11 June 2014

More Musings on Screen-Time

The more I think about this whole 'screen-time" thing, the more convoluted (and oh so ridiculous) it gets.  I think that like all parenting issues, culturally we want this to black and white when it is anything but.  Sure my kids don't need to be watching 12 hours of TV a day, but there are many considerations that go into what makes screen-time bad or good for kids. As with all parenting choices, you have to do what works for you and your comfort zones (no judgement!), but some points to consider on the topic follow:

  • Not all screen time is bad.  As illustrated in a great book I read a few years ago, it is not always the quantity of screen-time, but the quality.  For example, Charlie now knows how to multiply thanks to playing Minecraft.  If she wants to build 4 walls of 9 blocks, she now knows she need 36 blocks on hand. So yeah, that probably wasn't the worst use of her time.  (I nearly peed myself when she was like "oh yeah 7 sets of 6 is 42, multiplication is just counting by sets like building in Minecraft."  Umm yeahh...it really is that easy!) Also not all screen-time is mindless sedentary activity.  What if my kids play Just Dance, WiiFit or do a yoga DVD?  Sure it is hours logged on a screen, but when the winters are dark (and full of terrors) what else do ya do?  Basically, assuming you are paying some attention to the media they are consuming, screen-time is not inherently the great evil of childhood learning that everyone makes it out to be.
  • The trope of "parent who plugs kid into TV all day so zie can watch soaps and paint nails" needs to die.  Not only is that patently untrue for 99.999% of parents, I would love to meet the kids who can be pacified with TV all day.  My kids won't do this.  Even when given unlimited game time, they punctuate it with using art supplies to make plan/maps for what they will be building in Minecraft, designing costumes and putting on plays about their game-related adventures, writing stories about their characters and well, just plain taking breaks because they also like bike riding, swing-setting and riding my ass about ice cream.  Most kids are not going to settle for a goggle-box babysitter, so let's just take that stereotype off the table.
  • Even when parents do rely on TV/videogames/computer to amuse kids, it is not just because they are lazy.  As I mentioned yesterday even those of us who do regulate screen-time tend to use it in the most mutually productive way possible.  The realities of parenting sometimes require screen-time, especially when the choices are half an hour of Spongebob or the third straight day without a shower, clean dishes or laundered knickers.  Having done several years of solo-parenting, with bad nappers and early risers, TV can be a necessity to survival. 
  • Screen-time is a necessity of modern life.  Computer literacy is an assumed skill now and many schools (including our local district) are phasing into computer based learning modules with increased focus on often-computer-based STEM skills.  You can't say that kids shouldn't have screen-time, but then be surprised when middle-schoolers have trouble using computers effectively.  You can't say teens should only have 4 hours a day of screen time, then run 7 hours of classes plus homework via computer based models.  I personally feel that exposure to screen-work, be it games, TV, typing or reading is good for kids since that will be reality of much of their educational experiences.  When fourth graders are expected to produce and present Power-Point presentations, we need to be realistic about the "recommended" screen-time guidelines. 
Granted, I am glad that modulating my kids' usage of all our fabulous technology is my biggest concern right now.  In the big scheme of parenting issues, we should all be so lucky to have playing PokemonX be our major challenge. Though that is really it, isn't it?  This whole angsting about screen-time (and all the parenting shaming and momier-than-thou-ing that goes with it) really is just the result of comfortable middle-class parents with not much else to do.  For made-up parenting problems in lieu of insurmountable real-life challenges, oh goddess, we give thanks.