Maria and I try our best to be intentional parents. We think about what we do and why we do it. We don't always get it right, and there are a few places I feel we need to improve. But one place I feel we got it right is in the area of screen time.
We limit screen time more than most parents. By screen time I mean TV/Netflix, movies, Wii, non-game computer usage, games on computer, games on mobile devices. Our kids have screen time on the weekends, and even then it is limited to only a few hours. In addition, we consider just looking at a screen to be screen time for our child - in other words if Jack wants to play Wii, he should not waste a lot of his time just watching Lex play because that counts!
Before I list some of the reasons and benefits of doing this, I'll also state some of the exceptions. When a kid is at home sick or when one or more of the kids get to go out to do something special, the remaining kids usually get screen time (which usually falls on the weekends anyway). The kids all know it works this way and we're happy to let them veg on the couch while nursing a flu. The other exception is if they are with friends - but even then screen time will only be a portion of their play time.
So, here are the reasons we have limited screen time, and why you should consider doing so as well:
- We see changes in behavior if our children get too much screen time, and I see it in other kids too. They often become more whiny and complain more. And a phrase that seems to become a favorite in kids with too much screen time is “this is boring.” I HATE when kids say that.
- There is only so much time in a day (especially school days!). If your children are spending hours on a screen, that is hours NOT doing something else. If you had to choose - wouldn't you rather they be playing outside, playing sports, doing a puzzle, reading, etc.? There's no better way to stifle kids creativity than too much screen time.
- Children are losing the ability to entertain themselves, and are instead continually seeking to be entertained. Don't let that happen to your kids! It is a joy to see that my oldest son Lex (the artsy one) grabs his drawing book or his notebook with the stories he's writing, instead of reaching for a mobile game device. But I know without a doubt that if there was no restriction, he'd be playing video games before and after school.
- We have gotten to the point in society when we choose screens (games, social media, etc.) over live people around us. I want to teach my kids to value and interact with those around them. I heard a story of what is now a common scenario: a pre-teen or young teen girl's mom bowed to the pressure to get her daughter a smart phone so that she could fit In with her friends who are always on their phones texting others. What a shame that kids can’t just enjoy the friends that are around them!
- Many kids are lacking in the ability to carry on sustained conversations with their peers or older people. I'm proud that my kids can carry a conversation. This social awkwardness can be exacerbated by screen time and is not going to help our kids in the future.
- Unrestricted computer and smartphone access can be particularly harmful. There is so much garbage on the net and chances are lots of your children's online friends will share lots of crap with your kids that they think is "funny."
- Unrestricted smartphone and tablet access has resulted in children (and adults!) having addiction-type behavior. They can't seem to function without regular access to it.
- Because of how we limit screen time, it feels more like a treat for our kids rather than the norm. This means that it can be used as reward and actually feel special.
- Because we limit the screen, it often becomes entertainment we engage in together. We have family movie night and it actually feels special, we enjoy certain shows together (Cosby show is a favorite) and even video games become something often done together.
- We're fairly strict when it comes to tv and movie content - probably more than most. But I figure that as they grow up and have more freedom, they'll often be choosing those types of movies anyways. Restricting violent movies does not fall under the definition of depriving your children.
- Aim at making memories with and for your children. While I have a few good memories involving games or movies from my childhood, it was always because of the people I was with, not the content of the game/movie. Aim at making memories.
I want to stress that we're not anti-screen - there are good things they can learn from videos and games. But make-belief play and outdoor play is always better. Some may think we're too restrictive. Whatever you decide about screen time, be intentional and stick to the plan. We talk openly with our kids and they understand the reasons, and they have begun to own the reasons for themselves. They can articulate why we do this as a family.
You may come to a totally different decision than we did - but as parents it is a decision you need to make for your family.