We Pretty Much Gave Up Screen Time Limits After Having A Second Child

by Mike Julianelle
screen time limits

I don’t have a problem with my kids using technology. Not in theory.

Sometimes you just need a break. Sometimes you need a quiet car ride. And sometimes handing your kid the iPad or your phone buys you the 20 minutes necessary to use the bathroom, make a phone call, take a power nap, or make a drink — or make another drink, or make two drinks at the same time so you don’t have to make another one later, because, come on, we both know you’re having another one later. I can’t believe parents ever got by without the necessary distraction this ubiquitous technology provides.

Besides, there’s no preventing kids from using this stuff. Not only is it becoming increasingly necessary in terms of both daily survival and future earnings potential, it’s also flat-out impossible to avoid it. We all have a phone or two, a computer or two, maybe a tablet, maybe an iWatch. And so do all of our friends, and depending on your kids’ ages and/or your income bracket, so do their friends. Hell, they use this stuff in elementary school classrooms. It’s just life now, and it’s only going to become life-ier.

The issue, of course, is what they’re doing with that screen time and what else they’re doing besides using screens. My kid is 6, so the scarier stuff — porn, buying things willy-nilly — isn’t an issue yet. My wife and I are very good about setting limits, whether it’s one show before dinner or 20 minutes playing the Star Wars Lego game in the morning.

I should probably say we were very good. Ever since our second kid arrived in January, we have neither the energy nor the inclination to stop our oldest from occupying himself for an hour if that’s what it takes to get a little sleep or give the baby a bath. And sometimes it just seems like he’s using some screen — and wants to be using a screen — too much.

We worry, like everyone else, that he’s melting his brain. This is probably a bit of paranoia mixed with a healthy heaping of “Get off my lawn!” because we didn’t grow up with this stuff. No matter how addicted to our own phones we all are (guilty!), it’s still a little concerning to see your 6-year-old quickly grow obsessed with a game on the iPad, regardless of whether he also plays outside and is otherwise well-balanced. Make no mistake, it can sour into an addiction, and that’s the scariest part of all.

I don’t like who my kid becomes when he spends too much time on my wife’s phone or our tablet. Often despite several warnings and well-established time limits, when it comes time to stop the game, it can be murder getting it out of his hands. Not only does he get so zoned out that he doesn’t hear you telling him that his time is up, but also once he realizes it’s over, he enters the five stages of grief. It’s insane.

That reaction is the clearest indication to me that we’re not doing a very good job at setting limits. That’s partially because of the aforementioned baby and the fact that we’ve been willing to let some things slide in the name of sanity and sleep. After all, parents are people too! But the damn screens have got their hooks in him. While I don’t know that it’s all that different than the way the boob tube (hi, Mom!) got its hooks in me and you when we were kids, it’s still alarming. And it’s something my wife and I want to curb.

That means getting back to policing it more consistently, not tolerating our son’s antics when time’s up, and making sure he is getting his ya-yas out in other ways (by playing outside, building with Legos, or by using his imagination rather than letting the pixels on the screen feed him the prefab one). It’s making sure that when he plays with his friends, they don’t all just huddle around the screen and watch each other play Minecraft.

God, that’s a lot of parenting. Maybe I should just buy the kid one of those crazy Oculus Rift headsets and forget all about this. I’m tired.