It’s one of the great debates of raising kids in the 21st century. We hear endless condescending comments from older generations: “My kids didn’t have that option when they were young. They just went outside to play.” We hear criticism from our pediatricians: “One hour at most per day!” And we hear about all sorts of schedules and time limits from other parents: “My kids have to do their chores before they get the WiFi password!”
Ah, yes, of course we’re talking about screen time. More than the debate of whether to send kids with summer birthdays to kindergarten or wait a year, more than the appropriate age to potty-train or leave children home alone, more than how many kids’ sports is too many, it seems the “screen time” debate reigns supreme among hot button parenting topics.
Personally, I usually don’t weigh in on too many of these discussions — mostly because we don’t really have restrictions in our house on screens. My kids don’t have to “earn” their computer or iPad time. And yes, there are lots of summer days when they lay around watching YouTube, and frankly, I’m okay with it and don’t entertain anyone else’s thoughts on the matter.
First of all, it’s 2022. Any parent out there adamantly fighting their kids’ access to iPads or computers, in my opinion, is fighting a losing battle because they’re using this technology at school. And the kids who know how to navigate a tablet or laptop have an easier time with online lessons and activities. (And they’ll need basic knowledge of technology for nearly any field of work, too, so preventing this exposure only puts them behind in this modern world.)
Secondly, my oldest is nearly 14 and is a total computer nerd. He has self-taught himself various coding skills including Scratch and Python. He loves to create his own original content — whether it’s pixel art or computer game concepts — and he loves, LOVES Minecraft.
Also, he’s going into 8th grade and still doesn’t have his own phone. We have a “kids’ phone” that they all share, but he doesn’t tend to use it. So his “screen time” is not on an iPhone (or even an iPad). It’s on his laptop. He’s reading articles, watching Minecraft tutorials, and talking to his friends via various online chat features as they build their digital worlds and fight creepers together.
My younger two kids (ages 11 and 9) also get a lot of screen time — whether it’s watching Dude Perfect on YouTube or playing Animal Crossing on our Switch or talking to their friends over text and messenger.
But again, I’m not really worried about counting minutes for any of them. Because honestly, when I think about my childhood that was chock full of reading (the original Baby-Sitters Club series was the BOMB), riding my bike, and playing tag, hide-and-seek, dress-up, and Barbies … I also remember watching TV. A lot of TV.
And guess what my kids almost never watch? TV. They don’t even know how to turn on cable, or what that even means. They have a few favorite shows on Netflix, but even that is rare. My 9-year-old son’s go-to if he’s lounging on the couch is YouTube sports clips: best all-time catches in baseball, most memorable moments in hockey, winning shots at the buzzer in basketball.
How is that any different from me as a kid, laying on the couch, eating cereal, and watching Days of Our Lives all summer? It’s not. In fact, I think it’s better.
Also, my kids are busy in 900 other activities. I know this because I’m the one driving them everywhere. My youngest played two sports this summer — hockey and baseball. My middle child rides horses and went to horseback riding camp. My oldest is in theater (opening night of his play is this weekend!) and also takes tennis lessons.
Add in play dates and swimming and fishing and playing catch with the dog and Wiffle ball in the yard … and yeah, you can say we’re a busy family.
Furthermore, if this pandemic taught us anything, it’s the value of having our kids connect with the outside world. Even though we are back to leaving the house frequently, schools have re-opened, and our lives have pretty much returned to normal, my children continue to connect with their friends daily via the various screens in our household. (Which, again, isn’t much different than me chatting with my girlfriends for hours on end on the house phone in 1992. It’s just that now, kids text. They don’t call. That’s another part of “screen time.”)
So yes, when I look at our summer, and I feel a pang of guilt for those days that I let them lazily lounge around and binge a Netflix show or YouTube channel or get lost in Minecraft for hours, I remember the days that we went on a family hike. Or swam in the pool all day with friends. Or the endless baseball games and camps and memories made at the waterpark.
I think of the books they’ve read and the endless library fees we owe and the sight of them sneak-reading at night when they are supposed to be sleeping. I think of the hilarious board game my teenager created with his own imagination that has brought us hours of laughter. I think of the huge pile of craft supplies and paintings my artistic daughter has made and how I find her sketchbooks all over the house.
When I think of the fact that we don’t have strict limits on screens and worry that somehow I’m doing them a disservice because they don’t have a structured means of “earning” this privilege, I remember how they came running out to the car to help me unload groceries yesterday without me even asking. How they all help take care of the dog and passed around the vacuum last week as they cleaned their own rooms and have been busy pulling weeds all summer. I think about how they fold and put away their own laundry and help scrub the bathroom and run a dust rag across the furniture whenever I ask.
The truth is, we just aren’t organized enough for a structured “screen time” system. Our days all look different; on Tuesday we might sleep in and Wednesday we are up and out of the house by 7 am. Some days my kids help me clean the house all day long, and others, I have hours of work to catch up on and they are left to their own devices for entertainment so I can earn an income.
And I’m not going to feel guilty about any of it.
I know this much to be true: my children live a good life. They are healthy. They are active. And most importantly, they are kind. And yes, during all 12 months of the year, my kids often enjoy unlimited screen time … and I’m 100% okay with that.