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Enough with the screen time worrying!

Every time a new article on kids and screen time comes out, I'm hunting through it for the typical signs of bias against technology we've come to expect from modern parenting culture. It feels like not a day goes by when somebody isn't complaining about kids and computer/cellphone/tablet/tv/gaming use. Either the kids are too young or it's too much or they don't spend enough time building tree forts anymore, the like. Remember back in the day when everybody thought violent video games were ruining our kids? Or rap lyrics? We all lived through that and, thankfully, hardly anybody thinks a first-person shooter is going to turn your son or daughter into a killer anymore. If anything, gaming culture got bigger and more diverse despite the ratings and ban on underage sales, etc.. Rap music is now celebrated as classic music we'd like to pass on to our children as respecting multiple genres and tastes.

Please, if you want to keep your kids from owning technology or getting on social media until they're off to college go for it. They're your kids. But as a tech-positive dad, I cringe when parents start talking about how much screen time is too much and what "good" screen time is and what age is appropriate for using devices.

Honestly? Birth. Birth is probably the right time to hand them a cellphone these days. And quit worrying. Ok, maybe not birth. But why are we so scared of how our children are interacting with these tools--especially for you parents who came of age with the internet? There are all these overblown fears out there that reflect, in my opinion, our societal guilt about something else. Our fear of kids and technology is less about the kids (or the tech) and more about pioneering the first generation of digital natives. We're trailblazing and setting the new rules and yet methinks a little sad about our own youth of hand-crank windows being gone.

My kids will probably never drive a car with hand-crank windows. And I'm ok with that. What I'm even more ok with is that my preschool age children tell me to ask my phone when they have questions about the world. I could send them to the library, sure. But why? My phone now answers back when you have something you're curious about. That's amazing! That's ripped from the future. They recognize the power of it.

The questions in my house usually revolve around animals. What do alligators eat? Are there any birds who hibernate? What are baby pteranodons called? I noticed that, curiously, my kids very rarely ask the annoying "why" question that kids their age are notorious for. When my daughter did a few in a row the other day, it struck me how odd that was. Then I realized...I'm well-read and I've taught them to consult a resource to find an answer. They like the process of gaining knowledge! Do I sometimes regret that they won't grow up thinking the Man In The Moon crying is what causes rain or some other childhood myth? I don't think they are without storytelling and symbolism in their lives. Their lack of tree forts isn't ruining them forever.

And, don't get me wrong, it's a lot of videos of someone opening surprise eggs or old episodes of Pocoyo, too. The television is on and sometimes gets ignored as background. Other times they sit paying undivided attention to PBS. Sometimes, as parents, we disagree over our own family policy on screen time even. Some nights videos on daddy's phone substitute for books. (Gasp!) They don't own their own handheld video game like others their age though. They're rarely left alone with a device and they're always monitored because we don't use parent control software.

Our school district hands out iPads in Kindergarten and I'm fine with that. I'm fine with Big Data mining my children's browsing habits. I'm fine with a lot of these things we have great cultural issues and debates over right now because I can see the way my own kids seamlessly integrate technology into their own lives. Are there drawbacks and prices to be paid? Sure. But, on the whole, it makes me sad to see the way that people with a cellphone in their own pocket fail when it comes to tech and their kids. It's hypocrisy to me. We hated being talked down to and over-protected, many of us, when we were children. Yet we turn around and do it to a whole new generation behind us?

I can't wait for my kids to take coding classes. I light up when they want to know about the human body or space or even when they're obsessed with trucks. We need to stop framing it as a danger issue and start framing it as a science issue. If we want to stop being behind in STEM and get kids interested in learning then you have to make the world accessible. You have to get them curious.

So, no, your children are not getting too much screen time. Are they getting too much science time? Too much "I want to communicate with the world" time? Too much library and reading time? The next time you put down technology, stop and ask yourself if what they were doing could lead to a lifelong love of better understanding the world. That's definitely not something they'll get from digging out in the sandbox.