My kids can have all the screen time they want

Have you ever felt guilty about letting your kids have too much screen time… and by screen time, I mean watching TV, playing video games, texting, Skyping and everything in between? Have you ever treated your child’s tablet as a babysitter, or let him play with your phone just to get through a trip to the grocery store, and felt like you were a bad parent?

Good news: You’re not.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is releasing new guidance on what they consider to be healthy amounts of screen time. The new guidelines are still in progress but the AAP has released a few key messages, to include specific guidance about content and teen screen time. They’re really loosening up, which is a relief.

My kids got their first device at age 4. They play educational games, read books and occasionally watch mindless programing on their tablets. They quickly learned how to download things from the Google Play store, and my husband and I have to keep a tight watch on the parental control settings because kids are smart and they could figure out a way around that stuff… See also: how my kids downloaded Caillou without my permission.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the receiving end of a dirty look because my kid was using a tablet (with headphones) at a restaurant. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told my kids get too much screen time (usually by my mom) or how many times I’ve felt like I just suck as a parent when I hear other moms talk about how they severely restrict or limit screen time. If we’re going by the old AAP standard of two hours a day for kids over 2 (and none for kids under 2) then yes… I’m pretty sure my kids’ brains are rotting.

Good news, though — at least, it’s good news for me — because according to the new guidelines: 

1. Content matters

Be more concerned with what your kids are doing online than how long they’re doing it. If my kids spend their evening playing with educational apps that teach them about spatial relations or spelling, that shouldn’t raise red flags. If they’re engaged in online activities that promote learning or brain development, I’m not necessarily being a lazy parent. If they veg out on cartoons for hours at a time, well… That’s a different story.

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2. It’s OK for teens to be online

Online relationships and being active in social media support adolescent development and identity formation. Instead of complaining about how much time your teen spends online or glued to their smart phone, focus on teaching them appropriate (and safe) behavior and allow them the opportunity to show you what they’re working on or doing. Considering how tech and social media savvy today’s kids are, you’ll probably learn something.

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Times are changing, but it’s important to remember this: Parenting has not changed. Be engaged with your child. Set limits, be involved and teach kindness. Cyber bullying is real, and so are people who are out there on the Internet to do harm. Screen time isn’t the horrible monster we’ve made it out to be, but the responsibility to be aware of what our children are doing is still on the parents.

This is very good news for this mom. There’s enough guilt that goes with mothering today. I am happy to cross my worry over how much time my kids spend doing puzzles on their tablets off that list.

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Caillou is another story.