I don’t limit screen time. I don’t give out stickers for good screen time habits or take them away for bad ones. I don’t impose rules like you must do 10 push-ups, 25 minutes of physical activity, 15 minutes of creative work, and 20 minutes of educational activities before using any digital devices. My son, at 7, uses his tablet on his own terms and on his own schedule.
The main reason I don’t limit screen time is because it fits well with my personality and parenting style. Yes, I consider it a valid factor on which to base our screen time policy (and any other parenting decisions, for that matter). We are all individuals with different needs and different approaches to life and parenting, and it’s useless to pretend that we can all fit into some predefined model of parenting recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
As an introvert, I value my personal space and I like giving my child his. The best way for me to spend a day at home with my son is for each of us to engage in our respective chosen activities, occasionally checking in with each other. I don’t enjoy and don’t really see a point to orchestrating his free time and hovering around him to remind him to adhere to random rules and restrictions. As long as he does well at school, his free time is his own. I can imagine if I were a different type of parent — say, an outgoing outdoorsy extrovert, or an engaging teacher-style parent, things may have been different. But I’m not that.
The second big reason for no-limit screen time is that it suits my child’s personality. You’re probably thinking that I have one of those kids who don’t spend much time on the screen anyway. But in fact, quite the opposite is true. While he does have off-screen interests, gaming is certainly his favorite way to spend his free time. He gets engrossed in things, really deeply engaged in them, even obsessed you might say if you watch him or hear him talk about his gaming interests.
On the other hand, he is like that with everything he does, not just games. This is a kid who will refuse to go to recess if he has not finished an assignment he’s been given. Based on these observations, for a while I hesitated between imposing limits on his use of screens to encourage him to explore other activities or just letting him be. For now, I chose the latter. Why would I want to put random time limits if I can’t really see his thought process, if I see that his engagement with the game is clearly not mindless, if he is deeply engrossed in something — however “uneducational” it might seem to me.
Rather than wasting my energy on imposing random time limits, I now focus on two other screen-related goals:
1. Getting interested in what he is playing. The situation that I do want to avoid is where his game world becomes his own world that mom and dad don’t know anything about and are not interested in.
2. Watching my own screen habits, which are far from perfect. Hopefully, if I’m honest with myself (and with him) about my own screen time habits, and if I do my best to improve them, he will do what kids do best: learn by imitating.
The last thing I want is for his tablet to be this coveted and forbidden thing that you earn only with good behavior and/or for a limited amount of time. I want it to be this boring everyday object that is always available and that you use when you need/want to and it’s never a big deal.
Since we’ve let go of time limits, he became a lot more relaxed about his screen time. When limits were in place, we’d be guaranteed a tantrum if for some reason he would be denied his allotted tablet time for the day. These days, while he still spends most of his free time on his tablet, if he can’t use it for a day it’s no big deal.
These days I see him moving between on-screen and off-screen activities fluidly. One moment he is fighting monsters on the screen, and the next he is drawing his own monster on a piece of paper, and writing a story inspired by the game. Now I see him building in Minecraft, and a second later he is on the floor playing with his baby sister. In other words, the boundaries between screen and no screen have started to blur and that, I think, is a much healthier way to be.