To be clear, we are far from an electronic-free household. My husband’s field of work is cinematography (filming, editing, producing, etc.) and graphic design. All of that takes a lot of technology. I blog. That takes technology. My other jobs have been in education and ministry, but have all also required more or less technology. So there’s always been plenty of electronics around our home.
Nevertheless, we try to limit screen time. Even for my husband and I, we set limits. Yes, we need to regularly use technology, but we work hard to make our personal relationships the first priority, and make sure we connect as a family in “real life ways”, even if it means putting things we really want to get done on the back burner once in a while because we don’t have enough time for everything.
Our kids are young (3 ½ and 2 ½). Some people might say that’s too young for kids to have screen time at all. We haven’t completely banned screen time. Our kids are naturally drawn to it – how could they not be when they see my husband and I on our laptops every day? We want them to feel included in our lives and understand what we’re doing, but at the same time, not fall into a screen driven existence, which is possible, even at a young age! Just ask my 3 year old – if we didn’t put limits, he would happily be drawing or coloring on an iPad for several hours a day!
I was happy to seen an article the other day saying that Steve Jobs (king of screen technology, right?) took a similar approach in his own household and, even though is job involved using and developing screen technology, he limited screen time in home and for his kids.
Right now, our kids have usually only 30 minutes, but maximum 1 hour of screen time on a given day, and they don’t have this daily, but only every few days. For a little while, they’d been getting more than that (not hours and hours, but regularly around 1 hour a day), so I was a little worried about how they would react when we cut back. Now, after a few weeks of their reduced times, both they and we are happy with the situation.
1. The best of both worlds. They get enough screen time to benefit from it (and yes, I DO think there are benefits to some screen time – there are some great kids’ shows out there, as well as some educational apps and games that truly do help our kids learn). When they have screen time, they are usually sitting next to my husband and I with one or both of us working on our laptop at the same time, and they enjoy feeling “grown up” and “like Mommy and Daddy” for those moments. But those moments are few.
2. Togetherness and enhanced awareness of others. Since we’ve reduced screen time, our kids have started focusing much more naturally on playing together, WITH each other. They always loved playing together – that isn’t something new. But they’ve been coming up with lots of new ideas of ways to take turns, or things they can do that involve both of them – true collaborative play, as opposed to parallel play with each of them in their own worlds playing at the same time. I realize that some of this is developmental – they are just starting to reach the ages when they really can perceive what the other is thinking or feeling and, as a result, play collaboratively, but I also attribute some of it to the absence of more screen time. Less screen time means more “person time”. They’re spending more time together and, when they’re together, they’re focused on how to play together, rather than on what’s on the screen.
3. Creativity. Screens might be fun and entertaining, and sometimes even educational and engaging, but they rarely require creativity, or at least, don’t require as much of it as other alternative ways of spending time. Unless your job involves creating something through technology (like blogging or graphic design), most uses of technology involve reacting rather than initiating. TV and video games are entirely comprised of a relatively inactive user RESPONDING to something placed before them. Apps and other activities require more interaction and mental application, but are still heavily guided. I much prefer seeing my kids running around pretending to be pirates, or coming up with all sorts of crazy, non-existing things that they build, or kicking a ball, or engaging in other forms of make-believe play than watching them look at a screen, swipe it or hit buttons. It’s just a healthier life.
4. Less fighting. Kids are kids, so there will always be a level of bickering as they grow up and learn to understand, accept and interact with both themselves and others, but I think there’s less of it when screen time is limited. Screen time teaches a person to engage with themselves and technology. They can control the technology, so there’s no give and take. This environment, if too prevalent in their lives, can make it hard for them to then turn around and interact effectively with the real people in their lives. Limiting screen time naturally gives them more time to develop social skills, form relationships and learn how to handle unexpected situations, which arise in real life much more often than they do on screen.
I’m sure the list could go on – these are just a few of the many benefits we find in limiting screen time. I don’t think we’ll keep our half-hour-a-day-every-few-days-only policy forever, and I don’t think a little more than that would necessarily be detrimental. Each family has to find the balance that works best for them and their kids, and the balance will change as children go through different phases of development, or as family situations change. However, regardless of their ages and situations, I think having clear limits and expectations is a good idea that you and your kids will come to appreciate, even though it might take them some time to understand the value of prioritizing real life over the virtual world.