing into a responsible adult. That said, being a teenager today is hard. The peer pressure to make sure you’re in the know about the latest happenings is strong, and the apps out there are hard to figure out and navigate. I’ll delve into that more in a future post – for now, I’ll just say that we managed to prevent her from using social media until high school, and have tried to teach her to be smart and aware of the dangers out there.

I recently received an article about the pressures on teenagers today, and the statistics about teenage girls especially becoming isolated because of social media is disturbing. All of us, as parents of teenagers, are trying to figure out the best ways to keep our kids safe online. Our challenge is to allow them the freedom to have a little more ownership of their lives, but try to impress upon them the importance of being careful and that with that freedom comes a certain responsibility. We have to teach our kids that anything they post online will follow them always. It is a hard lesson to learn, and I don’t envy our kids! We do the best we can, and try to teach our children as much as we can…and sometimes, the hardest lessons come from the mistakes we all make.

Social media can be fun, but also very hard to navigate for our kids!

In general, I try to keep screen time to under 2 hours/day or less for my kids. We have different rules in the summer and during school, and sometimes I’ll let them have a day of just watching movies and hanging out. Other weeks, we may go several days without even pulling out a device or turning on the TV.

When we are traveling, all bets are off. I switch them off between the iPad/iPod and other things – coloring, reading, or taking a nap – but the tablets and devices serve a function and I don’t think it’s bad to take advantage when you’re cooped up in small spaces or have to stay put on an airplane for hours.

The thing about vacations or travel is that after letting the kids use devices on the plane, they usually don’t get them again until the return airplane ride!

Another venue that tablets and devices are handy? Sports practices/games for siblings. If we are at a home game at the local high school, my kids are more likely to go play with their friends who are also there, or our youngest likes to sit with friends and color during games. We live in a small town, and I know that everyone around us is watching out for my kids. At away games, I pull out the devices if they are getting bored sitting there watching. We also have several handy dry-erase books for them to draw, trace and color in, and I always keep crayons and pens in my purse with a notebook for them to use as well. But, at the end of the day, I have no problem letting them use devices to keep busy when we are at an event for hours. 

If you are looking for a regular tablet for your kids, I highly recommend an iPad. In my opinion, Apple does the best job of giving parents the tools needed to allow our kids to use devices and still have control over the content, security, purchases, and usage. We have a couple of Amazon Kindle Fire tablets here, and honestly my kids don’t like them and we never use them. The Kindle FreeTime app is clunky, and forces kids to be connected to WiFi all the time, or deletes the movies/content from their view, even after I have authorized it for them. And outside of the FreeTime app, the kids have full access to your entire Amazon account, including all purchased content (movies, books, etc.), with no restrictions.

I have an iPad mini that I allow my kids to use, and have protected with a bounce-proof case. My kids know that it is not theirs, it is mine, and I make them share it – you can buy a very handy splitter for them to each use their own headphones on Amazon for less than $10 – and watch the same movie together or take turns when we are traveling.

We also make our kids play. Play is learning! Sharing, running around, playing outside – all of these things are vital to growing up and keeping balance. Beyond just playing, we encourage our kids to be in sports. Being part of a team keeps them connected to other kids, keeps them active, and gives them an outlet for all of that energy!

Play!!! Photo by Markus Spiske

Bottom line – I allow my kids to have screen time. I try to monitor it as much as I can, I give them limits, and I keep track of what they are watching/playing. We aren’t a big video game family, but we do have a Wii, and I love that the games keep the kids moving and active while they play.

Screen time by itself is not all bad. As with all things, it is our job as parents to keep track of what our kids are doing and give them boundaries. If my kids choose to watch morning cartoons when they are home for a day, they don’t get to watch a movie or play on devices later in the day. If they’ve hit the limit on the iPad while traveling, we pull out the coloring books.

It’s all about balance and making sure that your kids are staying active – and developing their imagination with other play! Most days, my kids are pretty good about putting the devices away. If they throw a fit about TV or fight over the iPad, they lose it all and go into time out, or I make them go play together or separately.

As with all things, there is no one size fits all approach to screen time – every family has to find the right balance for themselves.

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