Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Screen Time - The Battle of Ideologies

Welcome to the October 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Technology
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about their families' policies on screen time.
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Kids and technology is a topic that I frequently debate internally.  On one hand I prioritize physical activity as being vitally important for my children, and Richard Louve’s book Last Child in the Woods is my favorite parenting book.  On the other hand, technology is ubiquitous in our world. I can see my children learning and enjoying it, and... I make mobile apps for kids. That’s the stickler.  Am I making and profiting from something that is actually a detriment to children?
Me as a young girl playing Tetris

As for research I can find just as many studies for screen time as I can against. There are so many variables involved that most of the research I have seen, isn't very compelling one way or the other, and I am left with my own observations and my own experience.  In general, I have a difficult time restricting computer use, because I have a difficult time leading by example.  Whereas I don't watch much TV, and thus have an easier time restricting its use.

Why I think screen time is good:
  • Stories are essential to humans.  We love them, and we learn from them, and some even say we develop empathy from them.  Television and mobile devices are particularly good at letting young children get involved with and interact with complex narratives at a younger age then they could otherwise. More isn't always better, but I find it pretty cool that at five years old, my daughter understood time travel paradoxes due to My Little Pony, Storynory.com, and Harry Potter. (Harry Potter was both reading the novel, and watching the movie.)  
  • I would say that play is the most essential element to human learning.  Generally play advocates are not referring to video games, but computer and video games are play, and they are fun.  Many non-educational ones have strategy, logic and reasoning that are overall good skills to have.  I would say that there are very few lessons in school that prepare you for the logic and reasoning required to be a computer programmer, and the lessons that do exist are in math, which many people seem to have a real aversion to.  But the problem solving, and logic required to beat difficult video games are good stepping stones to the skills you need to be a software developer.
  • Alternative to play many people advocate drilling and practicing for learning, ie. flash cards, math worksheets etc.  Computer games are an ideal way to satisfy those ends without the tediousness, and boredom associated with the traditional method.  You can do more problems, in a shorter amount of time, and with more enjoyment, then with a pencil and paper.
  • There is so much information, in such easy formats.  The internet is amazing!  
Why I think screen time is not good:
  • It can be addicting.  It draws you in and can absorb you for long periods of time, making you sedentary and grumpy.  Long bouts of screen time make my kids really cranky and they fight more.  Alternatively they get so involved with what they are doing that when you make them stop because they need to eat, or we have somewhere to go, they get angry and throw a tantrum.  I have noticed the same problems with myself.
  • Lots of content is inane and probably makes you dumber.
  • The blue light from screens on at night can disrupt sleep patterns.
What we do at our house:
  • I make sure the kids get ample time for exercise and outdoor play each day.  In the summer I restrict screen time a lot more than I do in the fall/winter/spring when it rains and rains and rains.
  • I make sure the content is high quality.  On the computer I have a page setup, so they can access good quality free educational kids games.  Pbskids.org is by far the best as it doesn't have any advertisements, and the games are high quality.  For mobile devices I visit sites like smartappsforkids.com (and smartappsforandroid.com), digitialstorytime.com and App Friday where I know many of the developers and reviewers.  
  • I try to limit the length of a session.  I admit that I am not always as diligent as I should be.  My oldest tends to be fairly good at self-regulating, but my youngest would play all day if allowed.  I admit that I sometimes use a screen as a babysitter.  If I have something I need to do I may let them play for longer than is good for them, and I usually feel guilty, and regret it later due to their grumpiness.
  • I play with them, and/or encourage them to play together on the computer or mobile devices. Computer's aren't usually considered social, but when used socially they can have some amazing outcomes.  I talked a bit about this before on my other blog.   
  • I prefer for them to play computer games versus watching TV.  TV seems more passive, and I personally do not care for TV as much. 
  • Tie in what they see and learn on TV, etc with real life and/or books.  For instance when Selena really liked Bob the Builder, we got lots of library books about trucks and building, and did some building of our own.  
  • We use technology to enjoy nature.  We love to go geocaching (treasure hunting with a GPS device), and mobile devices make great cameras for recording scientific observations about bugs and plants outside, as well as animals at the zoo.
  • Overall I acknowledge screen time as a form of play, and one of many outlets for creation and creativity while also trying to prevent it from over-consuming our time and attention.
Other kind of related stuff:

Great articles about how old people always think new stuff is bad:


The fork in this road is ever more pronounced because there’s now so much more to choose from. A citizen can spend his spare time getting smarter, more motivated, and more involved, or he can tune out, drop out, and entertain himself into a stupor. The same devices deliver either or both from the online ether—and the choice that people make is one that’s going to develop early, based on the expectations of our teachers and the standards of our peers.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants (list will be updated throughout the day on October 8):
  • Has Technology Taken Away Childhood? — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama worries that technology is intruding on the basic premise of childhood - active play in all forms! Join her as she takes a brief look at how play has changed as technology becomes more integrated into the daily lives of our children.
  • Fostering a Healthy Relationship with Technology — Jenn at Adventures Down Under describes her children's love of screen time and how her family implements their philosophy and policies on technology.
  • Kids Chores for Tech PrivilegesCrunchy Con Mommy shares how tying chore completion to iPad privileges worked in her house to limit screen time and inspire voluntary room cleaning!
  • Screens — Without the benefit of her own experience, sustainablemum explains her family's use of technology in their home.
  • Screen Time - The Battle of Ideologies — Laura from Laura's Blog explains why she is a mom who prioritizes outdoor natural play for her kids but also lets them have ample screen time.
  • The Day My iPhone Died — Revolution Momma at Raising a Revolution questions the role technology plays in her life when she is devastated after losing her phone's picture collection from her daughter's first year.
  • Finding our Technological Balance — Meegs at A New Day talks about how she finds balance between wanting her daughter to enjoy all the amazing technology available to her, without it overwhelming the natural parenting she's striving for.
  • Raising kids who love TV — Lauren at Hobo Mama sometimes fears what children who love screentime will grow up to be … until she realizes they'll be just like her.
  • No Limits on Screen Time? Is that Natural? — Susan at Together Walking shares misconceptions and benefits of having no limits on technology and screen time in their home.
  • Screen Time — Jorje of Momma Jorje shares what is currently working (and what hasn't) regarding screen time in her household.
  • Positive Use of Technology with Kids — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells about her family's experiences with early technology, shares helpful resources from around the blogosphere, and speculates on what she'd do as a parent with young children today.
  • why i will never quit you, TV — How Emma of Your Fonder Heart came to terms with the fact that screen time is happening, and what balance looks like between real and virtual life for both her toddler AND herself.
  • Technology Speaks — Janet at Our Little Acorn finds many uses for technology - including giving her child a voice.
  • 5 Ways to Extend Children's Screen Time into Creative Learning Opportunities — Looking for a way to balance screen time with other fun learning experiences? Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares 5 fun ways to take your child's love of favorite shows or video games and turn them into creative educational activities.
  • What parents can learn about technology from teachers — Douglas Blane at Friendly Encounters discusses how technology in schools enhances children's learning, and where to find out more.
  • 5 Tips for a Peaceful Home — Megan of the Boho Mama and author at Natural Parents Network shares her favorite 5 tips for creating a peaceful home environment.
  • Technology and Natural Learning — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling writes about the importance of technology as a tool for natural, self-directed learning.
  • Babies and TechnologyJana Falls shares how her family has coped, changed their use of, relied on, and stopped using various forms of technology since their little man arrived on the scene
  • Kids and Technology — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis talks about the benefits of using technology with her preschooler, and includes a few of their favorite resources.
  • Using Technology to Your Advantage: Helping Children Find Balance — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy discusses how technology can be used or abused and gives a few tips to help children learn balance.

6 comments:

Lauren Wayne said...

This is so reasonable and measured! You've really hit on a lot of my own perspective when it comes to screen time — that the research is conflicting, that technology can be used well or poorly, that (some) children do better with limits, and that there are a lot of good options out there for kid-focused technology. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

I am fascinated by your screen set-up - it just takes me to the "free online games for kids" layout, but I take it you can personalize that? I want to know more! We have a "Kieran tab" on both of our laptops that has sites we have preapproved, but I'd love to make it prettier, like what I saw on yours. At any rate, I do agree with your listed benefits of screen time. I appreciate the educational games, it just seems to me that the large majority of "educational" games for preschoolers are . . . not so educational ;) We also make sure that Kieran's screen time is not always fluff, but we also recognize the value of just playing silly games or watching movies for fun :)

Crunchy Con Mommy said...

The chess thing is hilarious.

I think you're spot on with your pros and cons. So tough to know what the best balance is!

Laura said...

Dionna - I took sites I found, mostly on pinterest, and then made a simple web page. If you right click and view the html you can see the code. Anyone is welcome to use it, though I may change it from time to time. :)

Jennifer Saleem said...

Oh! This is an awesome post!!!! I love how you laid out all the information as well as your perspectives. Interesting that you create something that involves children and screen time and yet have such a balanced approach to it in your own home. There are some great links here too! Thank you for sharing!

sustainablemum said...

Great post. You are right it can be addictive and this is the thing that I have been wrestling with for a while. It is all about finding the balance that works for each family depending on their needs, knowledge and experience. Some days screen might feature alot and other days hardly at all, it is about deciding if that matters.