Should Kids’ Screentime Be Unlimited?

Should Kids' Screentime Be Unlimited? // jessconnell.com

Devices are a sticky subject now. 20 years ago it was TV time. No matter what, though, unless you’re Amish, you have to reckon with it.

I’ll share what we do- but would love to hear your thoughts.

A Yahoo!Parenting article (which — as a sidenote– I think should be retitled more honestly as Yahoo!UNparenting, because nearly all their articles reflect a “your kids know best; cheer them on as they do odd or harmful things in life.”) recently promoted a hands-off approach to kids and devices, and they attribute this to a coming release of new AAP guidelines regarding devices:

 The new guidelines are still in progress but the AAP has released a few key messages, to include specific guidance about content and teen screen time. They’re really loosening up, which is a relief.

Later the author confesses:

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the receiving end of a dirty look because my kid was using a tablet (with headphones) at a restaurant. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told my kids get too much screen time (usually by my mom) or how many times I’ve felt like I just suck as a parent when I hear other moms talk about how they severely restrict or limit screen time. If we’re going by the old AAP standard of two hours a day for kids over 2 (and none for kids under 2) then yes… I’m pretty sure my kids’ brains are rotting.

While I genuinely appreciate honesty… and believe this is an area where a lot of parents struggle with determining what boundaries are best, this article’s author seems far too lax in the way she speaks about these things.

The problem with anyone who advocates for a limit-free approach to technology is that they are doing so without knowing what the real-world consequences of that decision will be, over time.

This is nonsense.

The reason the AAP standards are changing is not because what’s best for kids is changing; it’s because parents don’t want to hear standards from doctors that they feel are impossible to live out.

Sadly, too many parents today:

  • WANT to be able to hand their kids a device anytime, without guilt
  • think devices are an ok way to get some peace and quiet.
  • don’t want to fight this particular battle, especially because it feels unwinnable
  • are staring at their own screens for 8-12 hours a day,
  • think that a kid staring at a screen for 2-4 hours seems “not so bad.”

Parenting is hard work. And it’s hard to say “no.”

But when kids look up, get out in the world, solve problems, run, jump, play… it does more than get their eyes off a screen; it gets their brain moving and their heart working and feeds their soul.

  • Connecting with PEOPLE– flesh and blood– matters.
  • Connecting with the world around us– trees, dirt, bloody knees, fall leaf collecting, snowman building, river rock skipping– matters.
  • Connecting with REAL BOOKS– page turning, perseverance-building, non-trite literary BOOKS– matters.

Just because some doctors are changing their opinions (likely because they find it hard to say “no” to their own kids) does not mean what’s BEST FOR KIDS has changed.

Here’s my challenge to us all– to you, as well as to me:

  • Put down the screens when it’s not purposeful, out of self-discipline and a heart of conviction about what matters.
  • Set an example of what it looks like to be a master OVER your device, rather than being mastered BY your device.
  • Don’t even put a smartphone in the hand of anyone who does not need to make a phone call (rare for anyone under 12 years old.) Teach your kids to look up and look out and engage with the people and world around them.

It’s a rare thing nowadays and doing these will stand out and make your child a walking WONDER by the time they get to college.

  • Someone able to HAVE A CONVERSATION without being distracted,
  • someone able to pick up a book, let it simmer in their brain as they draw out themes and ideas rather than moving on to the next thing,
  • someone able to look PEOPLE in the eye and have a real life interaction rather than only saying hard things in a private message or text, or not at all–

this sort of person is going to become increasingly rare.

This is the way to prepare your child for life and give him an edge over peers. Do what parents have been doing for centuries: talking to, and living REAL LIFE alongside their kids.

Here are some of the guidelines that we’ve maintained:

  • No screen time for children under 2 is absolutely reasonable, and we’ve lived it now for 13 years with our 7 children (at every point in the last 13 years, we’ve had someone– and sometimes multiple someones– 2 or under). This means no devices, and no videos. No screen time whatsoever.
  • No video games for children under 4 has been our general standard. For older kids, in our home they are allowed to play for one afternoon a week (from 2-5pm), IF they have gotten chores done and been respectful throughout the week. (AND if we don’t have something else going on that Saturday afternoon. If we do, no video games that week– there’s no “make up” time for missed gaming time. It’s not a “right,” it’s a privilege.)
  • None of our children (currently, ages 13 and under) has a phone. Nor will they, for some time.
  • Set clear limits on devices, and don’t be afraid to make your limits stricter than “average.”

I’m not saying our approach is the only right way. Every single parent on the planet right now is wading their way through uncharted waters. Never before has there been such potential for knowledge, learning, smut, and nonsense, to all be in view of our children, non-stop, held in the palm of their hands.

This device business really will eat your child’s soul if you let it; instead, rein it in and only use them on purpose.

 

NEED IDEAS for non-electronic toys? Click HERE!

Best Picks for Non-Electronic Toys KIDS ACTUALLY LIKE // (plus WHY YOUR KID might not like these & what you can do about it) // jessconnell.com

 

IN THE COMMENTS, PLEASE SHARE: What are the standards for devices in your home? Do you find this to be a challenging “battle” with your kids? How are you currently doing in this area?

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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21 Responses

  1. stephanie says:

    We allow an hour of video games on the weekends and sometimes a little time during the week if not much is going on, but rarely– days when it is below zero temperatures and snowing for example. Nobody in our house has a smartphone so the kids won’t be getting one. Our 12 year old may get a phone soon, partly so she can text us if she is home alone because she isn’t always sure when to answer the home phone but the phone will only call and text just like mine. I allow the little kids to watch a cartoon in the morning and all the kids get to watch one in the afternoon. We used to allow videogames everyday but it was always a battle with one kid so we changed it.

    • Jess Connell says:

      “it was always a battle with one kid so we changed it.”

      Good for you! It is so easy to give in, but so much better when we take note of what’s happening with our kids and make changes so they are not controlled by something. I think this is one way we can help them build self-control, by teaching them how to recognize when they are being externally controlled, and helping them to set and keep better boundaries in that area.

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. Jennifer Collins says:

    Good food for thought, Jess. Back when our oldest daughter (now 28 years old) was a teenager, we did not let her “instant message” on email and any communication with the opposite gender was only for group planning purposes via email with our oversight. Texting became big when our second daughter (now 23) was a teenager. She got a flip phone when she was 16 because she was away from home sometimes. I remember feeling bombarded with new decisions to make about rules as so many of her friends started to text and it quickly became a free for all. Unfortunately, her heart was not submitted to God (or us) and so much happened without our knowledge. Currently in our home (with 16 yo son and 14 and 11 year old daughters), we have main computer in dining/school room. My son does not use any Internet unless he’s in a public place. He has made this rule for himself and his been very open with my husband and me about the struggle to avoid inappropriate sexual content that beckons him everywhere.
    Our 14 daughter has my old phone, so it’s basically a tablet. She takes photos and post them to Instagram. She loves the Lord and honors him in her account. My 11 year old is not mature enough and she uses my phone or tablet for brief periods under my supervision. All of this to say: stay very involved with your children in this area.
    My son enjoys video games and movies which we have always limited according to his and our current situation.
    Protect your kids! Live real life with them. Screens are so addictive! I agree that our kids will be rare phenomenons in the world when they know how to interact with people in a meaningful way. It’s worth our investment.

  3. Emily says:

    Good food for thought. A question.. If the older ones can watch something,. how do you let them watch a video/cartoon without the younger (under 2) seeing it or wanting to see it? We did OK without many videos for our firstborn, except for things like an occasional Baby Einstein cartoon, but now (3.5 yrs) he’ll watch a Bob the Builder, or Thomas Train, etc. and so the younger one (1.5y) has seen the cartoons along side him practically since infancy. Not necessarily because I sit him down and make him watch but because he’s in the same room or walks by, for example, and now he likes to watch (and asks to) at an even younger age than my first cared to.

    I feel awful about it but sometimes it really does help.. If I need to get dressed or take care of a task, or do something on the computer and they won’t stop pulling at me. I’ve also used videos when I am sick. (I’m talking like fever/chills/aches/misery… I only have very young kids and would be alone with them during the day so no older kids to help).

    And now when the toddler naps I let the preschooler watch a video so I can rest as well. I really don’t know what else to do. (I guess implement some “room time” for him..?)

    As an aside from my original question, how do you “go back” after you’ve already opened the door of cartoon entertainment and they expect it & ask for it? :-/

    • Jess Connell says:

      I simply don’t let them stay in the area of a video when they are younger than 2. Something medical I read early on in my mothering talked about the still-developing eyes of children up to about age 2. So for me personally, it’s non-negotiable. That doesn’t mean I freak out if they’re in the room with a screen, I just don’t let them sit down or focus on it for longer than a few seconds. Even after 2, I am cautious. I use baby gates, pack and plays, distractions, and my verbal direction to keep a young child away from a screen.

      (And yes, I did this even when my kids were all little. This has been my m.o. for 13+ years now. I know it’s hard; but you really can do it if you want to! Mothers have been mothering little ones without TVs for thousands of years.)

      Our 3-year-old sits and watches videos with us but they are videos for the family, together… rarely do the kids watch their own videos, and rarer still would be something for him alone.

      I, too, have used videos for those (roughly) once-a-year sicknesses. That’s a rare event and I’ve personally been OK with using videos for that. Even still, I don’t do it for younger children. For little ones, if I’m sick, I’ll rotate toys in a pack and play… lay on the floor near them and let them crawl and play with blocks dumped out… that kind of thing. Then I take naps WITH them to try to minimize my up-and-down.

      For quiet afternoon time, I’d encourage you to use bags of books, or interesting games/toys (ZooLogic, pattern blocks, Magformers) for your preschooler. Do all you can to fight letting screen time and TV watching become a normal, daily activity in his life. Too many people are mastered by TV shows, and you have the opportunity to shape his affections for his whole life with the choices you make now! When my oldest first dropped his nap, while his little brother was napping, we had a 1-hour read-books-on-your-bed time every afternoon, and then he could come out to the living room and play quietly for another hour. Quiet wasn’t optional, but I let him choose his toys for that hour as long as he was quiet.

      “Going back” is something we all have to do on a variety of things– I still have to do it sometime when I see that a choice we’ve made has gotten out of control or is mastering our children. Here are some things we’ve done it with:
      * Nintendo DS games (we were gifted a few sets and it can easily get out of control. Sometimes I’ll pack them up for 3-6 months at a go, to remind my children that they are not a “right” but a rarely-enjoyed privilege).
      * Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and other franchises– Transformers, etc.)– when I see the kids getting angry about who gets to “be” a certain character, who gets to have the yellow truck, who gets to play with a particular thing, I shut it down and tell them they can’t play that thing until further notice. Anytime I see my kids being out of control about a particular thing, I restrict that area and pull it off the table for a while.
      * screens & devices. This is something we watch really really carefully. Even e-readers can be used with a mentality that they have a “right” to use it for as long as they want.

      All that to say, this is not merely a screen problem. Throughout our kids’ lives, they run the risk of being mastered by something external. So I watch for those things, and tell my kids “if you don’t exercise self-control from the inside, I’ll exercise control from the outside.” They have learned, over the years, to handle their play and devices in a controlled, kind way, and I do believe this builds self-control over the long haul. It is also the way that, as mothers, we can work to see to it that our children are not being mastered by something outside themselves.

      When we see our children struggling to have a good attitude without something, that is really a cry for help. They’re telling us, just like a junkie, “I need help to ditch this thing that I feel like I need. My attitude is telling me I can’t exist happily without this thing which means, all the more, that I need your help to help me learn to function without it.”

      As a side note, even without attitude problems, anytime I see an “entitlement” attitude in my kids (like you describe in your last sentence, asking for it with expectancy), I squash that. Across society, I see tons of problems with people who are entitled, and want to do everything in my power as a mom to fight that attitude in my kids, anytime I see it.

      You really CAN pull back on devices. I find that (just like an alcoholic “drying out”) going cold turkey is the best way for us all to break a bad habit, and then, after a lengthy time “off” the undesirable thing, if it’s something I don’t outright think is bad/harmful, we ease back into it with a guarded attitude as I watch their attitudes for undesirable attachments to the thing.

      When I want to stop something outright (or cut out a particular thing), I tell the kids, “no more watching X show for a while. It seems like you guys are arguing about it and I care more about your attitudes and relationships than the show. We can be happy without watching X. Head outside and play in the yard; it’s a beautiful day.”)

      I think this (watching for the things that are influencing our kids and fighting any mastering/controlling influence) is a significant way we can help develop our children’s appetites. More on that idea here—-> WHY YOUR KIDS’ APPETITES MATTER

      • Emily says:

        Thanks so much, that helps! Limiting shows/cartoons/apps is something I felt strongly about in the beginning, but has slowly and gradually become the daily “norm”. Thanks for he encouragement and “push” to rethink what we are doing and giving some alternatives to consider.

        • Jess Connell says:

          Great! Yes I think we can get worn down so easily. Very quickly, without ongoing “editing” in this area, what used to be distasteful can seem normal to us. It seems like this is something we have to see as an ongoing battle, not one-and-done. I think we have to take this area under continual re-evaluation in order to not get (and not let our kids get) sucked down the hole of constant media.

    • Katie says:

      I have three 4 year olds and a 1 year old. On occasion, we’ll plan a family “pajama party” which generally consists of dessert after supper, games, and a movie. Since the older children’s bedtime is an hour after the baby’s, we simply wait until he’s in bed before watching the half hour or hour long show together without him. (He goes to bed at six and the girls are in bed at seven). As far as watching any tv during the day, that is very limited and, as my girls say, “too much tv makes kids forget how to really play,” so it’s more of a rarity than anything regular. We’ve done books in bed, puzzles, and super simple games they can play without me for those times when I’ve needed to nurse their brother in quiet or put him to bed. Is it fool proof? No, because they are children and must be trained over a long period of time. But these days they are much more sensitive to the need for quiet at those times than they used to be.

      And if I need extra rest, I generally try to just go to bed early at night. Of course, I can’t trust so many littles to behave if I’m asleep during the day and I don’t like them watching any kind of tv show without my supervision.

  4. Charisa says:

    Amen! We have similar rules in our home to guide technology use. Except we don’t have a T.V. at all, so at this point there is no gaming, and the kids watch 2-3 short cartoons off youtube every few months – usually during their hair cuts. Lol. But at this point our oldest is only 6, so I know things will change a little as they get older. This is helpful as we keep thinking thru the whole issue of screen time and how to do it well as a family. I appreciate the challenge to better handle my own smart phone. It’s too easy to pick it up off and on all. day. long. I need to work on that.

    • Jess Connell says:

      Thanks for sharing!

      We don’t have a TV either. I’ve found that I like the choices I make as a mother better when we DON’T have a TV than the choices I make when we do. We had purchased a TV again a few years ago when we wanted to host home fellowship and use a video curriculum. But along with that purchase came more TV watching for everyone. So, last year, we sold our TV at a garage sale and went back to life without it. I prefer it that way. :)

  5. Erin says:

    My husband enjoys technology and gadgets and so do my kids. It took a couple years of trial and error to figure out a system that worked but I think we have it now. My kids are allowed to play video games (we have a Wii U, and Minecraft on computer) two afternoons a week for 30 minutes. They must have all chores and school work done and they must set a timer. If they don’t finish all their work but play anyway, or if they don’t remember to use the timer, they lose their time for the rest of the week. They are also allowed to play up to an hour on Saturday (as long as we don’t have other plans). This sounds like a lot, but one of the reasons we allow it is that our oldest son (who is almost 12) discussed with us the fact that to “do well” and accomplish different levels on games, it takes more than 30 minutes once a week. We respected both his dilemma and the way he came to us respectfully about it so we allowed more time. As far as TV and movies, we usually do a movie every Friday night. We do allow them to watch TV shows (we don’t have cable, only PBS) but they have to request a specific show, watch that show, then it’s off, no vegging out in front of the TV all afternoon. And again, all work must be done first.

    As far as gadgets in public, we never do that. My husband and I have smart phones but the kids do not use them for anything. Personally I think teaching children to sit quietly and wait patiently in public places (restaurant, doctor’s office, etc.) is an extremely important skill that we need to teach as parents.

    • Jess Connell says:

      YES, YES, YES TO YOUR LAST PARAGRAPH!!!

      Mamas reading this: be sure you’re not relying on devices to avoid parenting! It is a GOOD thing for children to learn to wait patiently through “boring” scenarios. It is a GOOD thing for children to learn to sit quietly in the buggy while you do your grocery shopping.

      Thanks, Erin, for sharing from your experiences. It’s good to hear how other people work through the devices conundrum.

    • stephanie says:

      Yes to kids learning to sit and behave without technology. ! We rarely eat out but when we do it is a family event for us to enjoy together. Im amazed to see kids playing games during church instead of learning to listen to the sermon ( and with their parents permission ).

  6. Katie says:

    Yep, watch the attitudes because attitudes reflect their hearts! That’s the approach I have with our four small kids. That goes for everything, not just the cartoons (which are extremely limited in both content and quantity). Anytime it looks like our children are beginning to have anything other than a cheerful and respectful attitude about anything (toys, books, tv, desserts, etc), it gets taken away. They understand the attitude they’re supposed to have, and they know the consequences if that doesn’t happen.

  7. Diana says:

    I’m kind of flabbergasted that the woman you quoted in your post would think that limiting screen time to two hours per day was unreasonable. Just… wow. TWO HOURS per day??? That blows my mind.

    We do 30 minutes per day, plus or minus a bit. Video games for about 30 minutes daily on weekends only.

    We were TV-free for a while, and I would prefer to be still, but my husband hasn’t wanted to stick with that. So we’re still working to find a balance. We do one movie night per week, for about 30-60 minutes.

    Screens are just incredibly, incredibly addictive. Even for adults!! That’s why I got rid of my Facebook account in the end. Even as a mature, responsible adult, it had too much of a hold on my mind. And children have NO control over their desires for screen time. They will simply stare, and stare, and stare, and stare. That’s why screens are so tempting for US as parents to over-use as virtual baby-sitters.

    I’m disappointed to hear that the official guidelines are changing to reflect our current lack of values.

    Thank you for this excellent post!
    Diana

    P.S. Yes, it is increasingly rare to see a person who can have a rational conversation without glancing constantly at his or her phone. It’s seriously sad seeing what is happening to our nation in terms of phone addiction. Even in the homeschooling community I am seeing more and more of this – I noticed it particularly at the last homeschool convention we attended. Just masses of people… staring at phones. Sad.

    • Jess Connell says:

      Yes, even in church gatherings, I see a lot of people (and find myself occasionally) naturally tuned into their phones, more than into talking with the people around them.

      There is a lot of isolated togetherness happening nowadays. :(

      • stephanie says:

        Ive experienced that and since I don’t have a smart phone I was left out and alone and wished I had just stayed home. It was hurtful.

  8. Amy M says:

    Hearing other people’s ways of handling this is so helpful. I’m in the midst of toddlerdom here, so screen time hasn’t become too much of a battle. My 2 year old sees the occasional YouTube video and that’s about it.

    I do have fears for this generation, though. Everywhere I look I seem to see small children plugged into tablets. That’s not how we want to raise our kids to experience the world. And as I’ve kept track of my own online and cellphone time, I’ve also felt convicted about making sure that I set a good example and limit the time I spend on a screen. It can be hard, though, since we really are turning away from the dominant culture on this one.

  1. March 9, 2016

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