Screentime for kids is GOOD…but BAD

As a parent of elementary and middle schoolers, the device conundrum is hitting home! I think we’re too lax, and writing this out as a way to figure it out. I think the best place to start is myself.

Thoughts on screen time for grownups.

I was going to say tablets/phones were about 12 years old – but I looked it up on Google and the first iPhone came out in June 2007- EIGHT AND A HALF YEARS AGO. Doesn’t that blow your mind, thinking about the shift that’s happened in this time period?

I work in technology, and am on a computer myself for most of the day. I decided long ago I’d never have a tv in my bedroom…but like most people I expect, my cellphone lives next to my bed. Most nights I do a bit of browsing to wind down. My husband is on his all the time. tracking financial markets, or playing a civilization type game!

But we’re not all bad –

  1. We don’t allow devices at mealtimes or when we eat out.
  2. We go camping and on day trips often, which are primarily device free.
  3. Over spring break (when we got back from camping) we put all devices away at 10 am including my husbands and mine, and then got them out again late afternoon.

What we set in place for our kids has to be consistent with what we do.

First, I want to first figure out the difference between good screen time and bad screen time.

What is useful, rejuvenating, meaningful screen time for me?

Watching TedTalk videos. Playing Minecraft with my kids! Kindle books on education. Reading something inspiring. Writing something, working, shopping for stuff I need. Doing Chopra meditations. Email, connecting with people on FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, sometimes Facebook. Watching a bunch of Ellen or Graham Norton video clips. Hmmm. It’s all solo time except for the group Minecraft which happens once in a blue moon.

What is bad screen time for me?

I’d say Candy Crush games are the worst. I LOVE playing these games, will keep going and going until my 5 Lives run out and Candy Crush forces me to wait.The problem is I get NOTHING done, and don’t surface afterwards refreshed or happier. I’m feeling good while I play the game, so it feeds some sort of need, but it’s a complete productivity killer.

Thoughts on screen time for my kids….

  1. PRO: There are fantastic ways online for real, natural learning to happen. I’m not talking about learning apps or gamified math games. I’m talking about when you are building a parcours in a MineCraft world, for example, and get stuck figuring out how to set up a particular obstacle, and can search, watch a YouTube video or two, learn something new, and work out how to create what you want. Real learning can happen through a YouTube video, a blog post, etc.
  2. PRO: The skills that kids will need for the ‘65% of jobs that don’t exist yet’ in their future include technology and require screen time. They need to be able to find answers, analyze data, learn on demand. Not giving them time to develop these skills naturally is a bad idea.
  3. PRO: 10,000 hours, mastery, specialization. Work is more and more specialized, and why would you cut off your kids from developing this early? My son is 13, already decided he wants to be a computer programmer.
  4. CON: There’s horrible stuff out there, and if your kid is on his/her own online, exploring even YouTube, he/she could be exposed to bad ideas, bad people, bad images, and come to harm.
  5. CON: Soft Skills that are vitally important for future work are endangered – schools aren’t set up to teach them, and the time spent face to face with family, friends, in social situations is decreasing, being replaced by screen time entertainment. Socia
  6. CON: Handing out screen time as a reward seems to me like allowing a kid to have dessert if they eat their vegetables. Expert advice says this makes the dessert seem more desirable and makes kids more likely to want it/eat it/crave it. It reinforces the idea that dessert is more valuable. Won’t a parent screen time do the same thing?

Rules now:

  1. We had a family meeting before school started in September and agreed:
    1. 6:30-7:30 pm on school nights – if homework is done, chores are done.
    2. Weekends screen time before breakfast OK, screen time 3pm – 5pm…
    3. No YouTube or videos or sites with swearing, or content that’s mean
    4. No chatting/Skyping/emailing with strangers, people you’ve never met face to face. Even if it’s Minecraft and you’ve been on a shared server with them for ages.
  2. The reality: yes, screen time starts at 6:30 but ends when we kick them off.
  3. The reality: my 13 year old takes his cellphone into his room and watches YouTube videos in bed.
  4. The reality: somehow my son’s laptop is no longer in the family room, but in his room on his desk again. I had him out in the public area, and I need to get him out there again.
  5. The reality: my son is an introvert, and I want to enable him to develop his collaboration/teamwork and complex communication skills. Right now home time makes it easy for him to avoid these things.

Proposed Changes

I’m going to bring this up at dinner tonight, give reasons why, ask for contributions (every time the kids get to suggest tweaks/changes, etc. and have good reasoning, the improve on my plan and are also much more vested in following it).

I maintain that screen time needs to be limited so:

  • you spend time with real people and engaging with what’s happening in real life
  • you have space to get things done at home, for school, for yourself
  • you can develop your imagination, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skills in other ways. These are critical skills to practice
  • you spend time moving more to stay healthy

The current set up isn’t working as well as I’d like so I’m proposing changes.

First, there’s good and bad screentime. (Give example of how it looks for me.) What is good screentime for you? What is bad screentime?

Based on this conversation, we may incorporate something to recognized quality, skill-building time vs. low quality time. But I’m not sure yet.

I propose:

  1. NetNanny on all devices to control daily time limits, so parents don’t have monitor and remember to kick them off.
  2. NetNanny on all devices to protect us all from landing on bad content by mistake!
  3. NetNanny on all devices so we have visibility on how they are spending their time.
  4. Rules – do not Skype or chat or email with strangers, people you have never met in person. Do not post/talk badly about anyone online. Do not watch anything that is mean or has swearwords.
  5. Tablets, Laptops, Phones to be used in Family or Living rooms, not in bedrooms.
  6. Projects. If you have a specific goal, project, creation that needs screentime at some point, come talk to us. We are all makers and anything you imagine and want to create shouldn’t be stymied. (i.e. schoolwork, Skype call with Karla, making a video,  researching R2D2 robot steps, working on codecombat.com or flowlab games, getting to Kahn Academy next level, etc.)

I’ll let you know what happens!

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