Should we worry about our kids screen time?

  • Media-centric families (39% of the sample), in which parents used electronic media for an average of 11 hours a day and children averaged 4.5 hours. These families were most likely to leave TVs on most of the time (48%) and put TVs in children’s rooms (44%).

  • Media-moderate families (45%), in which parents used media nearly five hours a day and children were plugged in for nearly three hours.

  • Media-light families (16%), in which parents averaged less than two hours and children averaged about 1.5 hours of screen time each day.

“Parents set the family style,” Wartell says. “Children are not the driving force here.”


Idle Hands are the Devil’s Handiwork

colonialkidsMy kid is wasting time online. All they want to do is play video games. Should I limit their screen time? Video games are so violent today, should I be worried about that?

These are all common questions I get at parent seminars on social media. I get it. I really do. In our own house we face the same questions.

But I think these questions are coming it from the wrong angle. You see, the questions are coming from a perception rooted deeply in our culture. If you go back and look at parenting advice from 25, 50, 100, 200, and 300 years ago you’ll see the exact same angst-driven question through the ages. The same question has been raised of playing with other children, reading, telephones… and now internet connected devices. The question about idle time is rooted in our Puritan heritage… the assumption that idle time is the devil’s handiwork.

Embedded deep in us is the constant worry that any moment not being productive is being unproductive. Or that the only kind of play that is approved is the type of play the parent experienced as a child.

The questions parents ask me today about phones, tablets, and computers are exactly the same questions parents have had for centuries. All that has changed is the object of scrutiny.

I’m worried about my kids Kindle usage the same way my parents were worried about my Nintendo usage and the same way their parents were worried about their telephone and television usage and the same way my great-grandparents worried about my grandparents radio usage.

One generation just thinks the next one is wasting time and destroying their brains.

And that’s the way it is. Yes. You can point me to research. And I can counter that by pointing you to research conducted when we were kids, when our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were kids. Parents are always convinced that their children are rotting their brains.

All of this is why I try to steer parents to thinking about the question differently altogether. 

A Question of Personality Types

Let’s stop fretting about the time wasting question. After all, playing 6 hours of Minecraft is just as much unproductive time wasting as 6 hours of soccer or reading or other hobbies. Those other hobbies are just seen as more socially acceptable.

Instead, let’s look at this as a matter of personality types. Introverted people tend to be more extroverted online, while extroverted people tend to look at social media and all things internet as a waste of time.

Extroverts say, “Why use the internet when you can just talk to REAL people?” Introverts respond, “Because the internet gives me time to think about what I’m saying/doing before I have to respond.”

When we phrase it like that we begin to get away from gotcha parenting and we begin to talk about engaging with our kids in meaningful ways. And that sounds a whole lot more exciting than fretting about the time-suck-of-the-month.

Two Questions for Building Healthy Engagement with Screen-Loving Kids:

  1. Why does my child like to spend so much time in front of a screen?
  2. How can I engage my child in their world instead of forcing them to engage only in my world?

Want to know more about this? In A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media, Marko and I go more in depth on the principle that personality types swap online. As you recognize this and 5 other principles of understanding social media you’ll begin to see how to fit screen time into your overall parenting goals.






3 responses to “Should we worry about our kids screen time?”

  1. Alan Bentrup Avatar

    There are other factors behind the push to limit screen time than just “wasting time.” There are demonstrable, physical affects to staring at a screen (sleep disruption, obesity, shorter attention span, etc. Research here: The worry for many is not about being unproductive, but that video games, TV and other activities can be negatively counterproductive.

    Yes, the view that online community and interaction is worse, or less, than “real world” interaction is wrongheaded. But that is not the only, or perhaps even strongest, argument against limiting screen time.

    1. Adam McLane Avatar

      Again, if you look back at studies done in previous generations you’ll see the exact same concerns about all sorts of things. (TV, video games, telephone, radio, movies, comic books, board games, theater, etc.)

      I’m not saying that small screens don’t impact kids brains. (Plenty of contemporary research says there’s an impact.) I’m saying we need to engage our kids in their world, and not just stand outside and talk about how much we don’t like it.

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