Tech Time/ How much is too much?
"Enjoy media, not too much, mostly together" - Anya Kamenetz (author of The Art of Screen Time)
Tech Time/ How much is too much?
In this ever changing world, the topic of how much screen time we should allow our children is one that affects most of us.
I am not alone in thinking that most kids have too much screen time and tend to be overscheduled in general. They need time to just be kids and have some free play. When a child is in front of a screen, they are not talking, running around, or playing. These activities are essential for cultivating some basic skills. While I understand that a bit of the peace and quiet we might get from the ‘electronic babysitter’ (for the purpose of this post I am referring to screen time as anything computer, tv or video related) is so tempting, I want kids outside when possible, not inside glued to a screen. I want my patients to know what it feels like to turn the pages of a real book, not just to swipe their fingers across an iPad. I want them to know how to get messy with finger paints, not just how to create virtual art. I want them to interact with friends in person, not with avatars online.
However, as much as we may be tempted to wrap the Luddite cloak around our households, is that really fair to our kids? Those who try to ignore all the technology may be at a disadvantage.
While they live under your roof, you are in charge of how much screen time your child gets.
I think that there is absolute value in getting some. It is a wonderful thing to be able to facetime with long distance friends and relatives. The instant gratification and ease of real time virtual visits is a game changer in the relationships that grandparents can now establish even when they are not local. It certainly beats our old method of sending VHS tapes in the mail. (I just rescued a box of those from my mom’s house. It is time to get those digitized!)
Technology also offers a vast array of education and entertainment. We can learn so much from computers. The games are fun. Television has some nice programs; Daniel Tiger is my favorite. Getting time while you get something else done and your child is happily engaged is essential for some busy parents. How many of you have been in the position when you want to strangle your partner because they voiced the "no computer or videos for you ALL week!" as a consequence for some errant behavior. Some of you need that down time more than the kids!
The key is figuring out how much is too much.
You might be surprised that some high tech names limit the amount that their kids were allowed. Several years ago when I ran a post about this topic, I opened with an article about Steve Jobs that ran in the NY Times:
He was onto something. There are more and more studies coming out that are a bit alarming. Some of these studies indicate that there are actual changes in the brain of young kids who are spending too much screen time:
Other studies are worrying about potential eye damage from too much time in front of a screen. Researchers are finding the exposure to the blue light prior to bedtime might impact sleep. We probably won’t really have firm data for many years, but common sense would come into play here. Unlimited time in front of a screen is not a good thing.
Dabney Ingram, who used to be a NVP mom but has since moved out of SF, let me know about this worthy organization that she is involved with:https://www.screensense.org
ScreenSense is a great resource for any family grappling with this issue.
While we can all agree that too much is a problem, having a no tv/no computer environment is not something that I recommend either. When your child emerges from that protective bubble of a screen free existence, they may feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland. Back in the "olden days" when my kids were young, our screen was simply the TV. They had friends come for play dates who were not allowed any television at home. If I allowed it, the only thing those kids wanted to do was watch tv because it was such a treat for them. I give the same advise with candy. If it is forbidden completely, there are some kids that will seek it out as a treasure. So both tech time and dessert have some commonalities..They are enjoyable but too much is not healthy and we can’t forget about the main course.
My goal is for your child to have a healthy relationship with technology. Learning how to use it at a young age will keep them on the level playing field with others.
Not all tech time is equal.
There is a lot of research going on that describes the different pathways in the brain when you are producing something or learning while using tech versus simply playing or gaming. Andrea Dunn, a teacher up in Marin, sent me a list of some cool free activities that would fall under the "productive use" label.
Each family should discuss what their tech usage plan will be. Some families will allow more than others. Your own family should be the only one to make rules that make sense to you, but please, set some sensible limits.
Dabney makes a good point. A family movie, with everyone snuggled together on the couch does not need to count towards the screen quota.
Don't sabotage each other. If you have a partner, figure out the rules that you both feel comfortable with. Be consistent. If your kids figure out that the rules are meaningless, you have significantly weakened your credibility.
At my solid foods class when I discuss "safe eating" I tell parents that they need to set a good example. If you shovel food in your mouth and talk with your mouth full, why would your child learn to eat any other way? Put in a small piece of food, chew and swallow. Set the standard.
When it comes to being a role model, technology is no different. I am no hero here, I have reached an embarrassingly high level on the time suck of a game Candy Crush. If you are always looking at a screen, if your forms of relaxation are all technology related, consider making some small changes.
Extra screen time (still with limits) can be a commodity that can be earned for good behavior. But because I don't want it elevated to the most important thing in their lives, I would rather make the rewards that they work towards be special non-tech activities with you.
Let kids enjoy their allotment of tech time, but focus on opportunities where they can have just as much fun reading a book, or doing other things that don't have a screen involved. There are so many options:
Board games are a wonderful way for a family to spend memorable hours together. I rescued a tattered box of the game RACKO back from my house-cleaning escapade last month in Pittsburgh, and brought it home. I have such warm memories of playing that with my dad and sisters. Marie Kondo would approve. It gives me joy.
If you are going to a restaurant, create a restaurant activity kit to take with you so that you are not all sitting on your phones. Or have some restaurant games at the ready.
Make sure you put some child control limits on your device.
There are lots of apps out there, with more being developed all the time. Some can help you make sure that all the sites that your child can access are safe and appropriate, others can help you limit the time allowed.
As your child gets older, it becomes much trickier. It is reasonable for rules to be renegotiated with each age. When to get your child a cell phone is another layer to this discussion. A limited phone plan has tremendous benefit to you, but I emphasize the word limited. Starting younger kids with a basic phone that is not a smartphone is an option for those afraid of going down the slippery slope while still being able to reach each other throughout the day.
Have your child be part of the discussion and verbalize understanding of the family rules. Until they are a certain age, many experts agree that all computing should be done in a common room. Be clear from the start (if it isn’t too late) that while you are providing them with the digital tool and data plan, you have the right to go on to all accounts and check their texts if you have concerns that make that warranted. Changes in mood or behavior, as well as sudden ‘tanking’ grades would be reasons for checking. It is not breaking trust if you make it clear from the beginning that it is not just your option, but your job as the parent. This is also a time to remind them of another important lesson, that nothing that they put online is actually private. As Dabney suggested, “If they want privacy, they can write in an old fashion journal."