I say this and you might think we’re crazy. You might think our kids are zombie-fied and locked into shows and Minecraft and YouTube nonsense 24/7. That they get no fresh air or social interaction. You might think I’m lazy (I am, but only sometimes) or just don’t care about my kids or their future ACT scores. But none of that is true.
It is true that I would never be able to keep track of how long my kids are on their screens in a given day, nor do I ever want to do that. I refuse to walk around with a timer saying things like, “Time’s almost up, darlings!” This would give me an embolism if someone ever did this to me in the middle of doing something, so I won’t do it to my kids.
I know myself and my abilities as a human and a parent. I’m not the mom who can handle the organization of a chore chart. I’ve never managed to keep up with making and sticking with a weekly dinner menu. My calendar system is a thrown-together menagerie of places and times, and we are lucky to get anywhere at the right moment. How do you do all of this, organized parents of the world? (Rhetorical question)
My abilities as a parent steer more toward things like winging it, totally winging it, and lots of positive thinking while winging it. Oh, and I’m killer at dropping everything I’m supposed to be doing and taking the kids to get ice cream. But monitoring their screen time every single day? Well, that falls outside of my usual concerns. If I get the feeling they have been on for a very long time or if the whine in their voices hits an octave where the neighbor dogs start howling, I shoo them outside or encourage them to pick up a book or paint something.
And this works for us.
We monitor what they watch. We have “tech-free” zones like meal times. We don’t let them stay inside all day, every day with their faces buried in screens, but we most definitely do not micromanage their screen time. There are no timers in this house.
It just so happens that the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for kids and screens seems to (mostly) align with this approach. (Go me!) They say that we all should “develop a family media plan that takes into account the health, education and entertainment needs of each child as well as the whole family.” From ages 2–5, they still recommend no more than one hour per day. I don’t know about your young kids, but getting mine to sit still for five freaking minutes was always a miracle, so I’m not worried. Use common sense is basically their core message.
My kids also aren’t the kids who actually want to be stuck on a screen all day either, so I haven’t found the situation to be overly stressful. I know that this is not true for everyone. As I write this, they are having a contest to see who can hop on the pogo stick the longest, and earlier today, they built a fort outside with branches and played for hours in our VW van. They haven’t been on screens once, and I haven’t said a word. Shhh…
No screen limits leads to self-monitoring, self-regulation, autonomy — and me not ever having to hover over my kids to make sure their precious brain matter isn’t getting melted by too much technology. It also means that there are days when I do holler at them to “go be bored!” because they aren’t doing a great job of peeling themselves away from the alluring glow. But as long as they aren’t acting like dazed monsters, I don’t actually care. Technology is great. I enjoy my screen time, and I can appreciate that they do too.
Modern life presents different challenges than generations past. A lot of us work from home, modeling on-screen behavior for hours at a time because we don’t have a choice. Also, technology is here to stay, and we all have to figure out how to navigate it for each of our own individual families. Screen time enforcement is not the hill I want to die on, so I (mostly) let them self-regulate.