When my kids were little, we had two screens — a TV and a desktop computer. Both of these devices lived in our family room.This made enforcing screen time simple. When they reached their time limit, I turned off the screen. Now, my kids are older and we have screens everywhere. These screens do not sit in one place, but migrate throughout the house. They are doing a lot more than watching Elmo or Clifford.
They go online for everything. For school, they are online reading a textbook, working on math problems or creating a presentation. With friends, they are online sending messages or playing together on Minecraft. For entertainment, they are online playing a game, watching a show on hulu or surfing YouTube. Sometimes, these activities are happening simultaneously.
I have tried different methods for reigning in these screens. But once they started going online for school work, it was hard to set a definite time limit. This week, I read two interesting articles that offered a new way of looking at screen time.
The first was from Claire McCarthy who wrote It’s time for pediatricians to change our advice about media. A recent study examined what happened when families with preschoolers did not set a time limit for TV. Instead, the families limited viewing to appropriate shows. What happened was the preschoolers were better behaved. In fairness, it was only a little better but moving in the right direction. Instead of only setting time limits, she suggested parents should think about what their children should watch and do online.
The other article, a position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media, also discussed time as well as teaching kids how to use technology for a purpose. This paper focused on bringing technology into the classroom but also had suggestions for parents. One was that not all screens are created equal. Parents should begin by asking questions and thinking critically about what technologies and media they bring in the home.
After thinking about screen time, I conducted an informal poll of my kids. I plopped myself down next to them for a quick, so what are you doing online moment. I discovered the most visited sites for my kids were a spanish textbook, a humanities textbook, a math website, Minecraft and YouTube. After talking with them, I would place YouTube is a bit higher up in that order and add searching for music videos and TV shows.
I also looked at my internet use. My status as a role model is a bit shaky. Some days, between work and emails, my laptop is never closed. I also fall into the mindlessly surfing trap. I can easily spend an hour clicking around Twitter or watching the top 25 clips of the week on hulu.
In the end, we all needed an online tune-up. So, we are updating our family online agreement to include both time and intent. We are making sure we carve out screen free times during the day but we are also looking at what we are doing online. Before joining the latest network or bringing home a new device, we are going to talk about what we want to do and how this fit in. Hopefully by including both time and intent, we can achieve a healthier balance between online and offline activities.