Panic!: Am I Ruining My Kids with The Screen?

A recent NY Times article ('Screenagers', What to Do About Too Much Screen Time ) successfully evoked complete worry and feelings of motherly inadequacy in one quick read. Although some might say my 5 and 7 year olds meet D.S.M. criteria for Minecraft Obsession (and I am less than enthused about it), I waffle between firm rules around playing and a laissez faire approach. I feel completely mixed. There is a part of me that knows too much screen time is unhealthy and can negatively impact our kids' moods, attention, impulsivity, and generally deprive them of good ole' fashioned play and fresh air (which is most important to me). I hate to say that I do sometimes see adverse consequence in the short term (i.e. when Ty bursts into tears after asking him to turn off Xbox); I know they are at a particularly vulnerable time in brain development, so my fear around doing long term damage is exacerbated by articles like this one. But, I try to follow my intuition, especially in parenting. When I am strict about Minecraft, I feel virtuous knowing I can tell our pediatrician we are within the screen time recommendation, nonetheless it does come at a cost. As you know, I have three young, ACTIVE children. They need free time to do what they enjoy and I need kid-free time to get things done or take space for myself. This does not seem to happen if they are coloring, doing a puzzle, or another preferable activity.

What has worked for me thus far is remaining attuned, communicative, and flexible. Some days the kids use more screen time than others. Oh well. Although I always feel a little twinge every time they ask for an IPad or sit down in front of Xbox, I think that reflects a ‘should’/’should not’ rather than the fact that they are actually doing something wrong. Guidelines are important. But, they are guidelines. Look to your children.

Ask yourself: How old is the child? Are they active? Do they get enough exercise? Do that have other interests other than t.v. and video games? How is their mood and behavior in general and after they use? How are they doing in school? Is their behavior generally normative for their age? How are they using the screen? Not all screen time is created equal – what are they watching? Do they use screen time to compensate in uncomfortable situations or cope with difficult emotions? Are they socially connected?

It is important to kick these questions around in the back of your mind, but ultimately turn inward and follow your gut. Listen to your answers and make an individual decision, depending on your child. Unfortunately and fortunately, technology is a part of our reality and we need to define usage as we go. You are a consumer and valuable participant in this broad, social experiment. Get active, be thoughtful, look to your children, and make a decision for yourself. Let go of the shame and guilt we too often feel as parents.