Too Much Screen Time During A Pandemic? STFU, Dude

by Elizabeth Broadbent

On Saturday, New York Times journal Matt Ritchel published an essay titled “Children’s Screen Time Has Soared In The Pandemic, Alarming Parents And Researchers.” Shocking exactly zero actual caregivers, Ritchel cites hysterical stories and statistics about children whose screen time has become their “whole life.” An expert who once told parents not to worry about kids and screens backs off her earlier assertions; scary numbers tell us kids are playing double the amount of Roblox they played last May. “Remaining limits have vaporized,” he says. A professor warns gravely that there will be a “a period of epic withdrawal.” “Legions of kids under 10” are on TikTok! Fortnite! Snapchat! Parents are hopeless. Kids play first-person shooters. Video games have become social tools and emotional outlets.

Hey, Matt? Go to hell.

My Kids Do Stuff, Dude

Here’s the deal, Matty. My husband and I have pre-existing conditions. My three sons, ages 7, 9, and 11, have been socially isolated since March 13th, 2020. We had enough foresight and privilege to buy an above-ground pool and a trampoline, but it’s January. There are no amphibians to capture; yesterday we had wind gusts of 30 miles per hour; and anyway, my two youngest will likely emerge from this needing therapy because they’re too nervous to walk beyond our mailbox.

We are super interactive parents. We play board games. We do arts and crafts. We chase them in the backyard. Moreover, they have each other to play with, and they’re close in age, so they invent games of their own; my two youngest have created a bizarro LEGO world of creatures called “blubbies” who live on “Blubbie Island.” My middle son makes movies. My youngest has an obsession with a game called Castle Panic, which he plays alone. My oldest listens to podcasts.

My Kids Can Only Do Stuff For So Long Before They Need Screens

But that stuff only lasts so long.

Eventually, their tablets come out. I work. My husband works. We need alone time, because there is a pandemic going on and newsflash: we are trapped in the same square footage as our children 24/7, (almost) 365. Sometimes we want to have an adult conversation without being interrupted about:

  1. who is cheating at a board game
  2. who has moved Blubbie Island
  3. who irrevocably destroyed whose art project

So we let them take out their Kindle Fires, like we always have, because we’ve always allowed reasonable amounts of screen time. They might play Bad Piggies. They might play Rise of Berk. They might play Jurassic World: The Game. Or they might watch “Gravity Falls,” “Amphibia”, or some version of “How to Train Your Dragon.” This keeps our kids quiet, still and gives us needed adult time. And honestly? With a pandemic going on, we need more adult time than usual. I looked at my husband the other night and said, “Just put on a damn movie for them so we can hang out.”

“Yes,” he said.

On went “Isle of Dogs.” I refuse to be shamed.

It’s not like we shut our bedroom door and banged each other, though there would have been nothing wrong with that. We read books without interruptions, talked about work, and quoted “Sealab: 2021” at each other. We needed to decompress. I still refuse to be shamed.

Klaus Vedfelt/Getty

And All Screen Time Isn’t Equal

Yeah, my kids get more screen time than they did before the pandemic — far more. But Matt, all screen time is not created equal. My oldest chats with his friends. He needs social interaction. He can’t get social interaction in other ways right now. If I handed him a phone and told him to call people, you’d bitch about that, too. So he might as well read facial cues and learn to type. They also play Dungeons and Dragons via Facebook Messenger Kids. No screen time shame.

What do my other sons do? Yeah, some of their screen time is “Star Wars: Clone Wars.” But they also watch “Planet Earth: 2.” They play a game called Skeleton Anatomy made for anatomy students that makes them memorize all their body’s bones. My youngest beat a puzzle game called Monument Valley. My oldest reads Darth Vader comics and other books.

They play with MIT’s Scratch coding program. They use drawing programs. They make movies. One game actually helps them memorize elements.

All this counts as screen time, according to any metric, but I don’t think it’s causing their brains to rot.

So STFU About Screen Time

We are parents living through a global pandemic. This is unprecedented. We never thought we’d wake to this nightmare whose proportions are quickly becoming Biblical. I worry about whether my kids are learning resilience, civic responsibility, and kindness towards one another. I’m not super concerned about if I’ll have to detox them from playing computer games when this is all over.

Yeah, my 11-year-old is currently playing a “Star Wars” shooting game. Shame me all you want. I have to work. My other two are playing some game involving a periodic table involving my computer and a Kindle Fire. So much screen time, and I don’t care. Guess what? We’re surviving the hardest time we’ve ever had as a family as best we can. Screen time is the least of my concerns.

Stop shaming parents. We need our devices. Our kids need their devices. Taking their phones and cutting them off from their friends, like one set of parents in the essay? That seems unnecessarily cruel to me, and far more damaging than staring at a screen for a bit longer than normal.

You people do you, of course. Isn’t that what we always say now? But, I’ll hand my kids a screen, like most parents in America, and they will be just fine.