Television, tablets, laptops, personal computers, and smart phones are everywhere you turn. We use them for work, for school, to connect, to disconnect, to relax, to learn, to shop, to play, to entertain, to interact, and pretty much every way imaginable. It’s difficult for most of us to imagine life without these screens.
It seems that they are now fundamental elements of our lives and our society. It is rare to find someone that doesn’t own a smartphone or a television. In fact, if you know someone that has chosen to avoid these items, it’s likely that someone in their life has called them “eccentric” or “old-fashioned.”
Small children are proficient in tablet and smartphone technology. They know how to download apps, watch movies, play games, send text messages, and much more. Sometimes too much more.
I have a love-hate relationship with this type of technology. On the one hand, I appreciate the convenience and opportunity it affords. As a homeschooler, I am grateful that I can hop on You Tube anytime I want to find an educational video to supplement whatever topic we are studying (or answer the one millionth question my children have asked that day). But as a Mom, I loathe the ease with which my teenager can do the same and find a plethora of mind-numbing, crude or downright vulgar videos. Never have young people had such easy and instant access to such horrific things.
So, is screen technology bad or good? I don’t think it can be qualified that simply. I think it is good for many reasons. But I think we are fooling ourselves if we don’t pay close attention to all the ways that it can, has and will affect the minds of our children (and ourselves).
Everyone is different, and I realize that my family may have problems with screen use that your family does not encounter.
However, here are two things I have noticed about screen use in my home:
Any increase in screen time is directly proportionate to an influx of bad behavior. Now, I realize that unless I conduct a scientific experiment, I can only infer a correlation and not a causation. However, it is seriously suspect that every time I am careless with the amount of television/video games/etc that my children consume, they become more lethargic, selfish, and short-tempered. Every time. Also, so do I. It took me a little longer to realize this, but the more social media I use or Netflix I binge-watch, the less pleasant I am as a wife, mother and friend.
I’ll bet there is a super-sciencey reason for this. I don’t know what that is, but I do know my babies. They are mostly compassionate, funny, energetic, thoughtful and passionate individuals. Not so when they are spending too much time in front of a screen.
The more we get the more we want. Some people say their kids will watch tv or video games, and eventually get bored and go do something else. Not. My. Kids. You offer my kids some game time and they will raise you a request for more. Or they will “not hear their timer go off”. Or some such thing. But it all boils down to the same thing: the more they play or watch the more they want.
I experimented with this over the summer. During the school year, I had read in a blog somewhere that this woman had removed her restrictions on screen time and her children had self-regulated. I was skeptical, but after mulling it over (and trying everything else I could think of), I decided to ask my husband what he thought of trying it. Although he was also a skeptic, he agreed. We decided on some ground rules, and presented it to the children. They were so excited! We started that day what was to become a month-long experiment that I regret almost entirely except for the lesson. I wish I didn’t have to figure everything out the hard way.
Let me break it down for you. Our rules were pretty simple: 1. Chores must be done first. 2. No fighting over the tv in the living room. If you can’t agree whose turn it is, take the argument to the bedroom until you work it out. 3. No eating in front of the tv. 4. Mom or Dad can claim the tv at any time. 5. Don’t ask us to decide whose turn it is/settle an argument about the tv.
I think that was it. At first it went well. They were each so excited that they bent over backward to make sure that their Dad and I continued to think that this was a good idea. Chores were done early and correct, every morning. There was no fighting, arguing, nastiness, etc. Any breach of “contract” was brief and corrected quickly.
And then they realized that to avoid arguments they needed a schedule. The middle two (A, 7 & S, 9) made a schedule that excluded their older brother that was working a lot (L, 16) and their little sister that didn’t even realize she needed to be in on negotiations (E, 3). It worked for about a week.
And then the L balked at the fact that he was excluded by the schedule, E threw fit after fit at never being allowed to choose what was on the tv, and lo and behold, even the middle two, the authors of this agreement, began to take issue with the schedule. S would convince (read browbeat) A into allowing her to go first every morning. A would not be ready to stop when his turn was up and would ignore S as she reminded him. Repeatedly.
And then their Dad and I realized that most of the chores were either not being done or not being done correctly. None of the children wanted to do anything else ever if it interfered with their “time”. Not read a book, not go somewhere, not eat, not play, not go outside, nothing. They would even time their potty breaks to coincide with their off-time. Seriously.
And then about a month had gone by and I had had enough. NO one had self-regulated. In fact, as the month wore on, more was consumed, rather than less. They lost their passion to play, read, converse, explore, etc. The experiment had decidedly failed. And I swung that pendulum in the exact opposite direction. There is NO screen time for my younger children except for rare (and mostly educational) exceptions. My oldest is only allowed on after homework, chores and work are done and the younger children are in bed. I know that some may think me extreme. But after seeing what happened during that month (and you can refer back to my first bold point if you need to)…just trust me, it needed to happen.
In addition to the abovementioned negative effects of too much screen time that I have observed, here are some additional unpleasant possibilities regarding screen technology:
You may think you know what your children are doing with their tablet/phone/laptop, but you probably don’t. When my son was approaching the age to need to use a computer regularly, a friend of mine told me that I should always make sure that he uses it in a common room and never has internet access when he is alone. She said her mom always followed those rules for her and her sister, and that she is so thankful. She said it wasn’t a trust issue, or an insult, but rather a kindness that her mother would not allow her two girls to be tempted beyond their ability to resist. I mostly followed this advice.
Mostly. I wish I had entirely. For privacy purposes, I will not get into my personal experience with this. And thankfully I didn’t have to learn too hard a lesson.
But let me stress to you: if your child has access to the internet they have access to everything in the world. Everything. PLEASE, please let that sink in. Yes, I hear you, my children are not interested in those things either. But, it only takes one typo for them to see the wrong thing. And those things cannot be un-seen. Even innocent children are curious. Do you want to bet your child’s innocence on whether they can resist that temptation?
Here are possibilities I have heard of and would encourage you to think about when you hand your child access to the internet with no supervision: cyber bullying, sexting, taking naked pictures and sharing them, pornography, stalking, and many, many more. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. I’ll happily play the part of a broken record if just one child is saved from one of these experiences.
You may want to consider how your child is assimilating what they are watching/playing/participating in. It is a nice fantasy that my child is the one strong enough to resist the influence of media, their friends, popular shows, etc. But the reality is that everything is affecting them one way or the other.
My lesson in this was a show I was allowing my three-year-old to watch. It is a cartoon, I won’t say which, with a snarky, rude and sometimes downright hateful character. It’s hilarious. If you’re an adult and you know better. But if you are three and impressionable? Apparently, it is something to aspire to. It was her absolute favorite thing to watch. It broke my heart to tell her she couldn’t watch it anymore, but it was either that or raise the world’s cutest jerk.
Another thing to consider here are scary movies. Even kiddie ones. I have often heard the line, “Well, my child likes to be scared.” That’s probably true. My own children try to tell me that all the time. But bedtime tells me what I need to know. If they no longer want to be in their own beds all night, begin having an increase in nightmares, and become more nervous in general, I can assume that like it or not the scary stuff needs to go. Another point I feel should be made is that we are viewing these images through an adult lens. We know the difference between what is and what can be imagined. I’m not convinced that my children always do. And although they may enjoy the initial shock and thrill of seeing something scary, I do not know what lasting impact that is going have on their developing psyche, and I don’t really care to experiment.
Well, after doing my regular bang up job at succinctness, I should probably wrap this up. I would love to hear your thoughts on screen time.