Limiting Kids’ Screen Time: How Do You Explain Why?
“Mom, you sure played a lot of Pokémon today,” said my 9-year-old son.
I looked at him. I hung my head. “You’re right,” I said. But I was caught in a frustrating part, and the same characteristics that make me good at finding a bug in code (“I’m going to fix this if it kills me”) also sometimes make me stubborn about a video game (“They say you can catch a Riolu here, and I’ve tried 100 times… so where’s my Riolu?”)
I should back up a bit. The previous weekend, it rained all weekend. Again. (Atlanta is on track to set a rainfall record this year.) And in the middle of a weekend at home where our plans were rained out, our household “screen time” limit was chaffing on the kids. We let them have at most 45 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes in the afternoon of screen time–any kind of screen. On a rained-in weekend, my son was challenging why we had this rule. In exasperation, he asked, “Show me the study that says it’s bad for you! What study shows that?”
Oh, ouch. He’s got a point. I told him about Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together. I told him about the cool paper by Morgan Ames and Jofish Kaye about how parents of different social classes manage their children’s media use differently. But honestly I couldn’t come up with a hard reference. How could you do a careful study of that, I pointed out? So I trotted out the music analogy. Look: some parents think it’s wonderful if their kids practice a musical instrument five hours a day. Some parents want their kids to be concert musicians and focus on just that one thing. We don’t. If you played your saxophone in all your free time, we’d say you should take a break and go play a video game! A healthy life is balanced.
Ye standard “Life is Balance” speech was not especially convincing. If I could’ve pulled out a careful study proving my point, he would’ve accepted it. But I didn’t have one. (Please send me references!)
And I swear I didn’t do it on purpose–the Pokémon thing. But this morning I turned to him and said, “So yesterday you pointed out that I played too much Pokémon. Why did that bother you?” And he replied, “well I mean, Mom you were just sitting there all day. You didn’t do anything else. You…” He stopped and looked at me. “Ooooh, wait….” He smiled and shook his head. He understood. The perfect pedagogical lesson–and totally accidental.
In response to this my younger son did a comic role reversal, and made me promise I would be more careful about my screen time, or they’d have to start timing me. I sheepishly agreed.
How do you manage your children’s screen time? How do you explain the rationale for your policy to your kids? Leave me a comment!