Maybe Electronics Aren’t the Problem. Maybe Demonizing Them Is.

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“Decrease your screen time!”

“Have a screen-free summer with us!” 

“Say no to video games!” 

“Limit your kid’s screen time to x amount of minutes a day!” 

Do these headlines sound familiar? There is so much propaganda out there against screen time for kids, we as teachers and parents are constantly being told (ironically through media) that we are doing our kids a disservice by allowing them screen time, in any fashion. 

I do agree that spending our days glued to screens and media is not healthy. 

But maybe demonizing screen time is just as unhealthy. 

Putting screens on a pedestal and telling our students, “You can play educational games on your laptops after you’ve done 20 minutes of reading.” 

Or telling our kids, “You cannot watch TV until you finish your homework!” 

Statements like these inadvertently tell our kids, “Reading and homework aren’t fun, so you have to do those first before you can have something fun, like a movie or computer game.” It’s putting screens on a different, higher level and telling kids that they are inaccessible unless all hoops have been jumped through. 

We (try) to reframe screen time in our house by wording it like this, (and I say try because we’re still working on it and doing our best!) 

“Today in class we are doing 20 minutes of reading and 20 minutes of educational computer games. You can choose which you do first, but everyone needs to do both. I will set a timer for 20 minutes, you can choose to pull out a book or your laptop, but once the 20 minutes is over everyone will switch to the opposite task.” 

“This evening we have to finish up some homework and we have some time for a TV show. Do you want to watch one episode first, or do your homework first?” 

It’s not perfect. And it’s not going to work 100% of the time in every single situation. But our world has come to the point where the usage of screens is essential to daily life, and the usage of screens is only going up. The kids in schools right now will be using more screens and media in their jobs than we can even imagine, so allowing them the time to *safely* and *properly* use screens and make them a normal part of our day instead of demonizing them and making them seem higher and better than anything else will only serve them in the long run. 

More articles about this topic that may be helpful: 

The Addition of Video Games To Our Household

When my oldest was born five years ago, I noticed a shift in how parents view screen time. Maybe it somewhat had to do with the fact that I had just entered the parenthood world, but since I had spent the previous four years very immersed in the school system as well as nannying for a local family, I felt like I somewhat had an idea of the screentime trends. 

I think what I was observing was 5-10 years ago parents started realizing the long-term effects of screens, smart devices, and video games were having on kids. I kept seeing movement after movement of, “screen-free summer!” and “let’s spend 10,000 hours outside instead of on our devices!” 

Which are not bad things to do! Spending time outside is a great investment. But where I find the fault is that we are blaming screens. 

I grew up in the 90s and we spent plenty of time playing video games and watching tv shows. We also spent plenty of time running the streets of our neighborhood until the street lights came on. That actually wasn’t a rule for us, but it felt very similar to how I grew up and fitting for the given situation. 

Looking back, maybe parents of the 90s would beg to differ, but I think we had a perfect balance back then. We were pirates and explorers by day, and Mario Kart racers by night when it was too dark or cold to be outside. The screens were not the problem! 

However, over time the use of screens changed and adapted and been used (and abused) more and more. So when my oldest was born, I felt such shame for using any amount of screens in her life. So much to the point that when we were visiting a restaurant one evening, their menu boards were big TVs, and as an 18-month-old she wouldn’t stop staring at them. I felt like a horrible mom for allowing her to do this. She wasn’t supposed to have any screen time! 

Looking back, I realize how ridiculous my thinking was. But with all of the propaganda out on social media (ironic, isn’t it??), I was sure any time spent in front of any screen for my child was certainly melting her brain. 

Over the years we tried many different approaches to screen time. My favorite was physically putting the remote in my child’s hand. I think the biggest downfall with this, though, was that there wasn’t a countdown or physical timer she could see that would indicate how much screen time she had left for the day, so she wasn’t able to properly time manage her TV access, which led to frustration. However, giving myself a break and allowing screen time in our home was a good thing overall for us. 

Around the time my oldest turned 5, the idea of video games popped up. My initial thoughts were, “No. Absolutely not. We don’t need those in our house.” But then I was introduced to an Instagram account that changed my thinking. 

@TheGamerEducator is changing the way we think and look at screen time and video games. She has shown facts and research on why video games are good for kids! She also promotes scheduled screen time and points out why kids are asking for screen time in places like Disneyland or the zoo, and why we don’t need to be upset about it. 

It gave me the right push to add simple video games into our home. And believe it or not, it did not cause instant tantrums or overstimulation. In fact, it caused A LOT of problem-solving skills to be utilized. It caused great fine-motor development. It gave my kids the opportunity to use their brains to move a joystick to control an object on the TV, something they’ve never had to do before, but something that takes a good amount of brain power in the beginning to use. 

And in the end, my kids are still spending the majority of their days outside running the streets and inside playing board games and toy trains. But they also have some fun, scheduled screen time as well, and it’s been amazing for our household. 

The amount of education kids can pick up from video games is incredible. However, please be wary and not buy into “this is an educational game.” If you want more information on what makes something an educational game or show, I would strongly suggest diving deep into @TheGamerEducators resources she has available because she can give you more information on it than I ever could! 

So let’s stop giving screens and video games a bad wrap. They’re doing so much more for us and our children than we even realize!

Are you a video game family? What does screen time look like for you?

Putting The Remote In My Child’s Hands: More Thoughts On Self-Reg

It was 4 pm and the TV in our basement was blaring. Almost in a daze as I made dinner, I tried to calculate how many hours of screen time my daughter had for that day. 

“The entire movie of Frozen, plus four episodes of Mickey Mouse Club House. Or was it five episodes? Maybe this was episode six for the day…?” Regardless, I don’t know if the TV had ever actually been shut off, and for that, I was ashamed. I always thought I would be better at regulating screen time with my kids, but right then, I needed to make dinner, and keeping the TV on was the only way it was going to happen. 

Now repeat this same situation for a week. Something needed to change, and soon. 

I threw around the idea of TV time tokens with chores and such, but it felt like so much work that I wouldn’t actually follow through with it, and to get my husband on board seemed impossible. Simply saying “one episode and one movie a day” as we had in the past didn’t feel like it would work either, because here we were at this point, needing a new solution. 

One day, I finally found our core problem. Who was addicted to the constant noise of the television? It wasn’t my daughter, even though she was the one watching it. It finally clicked in my brain that it was me who was addicted to screen time, not her. I was the one not wanting to take time to manage it and tell her no. It was easier for me to just tell her yes to Mickey Mouse and not deal with the fight of saying no, or the boredom that would follow if I didn’t allow it. She kept asking for shows because I kept letting her watch them. I needed to change. 

Again, more and more brainstorming on the best way to manage the screens in our household ran through my mind before I found a solution. It needed to be easy and convenient because if it was too much work for myself, I knew I would cave. 

It was about another week later when the solution hit me. 

Let her manage her TV time by herself. Bam. It was that easy. With the proper settings in place, why couldn’t she? Why did I need one more thing to worry about as a mom? 

Here’s what I did. (Please keep in mind, none of this is sponsored, it’s just what I chose to do/use). 

We have an Amazon smart TV, which comes with a kid’s FreeTime app. On this app, I am able to set which TV apps my daughter has access to and how much screentime she is allowed. We gave her access to Disney+, PBS, and Netflix kids account. Considering that we were at 5+ hours of TV time a day, we set the time limit for 3 hours a day to see where that would get us. 

Then came the time to teach her how to use the TV on her own. I spent time showing her the power button and how to use the navigation to move around to which app she wanted. I taught her how to specifically get into the FreeTime app and then navigate from there. And I explained how she only had so much time to watch her shows. Once the time was up, that’s all she had for the day, and would have to find something else to do.

One week of this in place and we never even hit the 3-hour time limit. I moved it down to 2 hours and occasionally she would hit her time limit. If she ever did, she would be sad for a minute, turn off the TV, and then find another way to occupy her time. We are now at a 1-hour 25-minute time limit for a day and it seems to be just the right amount of screentime for us. 

In a matter of weeks, we went from 5+ hours of my daughter in front of the TV, to 1 hour, 25 minutes. If that. And the biggest contributing factor was that it wasn’t me micromanaging it, it was me placing the responsibility of the TV in her hands, with a little help to stay in the correct apps and managing the time. 

Here are a few reasons why I think it worked so well. 

  1. Just knowing there was a time limit helped all of us remember not to just turn it on anytime we wanted. Everyone was more mindful about when to use the TV. Especially myself, when I knew that the TV running while I made dinner was my biggest saving grace, I needed to use it as a tool at this time, so I didn’t want her time limit running out before 5 pm. 
  2. We were lucky enough to have the ability to use the Amazon FreeTime app, which came with all of the settings we needed. Once she was in the app, she couldn’t get out without the parent password.
  3. We didn’t use her time limit on family movie nights. If it was a movie we turned on for all of us to enjoy together, that time was on us. 
  4. The fact that we trusted our daughter with the TV remote and gave her the responsibility of regulating it for herself made all the difference to her. She hesitated to complain about her screentime coming to an end because she was grateful we let her run the TV herself. 
  5. We also set time limits that she could not watch shows before 8 am or after 8 pm.
  6. At one point she figured out she could watch TV longer if she didn’t get into the FreeTime app. After a firm talk with her about why that wasn’t okay and that she needed to only use the FreeTime app, we haven’t had any problems since. 

We’ve been using this method for over two months now and it still seems to be working great. My favorite part is that once screentime is over, she silently resigns the remote to its designated spot on the shelf and quickly finds her way to the toy shelf to find a new way to occupy her time. There’s no screaming, no fighting, no trouble!

She has less TV time, I am not constantly trying to keep track of how long the screens are on or changing from show to show for her all day. The TV remote is in her hands, it’s her responsibility, and we all win! 

Just another great example of self-reg and why teaching children how to be independent can be helpful to everyone involved.