I’ve been thinking a lot lately about digital devices and children, especially as I have reflected on my own screen time. If you saw my post about Facebook, you know that I really had a Facebook addiction! I developed it rather quickly after I got divorced and moved to a new city, where I had no real social connections outside my home. I found myself scrolling Facebook, even though I would simultaneously say, “I really hate Facebook.” I’d close it out, put my phone down, feeling shittier for the time and information I gained from it, and be back on in an hour or two. It became so automatic that even if I didn’t want to go to Facebook, I’d find myself immediately clicking the app button out of habit. Finally, after several failed attempts, I deleted my account permanently and I have not missed it.
That humbling experience really got me thinking about screen time and children. How much is too much? How do we find the balance?
I recently did a poll on Instagram and was happy to hear from other mothers and their thoughts regarding this topic. I think it’s important that mothers discuss topics like this; that we discuss to understand and share rather than to judge. We’re all doing the best we can for the little people in our lives. My goal here is to open the door for healthy, love-filled discussion. Please keep that in mind as you read and if you choose to comment.
Most of the mothers mentioned having a limit on screen time and as you can see from the results above, a few didn’t allow them at all. I didn’t investigate further to find out the age of their children, or how much time they allowed their children each day.
How much time is too much?
How do we find the balance?
Is screen time really detrimental to child development?
My daughter as a tablet. We got it for her last year because our cell phone provider had a great deal and because we travel a lot, we thought it might be nice for her to have a tablet to occupy her on long road trips. Also, at five-years old, she was officially “school-age,” so I thought perhaps we could download fun learning games for her as well. “She can homeschool on the road!” I told my husband. (I’m full of good intentions)
This morphed into time spent on the couch, head down, back slouched, legs pulled up and eyeballs wide. When I told her it was time to put the tablet away, I was met with vehement opposition from her. Anytime we were leaving the house, she begged to take it with her. If I declined, she threw a fit. Upon waking, her first question was, can I play on my tablet?
I started seeing my old Facebook addiction…and I didn’t like that.
I began limiting her time on the tablet and even implemented no-tablet days, where first thing in the morning, I placed it on the refrigerator so it wasn’t even able to be seen. In the beginning, she literally seemed to have no idea what to do with herself. She’s not technically an only child, but her brothers are grown and no longer live at home and so she is the only child living at home. She has no siblings to play with. She usually has only me.
I’m not going to lie, I too, had difficulty. I know that probably sounds terrible, but it’s true. I found it difficult to provide her with some sort of entertainment so I could “get on with what I needed to do around the house.” It’s sad and I feel somewhat guilty, but I had this, “go play and leave me be” sort of mentality for a while. The poor child had no one but me and that was my attitude toward her. Not my proudest moment, for sure.
Of course parents need time alone or time to work individually, just like kids do, but I can assure you that my behavior at that time was not simply, “Let me finish this up and then of course I’ll play with you!” I really wish it had been that way, but I’d be lying.
Thankfully I’m pretty self-aware and it wasn’t long before I noticed what I was doing and the effect it could have on her in the long run. So, I began making the switch to asking her for help with things I was doing. She seemed very happy to jump in and can I just say, there’s nothing so cute as a little kid standing on a chair washing dishes! She also really loves to dust the house and takes a lot of pride in that being her “job.”
I don’t just use her off-screen time for child labor though, I swear!
She also spends more time outside exploring, playing with the cats and the dog. Mostly though, she creates. She is exceptionally artistic and that is her go-to. We work together on projects and paint side-by-side. She loves it and I love the quality time with her. I also play Barbies with her. I admit, while it used to be one of my most favorite things to do as a child, I don’t feel that same joy these days and when she asks me to play, I die a little inside. However, I love spending time with my daughter. I love playing along with her made-up stories.
Time together is the key.
A few things we’ve been up to the last couple of days.
How much is too much?
You may be wondering if your child is spending too much time on a device. As with most questions concerning children, there is no definite answer. There is no magic amount of screen time that universally creates balance in all children’s lives. It’s a matter of individuality. As parents, we have to be aware of our children’s behavior and we need to do what is best for our children.
Is your child happy?
Is your child actively engaged in real life, off-screen activities each day?
Does your child interact with her family well?
Is your child sleeping well?
If so, the amount of screen time may be just fine at this time in her life and you can evaluate more in the future.
On the other hand,
Is your child apathetic toward off-screen activities?
Is your child defensive when he cannot have screen time?
Has your child lost interest in activities other than her tablet?
Is she withdrawing from family and friends?
Is he not sleeping well?
If so, you may want to make some changes. You know your child best.
There is something to keep in mind, however. According to National Public Radio, limiting screen time may not affect your child’s ability to thrive at all. I think the key is that we plug in with our children. I don’t care if you’re playing video games with your child, or if you put the tablet away and you spend time reading or running through sprinklers together. The key is to spend time with them and not in an exasperated “Fine, I’ll play with you for a while.” (guilty) Play with them because you want to, because you love them, because they’re the coolest damn people you’ve ever met. Play with them like they’re going to grow up and move out and you’ll be hoping and praying for a phone call once in a while, because that very well may happen.
I have two grown sons, trust me on this…