“Mommy, Can I Watch a Show?”
I really value authenticity among women, so I’m going to start off sharing my thoughts about screen time for kids by being completely honest. Recently, I was packing for a weekend trip with my husband, and I’m pretty sure my 3-year-old watched at least 3 consecutive hours of Daniel Tiger the morning I was packing. I may have mixed it up with an episode of Mr. Rogers and Dora the Explorer just to keep her interest, but I can’t really remember. I just know when she said, “Mommy, can I watch another show?!”…the answer was always yes.
Mamas, hear me on this: desperate times call for desperate measures! And I would just like to suggest that when you haven’t packed anything but a diaper bag in over a year and you have a teething one-year-old baby girl who likes to scream A LOT and her sister is a strong-willed threenager who only ever asks you “WHY?” you most definitely find yourself doing things you swore you never would to survive. Am I right or am I right? Also, hear me say this…it is going to be okay. It doesn’t always feel like it’s going to be okay when we are having to let go of the expectations we place on ourselves about the kind of mothers we thought we would be and embrace the mothers that we are. But there is grace for whatever season you find yourself facing when it comes to your mothering, and there is grace for our convictions to land in different places with what screentime looks like in our homes. Okay, now that you know what kind of mother I am, let’s proceed to some of my thoughts about screentime knowing that this is 100% a judgment-free zone.
There is grace for whatever season you find yourself facing when it comes to your mothering.
The majority of my convictions about screentime come from my past work experience. I spent almost a decade working in the digital marketing industry and I can’t unlearn what I know. Also, so much of the long-term effects that extended exposure to screens are having on this generation is unknown. We’re just starting to see research now on how screens are affecting the emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental health of ourselves and our children. We have the opportunity to be the greatest influences in our children’s lives, but if we’re not diligent we can let screens shape the way our children’s brains are wired. Here are three recent trends that I hope you’ll join me in pondering as we think about how we want to structure screen time for kids.
- 25% of kids under age 6 own a smartphone. (of the parents surveyed, 8 in 10 don’t monitor the amount of time their child is using a screen) The brain grows fastest in the first five years of life. Research increasingly shows that screen time for our youngest is leading to inattention, anxiety, and depression.
- The average person touches, swipes or clicks their phone 2,617 times a day. (The top 10% do so 5,427 times a day.) We live in a state of what researchers describe as “continuous partial attention”. We don’t pay full attention to any one thing when our phone is within reach.
- The happiest teens use screens less than an hour a day. (In fact, the teens who spent more time in face-to-face in-person interaction with friends were happiest.)
So, now what?
Ponder if I am addicted to the feeling my cellphone gives me.
When I really ask myself the question, “Am I addicted to my smartphone?”, I think I can honestly answer no. I am not addicted to my smartphone; however, I do think I am addicted to the feeling that my smartphone gives me of being productive and efficient in a very inefficient season of life for me. While this device enables me to order groceries, book appointments, meet with doctors and teachers, learn new skills and connect with friends, it takes my eyes off my children for extended periods of time. I often engage with them in a fragmented, distracted and frustrating way instead of a slow unhurried way where there is an unlimited amount of eye contact and my full relational intention is on them. With that being said, I’d like to offer three principles we can practice when it comes to screentime:
1. Set screentime limits for ourselves first, and then set them for our children.
Let’s be mothers who make our children feel like they are the most important thing to us by having screen-free zones or times in our home like mealtimes, bedtime and even an extra special activity time during the day where we dedicate our attention to our children fully and put our phones away. Show them that we aren’t slaves to our screens and that real face-to-face relationships are what we were created for.
2. Protect their purity by portraying the good.
My children are very young and there is so much that’s ugly, dark, and broken in this world. I can’t protect them from the inevitable exposure to all that is very wrong in this world, but I can protect their purity by exposing them to good and beautiful things. There are educational and entertaining shows that uphold what is true, honorable, right, pure, and lovely like Mr. Rogers, Daniel Tiger, and most everything on JellyTelly. I pay attention to the tone of voice, the character’s attitudes, and if the grand story the show or episode is telling is one that is going to bring hope and light into my child’s life or not. Also, depending on the age of your child, you may want to prevent early exposure to inappropriate content and pornography by implementing internet filtering and monitoring software.
3. Give them real-life experiences over virtual reality whenever possible.
Our children only get to be kids once, so let’s honor their childhood by giving them real-life experiences and connection over a digital life that will pacify them in the interim, but leave them more anxious and unhappy in the long run. It may require more initial effort from us, but I believe our investment will pay off in the long run.
Tell us! What do you think is the most important thing to do to protect our kids from some of the dangers of screens?