Ben was talking about…

Ben was talking about restricting screen time for his kids, which made me pause and think about where we are on the subject right now. I suspect my whole family would be better off in some ways with less screen time. But I'm also wanting to get an eBook reader soon, and am not sure they're fundamentally different than books, just because they have a screen.

My kids watch a lot of tv -- every day starts and ends with a show, and meal times not at school are generally accompanied by a show too. So that's maybe two hours typically, and often more on the weekends. The meal thing is because mommy likes to read while she eats, and doesn't want to talk to them or hear their screechy little voices.

I find the screen thing a little confusing too. Someone was recently talking about a media fast, which sounded well and good until I realized they also included things like listening to music and NPR. And that seems sort of random to me. Why is putting on a record more damaging than reading a book?

Anyway. We'll see what happens as the kids get older. At least so far, it's mostly not been them demanding screen time, but rather us putting it on to keep them semi-occupied as we get shit done. We introduced Anand (age 2 and a bit) to computer games this past week, and that resulted in three days of intensive demands for more games, but again, it's not really about the screen, per se, but rather the new game, I think. And one he can play by himself, without waiting for the attention of an adult.

10 thoughts on “Ben was talking about…”

  1. How did your “3-4 hours daily” in the comments on Ben’s article become “maybe two hours typically”? Feeling guilty? Reassessing?

  2. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Reassessing — I realized their shows are 20 min. each, so even if they watch four shows a day, that’s barely 1.5 hours total. 🙂

  3. Maybe you can do something like have a “quiet playtime in bedrooms” or their playroom instead of tv? I grew up without much media at all (Egypt didn’t have TV or radio). (now, granted, I obsessively play computer games).

    I used to listen to records, read, dance around to the records, we used to put on shows, etc. And you might want to think about the fact that later on, you may want to have dinner with the kids and hear about their days.

    There’s also the fact that mindful eating comes into it. So if the kids see mommy reading and eating, they might want to do the same, and in my own experience, its not a good habit to be in. (not trying to be judgy mcjudgerson here, just my own stream-of-consciousness thoughts)

    I think maybe the most important thing is to be mindful. to maybe not use the tv as background noise… I see so many people coming into the library for movies, tv shows, etc, not so much for the books anymore. And it makes you (me) wonder…

    I know I only have the three channels on my tv, and with my (increasingly) hypothetical kids, there won’t be much tv. There will be music, languages, books, art, etc…

  4. Interesting discussion; thanks for posting.

    If you didn’t see Liz’s entry that sparked Ben’s, it’s worth reading; there’s some interesting discussion in her comments too.

  5. I have a twelve year old with essentially unlimited screen time. To be honest, I would like to lay down some limits. (And we’ve had them on and off over the years. They just tend to wear off as our energy for enforcing wanes.)

    I do think there’s a lot of value in, as Benjamin says, letting kids get bored. When my son is doing lots of video gaming, I don’t seem him spending as much time in the basement building robots or composing music or creating art.

    However, I also don’t think screen time is inherently harmful. Just, as Benjamin says, extremely attractive.

    I’ve also seen that kids with very strict screen time limits develop some unhealthy behaviors. We have one kid in the neighborhood who gets half an hour of screen time daily. He comes over our house exclusively for the purpose of playing Xbox, and violating his parents limits. It tires me to even think about trying to enforce his screen time limits in my home. And my son, who basically gets all of the xbox time he wants, but does not have a sibling, gets tired of being the xbox host for all of his friends who think xbox is evil.

    I am grateful that we’ve always had a screens-off policy at the dinner table. I can see the value of having a distraction when kids are little (and if you don’t have little kids, it’s impossible to understand the intensity of their constant need for entertainment and attention), but as they get older, mealtime conversation is often the only time you get a chance to hear about their day or what is going on in their lives. Even though we are very involved parents, I am often surprised by conversations around the dinner table, wondering how days had gone by and we hadn’t had certain interesting or important conversations that finally happened over plates of spaghetti or some such.

  6. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Catherine, maybe I wasn’t clear in my post — right now, I don’t actually want to change how much screen time they’re getting. Ben’s post just made me sort of stop and check in with it again. And that made me curious about how the rest of y’all were handling your own personal screen time. I’m not really looking for recommendations on what we should be doing with our kids. 🙂 Sorry if that was unclear.

    I’ll add a few things that perhaps modify my attitude to the eating-with-meals thing. One is that I grew up with the family eating dinner separately — my folks would often be in the living room with their dinner, and sometimes eat it later. The kids would be around the dining table, and almost always, at least 2-3 people out of the family were reading with dinner. That’s my norm, and I like it. I’m not likely to change it after 40 years, and I don’t want to. I would be pleased if my kids read with their meals sometimes instead of watching tv, but they can’t read yet. Soon, hopefully!

    I do understand that some people find it harder to eat a reasonable amount of food if there’s a distraction there, like books or tv, but that hasn’t seemed to be a factor for me or the kids, at least so far. Can’t speak for Kev.

    The other thing is that as professors, we’re home a LOT more than many parents. If you work 9-5, plus commuting time, I can see that dinner time might be the only time you really got to talk to your kids. At least right now, both Kev and I are home most hours of the day, and we get LOTS of time with the kids to hear about everything that’s going on.

    Maybe this will change as our kids get older and have busier lives, although I’m pretty committed to keeping their schedules as light as possible. Like Ben, I’m a big believer in the value of boredom. If they really get into a sport or music or something, that’s fine, but we’re not going to be pushing that sort of outside activity. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

  7. I am not sure what screen time means, exactly. When I had a small child in my home (1968-1971 or so) we let her watch all the television she wanted. She enjoyed it sometimes, but mostly she wanted to be read books. When she was older and able to do so, she wanted to read books herself. But, there were no computers or video games then. I am not sure how they figure into the discussion. When the children are older, does spending time on a computer working on a school assignment count as “screen time”? Does it mean no television that day?

    (I happen to believe that children should spend a few thousand hours over the years writing by hand, with a pen, or at least a pencil; but I seem to be in a minority.)

    On the other hand, I could see a complete ban on computer games. They seem to be a complete and total waste of time and energy. But then, I feel the same way about watching football, baseball, etc. One could, after all, be working on a topology problem or writing an sf novel, by hand, with a fountain pen!

  8. LOL, David! (I’m in that minority with you!)

    I’m just always amazed at how computer-savvy kids are at such young ages these days. The kids computers at the library are constantly being tweaked, by the kids. (Makes us a little crazy when the keyboards get reprogrammed!). Putting voice-over on, trying to access the Internet… the same with the kids in my CCD class…..they are very Internet savvy. There are a lot of kids who come into the library looking for books about tv characters…

    I think kids are bombarded by this stuff these days, as well… you might also want to keep advertising in mind, when you let the kids watch tv. Its proven that there is a LOT of advertising directed solely at small kids these days. And a lot of it reinforces stereotypes….I don’t think children’s tv is as high quality as it was when we were younger…..

    I’m just sharing observations… not commenting on your parenting. I do think it is great that you are limiting the kids… and I think its great that you are thinking about this.

  9. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Yah, I read a book on advertising and kids stuff. It can be pretty pervasive. We don’t have cable, so they watch shows on Netflix — no ads. It’s nice.

  10. I think you are responding to Catherine N. above, but I wanted to be clear that I’m pretty agnostic on what other parents should be doing vis a vis screen time, and was just offering my own experience. (People with the same name on the internet can be so confusing.)

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