I Refuse to Feel Guilty About Screen Time

by Kaly Sullivan
Originally Published: 
Two girls looking at their tablets with green earphones on their heads during their screen time.

Screen time. It’s a term that only emerged in the last few years to encompass the electronics in our lives and how much we use them.

We don’t want our kids to be Generals in the Drone Army, but we find ourselves needing the respite that a screen can provide.

Enter today’s most challenging parenting decision: to screen or not to screen.

Screens rescue us in tough parenting situations:

Waiting in a doctor’s office with a toddler…

Holding off a hunger-induced meltdown in a restaurant…

Making an important phone call…

Preparing dinner without fielding 3,451 requests and questions…

That’s when we love the screen. It’s the hero of the day, giving us mess-free patches of time when we can turn off the struggle.

Other times it’s more complicated. There’s not a pressing situation at hand, but our kids are still asking…

Can I have your phone? Can we play Wii? Can I watch tv? Can I check something on the iPad?

It’s less black and white and a whole lot murkier. You want to say yes because it would be easier, but you feel like you should say no because, well, it’s a screen.

Why do screens make us feel so bad? Why is there so much shame and guilt about screen time as a tool in our parenting arsenal?

Because screen time comes with an unspoken judgement: If you need screen time to parent your kids, then you’re not that great of a parent.

Parents are quick to defend their screen time strategy:

Only X minutes a day.

Only on weekends.

Only on vacation.

Only when Mommy’s head is about to explode.

Screens aren’t new. We had our share of access when we were growing up. But we can’t deny that screens today are a different beast. We are the first generation of parents to have to deal with tablets, smart phones, social media, weird platform games, Minecraft, and texting. We can’t rely on the old adage, “If it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for my kids.”

We have so little information about the long term effects of screen time, and that’s terrifying. Will our kids end up with carpal tunnel in their teens? Will they be smarter? Or dumber? More creative? Or less?

Will they know how to have relationships? To communicate? Or will they use emojis to express themselves?

What will be the impact of the look-at-me selfie culture? What about cyber bullying? What about online predators?

Yes, it’s a brave new world. And it’s scary. We sure as hell don’t want our kids to be the guinea pigs.

We worry that every time we say yes to a screen, we’re setting them on the path to Loserville. We hope that if we can just keep screen time contained enough, maybe we can exert some control over the situation.

And when we’re not monitoring, we feel like crappy, lazy parents opting for the easy choice instead of standing firm, creating an environment of creativity and learning, and forcing our kids to be self-entertaining without the aid of a screen.

And we feel guilty. Screen time shame kicks in.

As a family, we don’t have official limits on screen time. My approach has always been: let’s be reasonable about this. Our kids access screens on their own and we watch and play things together as a family too. I have a closet thing for the Mario brothers.

Instead of demonizing screens (because let’s face it, they are not going anywhere), we put our efforts into showing our kids that there’s a great big world out there waiting to be explored and that relationships with people are more important than virtual clan wars.

But sometimes I let the screen time shame take over. I threaten to take away screens. I inconsistently place limits. I operate from a place of fear instead of reason.

I have to remind myself that as a family, we are engaged with the world. Our lives are not dominated by screens.

Like a lot of kids, mine default to screens when they feel bored and uninspired. But who can be engaged and creative and focused every hour of every day? I certainly can’t.

I’m letting go of the screen time shame.

Because my kids live well-rounded lives. Because sometimes I need the easiest option.

And because I think reasonable screen time works better for our family than emergency-only use or placing limits. Because when something is such a special treat, don’t you just want it more?

After school today my kids will come home, grab a snack, play video games, and watch TV. Possibly at the same time. And I refuse to feel bad about it.

Hear what our real-life Scary Mommies, Keri and Ashley, have to say about this when they give their (always real) thoughts in this episode of our Scary Mommy Speaks podcast.

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