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Jen

Too Much Screen Time? Or Just More of the Right Kind?

Posted by Jen on February 17, 2010 at 7:00 AM in Media
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carter on DS final.jpg

Over the last 72 hours, Madeleine, age 11, has won first prize in a high end fashion show, successfully completed knee surgery, finished the rehab project on her new room, provided edgy commentary about issues surrounding Miley Cyrus's fame and celebrity and decided turnip farming really isn't her thing anymore.

Carter, age 8, has become a dodge ball champion and is now navigating a career change that could grant him the number one tether ball player in the known world. He's also navigated disagreements with three bosses, painstakingly followed the directions to making four new origami creatures, studied climate change and decided that he really doesn't want to go anywhere in a car anymore. Not because he's prone to extreme carsickness--don't get me wrong, Mom. I am sick of THAT--but because he just can't in good conscience get in cars the way the emissions are contributing to global warming.

None of these accomplishments happened in the real world, of course. No, they came while one or both children were sitting behind a computer screen, like thirty year old cubicle slaves, slogging through hours of gaming, learning and websites, on the quest to be the smartest most sophisticated children on earth. Or the biggest losers. You decide.

I know this is considered the pinnacle of bad parenting, that as a "good parent" I'm supposed to limit their screen time, monitor their online use--blah, blah, blah. And trust me, I follow advice from the best of them. (Just come over and bear witness to the 35 paper airplanes Carter engineered this weekend or watch them sled down Meryl's hill or listen to the song Madeleine wrote on the piano that sounds impressively like Sigur Ros.)

I'm just wondering if too much screen time is as worrisome a thing as the wrong kind.

Right now, I'll admit it. I really don't want them to get off "that thing" as I like to call it when they're doing hip replacements or studying Gray's anatomy. I honestly think they can have another thirty minutes when Carter is on Brain Pop reading explanation after explanation about global warming. Now granted, it's not always like this and God knows they are also taking in plenty of drivel. But there's something about the hard-charging, multi-tasking, decide-now-or-die, teach-me-now quality to the online/gaming world that I can't help but think will help them in the long run.

It's a secret opinion I've kept to myself for fear of being stoned by the other parents (think twice before casting the first stone), but then I saw this recent CNN video about gamer Jane McGonigal who's changing the world one game at a time. Those are grown-up boys and girls playing her games, but my guess is the only thing that's different between them and Madeleine and Carter is that there's no mother around to tell them to go outside and turn that thing off.

I'll still be saying that to my kids for the next eight years or so, but I hope that when I'm not around anymore they do something remarkable with their online savvy. I hope they win contests in the real world; I hope they beat some bosses. I hope they talk circles around my doctors when I need knee surgery. And I really hope they solve problems for worthy causes all their own.

6 Comments

Susan writes...

I could not agree with you more about this. What they do online matters. One of my son's favorite things is a program that lets him create his own computer games. He doesn't realize that he is building job skills in the process and that is JUST fine with me.

Eleanor writes...

I have to tell you that the whole "screen time" thing is one of those parenting things that I ignore. I have felt my share of guilt over it and, admittedly, my kids watch too much, play too much, zone out too much at times. I've tried to set limits in this arena but doing so always feels staged, like I'm trying to follow some sort of parenting script rather than my own parenting instincts based on what is best for my own child. That said, I am fully aware that one of my children needs more movement. When he plays on our Wii Fit for an hour, I'm certainly not going to call that "screen time" as if it was "useless" or wasted time. I think that is the important difference here. Are they using their time wisely? Is it okay to "relax" in front of the TV? If I said it isn't, then I'd certainly be a hypocrite because I relax that way. Also, I know many people who have the "must read the book before seeing the movie" rule and I tried this myself. Then I took my daughter to see Marley and Me (before she read the book!). As it turns out, seeing the movie made her very curious so she read the book to see what else happened in the story. So, do I have a point? Yes, our children are our own best guides. They do not come with rule books, but if we watch and listen to them, they will give clues that will help us immensely as we navigate the world of parenting.

Eleanor writes...

I have to tell you that the whole "screen time" thing is one of those parenting things that I ignore. I have felt my share of guilt over it and, admittedly, my kids watch too much, play too much, zone out too much at times. I've tried to set limits in this arena but doing so always feels staged, like I'm trying to follow some sort of parenting script rather than my own parenting instincts based on what is best for my own child. That said, I am fully aware that one of my children needs more movement. When he plays on our Wii Fit for an hour, I'm certainly not going to call that "screen time" as if it was "useless" or wasted time. I think that is the important difference here. Are they using their time wisely? Is it okay to "relax" in front of the TV? If I said it isn't, then I'd certainly be a hypocrite because I relax that way. Also, I know many people who have the "must read the book before seeing the movie" rule and I tried this myself. Then I took my daughter to see Marley and Me (before she read the book!). As it turns out, seeing the movie made her very curious so she read the book to see what else happened in the story. So, do I have a point? Yes, our children are our own best guides. They do not come with rule books, but if we watch and listen to them, they will give clues that will help us immensely as we navigate the world of parenting.

Michelle writes...

AMEN!!!

It's all about balance and quality in my home, not about quantity. There are days when, for the greater good (i.e. my mental health, or the entire family having to go naked because we've run out of clean clothes, etc) the tv stays on all.day.long.... Shock, horror - call the authorities! But, it is either tuned to Playhouse Disney (no ads, toddler-appropriate programming) or to a selection of dvds we have reviewed and are happy with.

There are also many, many more days that we spend outside chasing bugs, building sandcastles, gardening. Or indoors building complex train tracks with stations and passengers and fields and animals. Or at the library. Or visiting friends. Or dancing around the house like lunatics to our favourite tunes.

And the days that the tv is on for extended periods I usually find my 3 yr old self regulates - he'll watch for say 30 mins, then go play with his cars, then back to tv, then he'll read a book, then he'll come see what I'm doing and help out, then back to the tv. You get the picture. He knows that there are lots of options for him to amuse himself and the tv isn't this mysterious, desirable thing to stay glued to because it's normally contraband.

I refuse to feel guilty when I know my children are exposed to lots of things, even if sometimes that is 6 straight episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse!

Jack writes...

Our society is fragmented already. It's not only because there are more rats in the maze.

Should our children spend time not only with parents but also with their contemporaries?


Is it enough for them to spend time in a virtual world that seems to be increasingly regarded as a real world?


Should we make our world better for our children or our children better for our world?


Which choice will give us a Brave New World?

Sara writes...

I sat and nodded politely to my pediatrician who told me about the evils of television and how I should never let my two year old daughter watch it - EVER! This, after praising her verbal skills. I wish I could take credit for her awesome vocabulary, but I simply can't. She picks up a lot from television. The wonderful shows on PBS and other networks have fueled her learning and her imagination. She asks to play the games on the computer and is getting very good at them. I'm really glad that I listened to my instincts and ignored what the experts had to say.

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