Screen time was a challenge before the pandemic. Now? With a little bit of consideration, it doesn’t have to be so tough.
They’re going to ask. Sometimes it’s from the moment they wake up. My four-year-old will start imploring about when he can watch his shows from the first flutter of his eyelids, or my ten-year-old will already be tucked away in the basement on Minecraft before I even make it out of my bedroom. It’s going to be an issue — today, tomorrow, every day, but does it have to be a battle?
When my kids ask for “screen time” — my mental categorization of it, not their words — I can hear a chorus of voices from the back of my mind, and they are conflicted.
There are the stern words of the American Academy of Pediatrics playing like a voiceover from one of those bad 1950s PSAs about the dangers of too much exposure to the dreaded SCREEN TIME.
There are the somehow at-once supportive-but-also-judgmental voices of moms I’ve never actually met from Facebook groups aimed at giving kids freedom to make their own choices and follow their own interests.
There’s also my own voice — often exhausted, desperate for some quiet in a pandemic-fueled isolation that has stretched on months longer than I ever expected.
The thing is, they’re all (at least a little bit) right. There really are concerns over too much screen time. I’ve seen it — the glassy-eyed stare, the aggression that comes from having to switch gears, the lack of focus. At the same time, there really are great things happening during that screen time as well — the projects built, the friendships strengthened, the critical thinking skills developed. Finally, I really do need a break — whether it’s to finally vacuum the floors upstairs or to just sit and think my own thoughts for a few minutes.
Part of the problem was that I was lumping it all together in my head: screen time. Then I had to make a hard and fast decision. Can they have more screen time? Yes or no?
What’s really helped me cut down on the battles over this question is to reframe the “it.” The calculus might be a little more complex up front, but it feels a lot more productive.
- What is the INTENDED PURPOSE of the requested activity? Perhaps it is mindless entertainment, and we all need that now and then, don’t we? But often, the purpose is much deeper. To connect with a friend via Facetime when they can’t visit in person. To explore an interest.
- What are the HIDDEN BENEFITS of the requested activity? Sometimes, my kids’ purpose is mindless entertainment. Still, I also recognize that collaboratively building underground tunnels in Minecraft while debating the best path with friends is hitting on physics and communication skills. That’s what we call a win-win. We take those.
- How does the requested activity BALANCE with the rest of the day? Have my kids already been sedentary for three hours and really need to move their bodies, or did they spend the morning building forts and leaping through the air? Did we have a productive morning filled with getting schoolwork done, or is everyone a cranky mess, and nothing has gotten accomplished?
- What is the DURATION of the requested activity likely to be? Are we talking about a ten-minute YouTube video or a three-hour video game session? They say to choose your battles, you know.
Sure, that’s a little more work than simply asking myself if I want to say “yes” to screen time, but it helps me make the decision with a lot more purpose. It’s also important to me that any limits I put on my kids come with reasonable explanations. I’m not running a dictatorship. I recognize that, as the adult, I have a responsibility to put healthy parameters in place, but I also owe my kids a reasonable explanation about how I came to those conclusions, and these questions help me do that.
All-in-all, there are a lot less battles over “screen time” when I think about the request this way.