Thoughts on Screen Time for Children

A couple months ago, a friend and I were chatting about our hearts’ musings over “screen time” for our little ones. As homeschooling mamas, we’ve discovered many helpful aspects for learning, such as educational apps, informational videos, and online teaching resources. And yet, we wonder, how do electronics fit with the wholesome, gentle, peaceful learning atmosphere we aspire toward for our little ones?

Without a doubt, we want our children to experience the glorious scent of leaves blowing in the breeze and soil in the garden, to create inspiring blends of color with watercolors or pastels, to discover seasonal flavors in the kitchen, and to listen in awe as they twirl to a movement of a symphony.

My children adore these opportunities, and gravitate to them. They love to snuggle up in quilts with an overabundance of library books, intrigued by creature of the sea and celestial bodies, excited by the plot of a mystery, or fascinated by the intricacies of an airplane. At other times, they collaborate to finish a geography puzzle or identify nature discoveries in a field guide.

So, for our family, the electronics are actually pretty limited. There are occasional times when I hear the request to watch a movie or play on the computer, though. (We intentionally don’t have mobile phones with games, apps, etc, so electronics are not an option while we are out having experiences and adventures of life.)

And yet, I hesitate to agree.

I know my children are actually fairly good at self-regulating their choices of activities. They tend to choose a “breathe in-breathe out” routine that I have to consciously strive for as an adult. (I learned more about this concept while preparing some Waldorf-themed homeschool plans this past year.) So, I know I can trust them to a certain degree (not necessarily to make “adult choices,” but to recognize some of their bodies’ cues for limits).

However, I have found that there are seasons/ages for one or more of my children where I have to really guide them with boundaries in this area. I’ve never actually set an arbitrary time limit for screen time, but I try to be intuitive to the attitudes and participation of the child using the screen activities, and then let them know after awhile about how much time is left before we need to turn it off. I try to gauge how well they are interacting with others in the family who are sharing the experience, how they are pausing to read directions (or not), and how they respond when it is time to transition to another aspect of life.

Our children seem to sink into negative attitudes/behaviors if “too much” screen time is allowed. Whether it is the “instant gratification” of the touch of a button, the lack of “consequences,” too much auditory/visual stimuli, or a combination; I’m not sure. But all those elements seem to factor into the issue.

As much as I love the availability of educational opportunities and information, I notice that they still are relegated to the results of a touch of a button, not physically manipulating puzzle pieces, turning book pages, or running to discover things. They are more passively interacting with the screen, than socially interacting with variable, conversational people. Each requires a different type of problem solving, for example.

I’ve even noticed that a normally active child who loves building or busy, discovery play may forget about those activities completely if given the open-ended opportunity for regular electronic use; especially if these activities are simulated in an electronic app. But on the other hand, after a busy day of activity, an occasional time of selecting favorite quiet songs on Pandora while Mama cooks dinner seems just right.

This brings me back to the “breathe in-breathe out” concept, where I try to avoid too much of one or another good things.

(By the way, my children are young elementary school age; the toddler doesn’t use the electronics. I have always stuck with the standard of age two as a boundary, as well as monitoring their verbal skills. Our pediatrician has remarked upon the advanced verbal skills of all three of our children, so I think this rule of “no electronics for babies” is working for us.)

Screen time has been a rather organically-changing, nebulous idea in our home. It just seems to fit certain seasons of life better than others. Some months, we will have family movie afternoons, evenings finding favorite composers/artists on Pandora, or mornings discovering geology or ballroom dancing tutorials on YouTube or memorizing facts from a “Stack the States” game. Other times, we will somewhat forget it, as we attend to other elements of life.

I believe that God has given children parents for a reason, and as their mama, he is equipping me with insights and instincts for each particular child. Some children may need more gentle guidance than others as they learn to set healthy boundaries, discover healthy coping mechanisms on stressful days, and develop appropriate social behaviors. I often think of the C.S. Lewis quote in which we says that we are often “too easily satisfied,” and I think the same goes for children.

As a parent, how do I intentionally show them the true, authentic, and vulnerable things of life- the ever-changing, variable, intricate things left to discover and experience? Are they journeying through challenges and discomforts that develop the depth of who they are, and not just learning “head knowledge,” but heart wisdom?

It is a constant juggle for me to recognize when I am setting limits as a way of equipping them and honoring the gifts God has given them to develop, and when I might be trying to “control” things to make my life easier as the adult.

For now, this is what works for us: moderation with guidance and regular reevaluation. How does Screen Time work in your home?

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1 comment to Thoughts on Screen Time for Children

  • that we would get the special edtiion.That I didn’t go postal at losing an hour and a half on something that would shortly be redundant shows how much I love A Christmas Story. This 1983 classic is not just a heartwarming little story about a loving (if bickery) family in the dour America of the late 1940s, but a hysterical comedy about what it’s like to be a kid at Christmas.Ralphie Parker’s (Peter Billingsley) Christmas wishes are simple: a official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle with a compass and a thing that tells time. But his mom says he’ll shoot his eye out. So Ralphie begins a quiet crusade to get it as a present he writes an essay on it and even asks Santa, only to get the same terrible reply: You’ll shoot your eye out. As the days tick down to Christmas with no sign of an air rifle Ralphie hits other obstacles when he clashes with bullies, says the mother of all dirty words, and watches his parents battle it out over a tacky major award (leg lamp). But there are surprises in store for the Parker family on Christmas morning and some of them involve smelly bloodhounds.Yes, the plot is pretty simple it’s the delivery that makes it special. It’s narrated by an adult Ralphie who offers his slightly sardonic take on everything ( We plunged into the cornucopia quivering with desire and the ecstasy of unbridled avarice ), mingled with a hint of nostalgia. And it’s completely tuned in to how kids think, and how a toy can seem like the most important thing in the world.Fortunately the scriptwriters never condescend to the audience by adding some kind of syrupy message after all, real life doesn’t work that way. Instead there are all sorts of classic moments the leg lamp, Chinese turkey, the terrifying visit to Santa ( HOOOO HOOOO HOOO! ), and Ralphie’s fantasies of defending his family with Ol’ Blue against a bunch of inept, unarmed bandits.And Jean Shepherd the co-writer and narrator of the movie deserves especial credit for bringing this movie to life. He covers the movie with a snowstorm of one-liners and hilarious dialogue: Over the years I got to be quite a connoisseur of soap. He looks like a pink nightmare! Oh FUUUDDDDGGGE! and others.Billingsley is a little stiff as Ralphie, but gives the portrayal of this everykid his charming, slightly frenetic best. Melinda Dillon and Darin McGavin are the comic geniuses here, with their slightly kooky but loving parents (one of the highlights is Dillon’s show me how the piggies eat! scene, and McGavin’s revolted response), and there’s an array of very convincing bullies and classmates too. A Christmas Story didn’t get much notice when it came out in 1983. But now it’s one of the quintessential holiday movies, and a must-see at Christmastime. HOOOOO HOOOOO HOOOO

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