A missed point in the debate about screen time and kids

by ParentCo. April 06, 2015

Glowing rectangles can't replace tactile experiences, but kids can still use them to learn, create and explore their curiosity. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "today’s child lives in an environment with an average of 4 TVs, nearly 3 DVD players or VCRs, 1 DVR, 2 CD players, 2 radios, 2 video game consoles, and 2 computers." That’s a lot of media. In our house, we operate without any hard and fast rules about screen time. The TV isn’t on during the day, or ever used as background noise. The kids can watch something during the morning rush, as long as they've completed everything they need to do before we head out the door. Most Friday nights we watch a movie together. The video game consoles can go weeks without being touched, but then nearly reach combustion temperature during a rainy-day playdate. Rationing computer time becomes a bit trickier. My son discovered Minecraft a couple years ago, along with the rest of his elementary school class. He talked about it ad nauseum. I’d nod as though I had any idea what he was saying until I could no longer feign interest. At that point I’d just pretend I was having a stroke until he changed the subject. (I’m an experienced mom. Not a parenting expert. There's a difference.) But as little as I understood about the pixelated worlds he was creating, I knew he was doing just that: creating. Surely this was different than spending the same amount of time parked like a sloth in front The Regular Show or something equally useless. (Make no mistakes, as a woman who can quote full episodes of Friends, and considered pretending she was sick to watch Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt straight through, I'm not jumping on a soapbox.) And while the AAP still sets recommendations of no more than 2 hours per day for children and adolescents (zero for kids under 2), the evolution of technology may require a restructuring of these guidelines. With that understanding, I’ve changed my approach. There are two different kinds of screen time that I consider. Creation and Consumption Overall, it’s required a reconciliation that technology and screens are not just a distraction, but also, amazing tools used to educate and provide information. We would never chastise the child or parent who upon being asked a question, pulled a heavy encyclopedia from the shelf to find the answer. This is the new method of research. Lessons in the dewy decimal system have been replaced with how to find reliable resources on the internet. Using Youtube to learn guitar chords, or find inspiration for a science project comes with a more generous window than videos of cats pretending they’re dead when you dress them in costumes. (side note: HILARIOUS) My husband, who is a graphic designer has given my son a few lessons in Illustrator and Photoshop; time that was used no less creatively than time drawing together at the kitchen table. One particularly grueling snow day, I suggested he sit down and write a story. He protested until I offered to let him type it on the computer. Suddenly, instead of being the idiot who suggested school work on an otherwise sacred day, I was a hero. This novelty is sure to wear off, but for now, he still sits down and spins tales on occasion. We’ve composed terrible songs in Garageband one day, and recorded sessions of living room rock outs that sound like drunk Guns N’ Roses marching in a Mummers Parade the next. In these scenarios, the wheels keep turning. There’s engagement, and discourse. A completely different experience than when they’re in consumption mode. In consumption mode, you could throw a package of hot dogs at their heads, make full contact, and never get a reaction. And while I’m all about self regulation, witnessing that zombie state for too long makes me twitchy. I know that any time my kids are spending with a screen in front of their faces is time taken away from doing something else. Playing outside or having legit tactile experiences can’t be replicated by glowing rectangles. But there’s no reason to write off all the reading, art, and learning that they can facilitate simply because it’s not delivered in the same form we grew up with.



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