It’s been a little over a month since I was on a business trip and read this blog post about unlimited screen time while waiting at the airport. As a parent, I’ve read articles like this one which cite the extensive body of evidence that screen time isn’t good for kids. I’ve also read articles like this one which attempt to counter the conventional wisdom with the realities of life and parenting in a modern world. I’ve attended conferences sponsored by groups like EdSurge where I’ve seen firsthand the incredible educational possibilities that are now being unlocked by technology.
Without doubt, technology is a brave and complex new world filled with exciting possibilities and terrifying risks. There’s so much information swirling around that it’s difficult to know if the studies (like everything else) are lagging behind the technology, if (like all new and rapidly emerging phenomena) there are complexities that have yet to be teased out with adequate scientific rigor. Like many parents, I’m just trying to navigate and explore without getting myself or my kids lost, to listen to both my head and my heart and do what feels best. I wrestle daily with what’s appropriate, what’s feasible…what’s beneficial, what’s harmful. I know for sure that I get it wrong on some days and just hope that the right days outnumber the wrong.
Prior to reading the “unlimited screen time” blog post, me and mine had done our level best to be a “no more than 2 hours a day” family. While this seemed right based on the evidence, there were plenty of moments when I felt like I was spending way too much of my day monitoring minutes, explaining/arguing about/discussing our screen time policy. Since the hubs and I have staggered schedules and I’m on deck for the late shift, I would catch the brunt of the screen time angst. By the time I returned home from work in the late afternoon, the boys would often have burned through their screen time and–at the very time of the day when we were all exhausted and cranky and could use some veg out/cuddle on the couch time–screen time would be off the table as an option. I started to wonder what’s worse: (1) allowing my kids a little extra screen time or (2) arguing with my kids about screen time during the time of day when I am my least patient self.
Reading that blog post got me wondering if perhaps it might be possible to re-frame our approach to screen time so that instead of being a right that gets taken away, screen time could become a privilege that is earned for a hard day’s work. With this perspective in mind, the hubs and I sat down to make a list of all the things we want the boys doing instead of screen time. When the list was complete, we sat down to discuss and refine the list as a family. We explained that–as an experiment–we would be willing to try letting the boys have unlimited screen time if they would commit to finishing everything on the list BEFORE they booted anything up or turned anything on. We also stipulated that they would continue to be on the hook for “other duties as assigned” without complaint.
While this new approach to screen time hasn’t completely eliminated arguments or angst in our household, I am happy to report that rather than being filled with the soft glow of a cold screen, mornings are now filled with music and Legos, and comics…running, and bike rides and playing with pets. And in the afternoons..time spent cuddling on the couch far exceeds time spent arguing and monitoring. While Chris and I still struggle daily with so many little parenting decisions, I think it’s safe to say that this particular parenting experiment seems to be going well. For now, the evidence in our house supports this new approach.