Addicted to Screens

lilly ipad

Dear Courtney,

Yesterday, while waiting to check out at Fred Meyer, I overheard an interesting conversation.

Behind me a dad asked a mom where their kid was.  The mom laughed and pointed to a 10 or 11-year-old boy punching buttons on a computer at gift registry .  The dad chuckled, “He’s registering?  Is there something I need to know.”  The mom quipped back, though somewhat dryly, “I think he’s just addicted to screens.”

I chuckled and smiled to myself; I watched the boy for moment as he clicked on every drop down menu and rolled the mouse around and around the screen. Then it was my turn; I paid and moved on with my day.

But there’s something about that scene I can’t shake,  something in the mother’s voice– I don’t actually think she found the scene funny at all.  Her tone was irreverent, but I think she meant exactly what she said; that child is addicted to screens.  So addicted he’s feels compelled to explore a  computer covered in pictures of engagement rings, white lilies and pastel baby carriages.  There is nothing for him there– except that it’s a screen.

Look, I’m not judging; I’m really not.   My kids are certainly no strangers to screen time.  But it did bring up a point I think most parents struggle with, at least I do:  in a world that is totally dominated by screens, how much is too much?  How early is too early?  What should the boundaries be?

When Bugaboo was younger (and an only child) we were super strict.  We didn’t have an ipad or smart phones yet (we were very late adopters!), and with the exception of weekend sports games, she really didn’t see any TV.  (On rainy days, I think her daycare sometimes let the kids watch videos, but that was really the extent of her exposure).   As she got older we relaxed a little, and she could watch one episode of Dora or Sesame Street on Friday afternoons.  (BTW I hate Dora).

Once, I shared our rule with a friend who has older kids, she stared at me and said, “You guys are so strict!  I’ve never heard of anyone THAT strict.”  I was surprised, at the time it didn’t seem strict to me;  I grew up before personal computers were common place and in a house without any TV.  As a matter of fact, when I was 4 my folks TRADED our TV for a Kirby vacuum cleaner.  Yes, you read that correctly.  They traded the TV for a vacuum.  The TV.   For a VACUUM !   Anyway,  in my brain, compared with that, we were practically permissive.

Then Guy Guy was born, and my father-in-law gifted us an ipad, and J bought me a smart phone, and Bug got her first movie on DVD.  Suddenly our house was flush with new screens, new distractions.  Oh, and with a new baby, those screens and distractions helped me get so much done.

Did I write that in past tense?  I should say, HELP me get so much done!

Wanna make dinner in peace?  “Who want to use the ipad?”

Wanna nurse uninterrupted?  “Who wants to watch Cinderella?” (Or now, Frozen!)

Need to clean the bathroom?  “Who wants to look at pictures on Mommy’s phone?”

Our kids’ screen consumption has gone from 30 minutes a week to, realistically, an hour a day.

On one level, J and I made a conscious decision to allow more screen time.  Apart from the selfish benefits for us, there is a practical benefit.  Most kids, even little kids, are using computers, smart phones, tablets. If all the other kids are comfortable with the technology; I want my kid to be too.   We’re not typically “keep up with Jones” type people, but we don’t want our kids to fall behind.   I worry we’re in an era where early computer skills are as common and expected as the ABCs.    I don’t want them to be the only kids in school who don’t know how to use a tablet or computer.  Heck, here in Seattle, if we send our kids to public school, they will take a standardized test on a computer in Kindergarten.  Kin-der-gar-ten.  I guess if I’m going to teach them to count to 100, I should also teach them to use a mouse.

I don’t know, maybe I’m over thinking it.  Maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better.  Maybe I’m trying to justify lazy parenting, plunking them down in front of a screen while I do something else.  But now, more than ever, there sure seems to be an important place for screen time in the life of a young child.  (Albeit, that place probably doesn’t need to include Frozen).

Here’s what I know for sure, I don’t want my kids to enter school technologically behind the eight ball, but I also really, really, really don’t want that kid in Fred Meyer.  I don’t want my kids addicted to screens.

Courtney, how does your family handle this issue?


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