Why I Don't Feel Bad About Giving My Kids Unlimited Screen Time

by Christine Burke
Originally Published: 
skynesher / iStock

Last summer, after reading this article about a mom who let her children have unlimited screen time, I did an experiment. In the article, the mom talked about constantly fighting a losing battle over how much was too much screen time, and she was tired of being the Screen Police. So she proposed the idea of unlimited screen time to her kids—with a few parameters: They had to complete dedicated time for exercise, hands-on creativity, reading, and chores before they could dive into their screens.

I was skeptical. I mean, 20th century parents parenting 21st century kids already have their work cut out for them: Everywhere we look, we are told to limit screen time and monitor every single minute our children spend online. Parents judge each other if they see kids using iPads in restaurants or while waiting for a sibling at soccer practice. Very clear battle lines have been drawn on this issue, and it is cause for much discussion amongst moms at the bus stop.

As a parent of a child who is bound and determined to go to film school someday, limiting screen time is something I have struggled with for years. He is obsessed with filmmaking and loves to create mini-movies in our backyard. He’s learned valuable editing, sound dubbing, and CGI skills—all from just messing around in iMovie. He and his friends have made some pretty cool movies for school projects, thanks to my son’s adeptness at film editing.

Because I let him explore and spend as much time as he likes with his computer screen, he has grown his skills, gained confidence in his filmmaking abilities, and felt pride when showing off a movie he’s created to his classmates. In fact, he recently filmed and edited a video for friends who just got married, and his video is now their keepsake. How cool is that? If I had denied him screen time, limited his creativity, and forced him to walk away from an activity he loves, our dear friends wouldn’t have a video of their priceless memories to watch year after year.

So much emphasis is put on kids to be well-rounded and to excel at sports that it’s reaching a fever pitch. We place arbitrary rules on our kids because we are so worried about their childhoods differing from ours. Maybe we should pause to consider that our parents didn’t grow up with Atari, Nintendo, and Commodore 64s, either, and we turned out just fine, didn’t we, Generation X? Our mothers survived without microwaves and cordless phones, and we are doing a pretty good job of surviving as grown-ups in spite of having all those things.

We survived the technology of our generation, and our kids will survive the technology of theirs.

Consider this video of a young girl who taught herself how to dubstep by using YouTube. Here’s a kid who found a topic that fascinated her and had the resources to look up her idea online and learn a fun, engaging exercise. And I don’t mind saying it: She kills it. Her moves are amazing. Had her parents put the kibosh on her screen time, her interest and natural curiosity would have been squelched. How is that better? How is telling a kid to run outside and figure dance moves out on their own a solution? Yes, we can send our kids to pricey dance classes, but not every kid has access to that kind of disposable income. YouTube is a cheap way for kids to learn at their own pace, so why not let them?

In this video, the cutest British kid I’ve ever seen makes a strong case for a classroom that has technology integrated seamlessly into a student’s day. For kids with learning disabilities, physical limitations, or who are gifted, technology can be a useful way to cull the best of their abilities rather than force them to fit a mold that might not work for them. Technology is here to stay, and continuing to limit our children will force them to miss out on a lot of learning. Giving our kids the tools they need to compete in a technologically based society empowers them, so it’s time we all simmered down a bit on the screen time limitations. I’m willing to bet our kids would surprise us.

We can’t keep saying, “Go read a book,” when books are becoming obsolete. We can’t ignore the fact that texting, FaceTime, and online learning are here to stay in the digital age. We are a left-to-right generation and our kids are are an up-and-down-scroll generation. We may as well tell them to get off our lawns as we sip black coffee and wine about how we miss the olden days.

As for me, I have made the decision to let my kids explore their interests as it suits their age level so that they can truly find their creative soul. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I will let them play video games until their eyes bleed. Rather, as long as they are constructively learning and engaging with a topic that will enhance their overall knowledge of our world—with parental age-appropriate restrictions in place—I don’t see a problem with letting them have free reign.

Our summer experiment was a huge hit and actually resulted in my kids using screens less than I expected. They loved having the ability to manage their own time, and I was thrilled to see that they didn’t abuse their newfound freedoms. We will be doing the same this summer, and I look forward to the arrangement. I am excited to see what my budding Spielberg has in store for all of us, and I tip my hat to George Lucas’s mom for letting him do the same with his Commodore 64.

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