Notes From a Pro-Screen Parent

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kids screen time My children are in elementary school. They watch movies and stream TV shows and play video games. I am a pro-screen parent.

If you believe screen time is the path to ruin, you (yeah, you looking at a screen this very moment) may want to scroll away.

Yes, I let my children play video games. My 7-year-old is quite a Minecraft player and he can tell you in detail all about Plants vs. Zombies. My 4-year-old, eager to keep up with her brother, is slowly learning to play Minecraft and she loves playing Sonic Racing. I can feel some of you shaking your heads at me. I know, I know. You read an article about the studies on screens and brain development.

Listen. My children are performing above grade level. They love to read and beg to play math games before bed. They’re active and enjoy gymnastics and playing outside with our family dog. They love their friends. No brains have turned to mush in our household. And thanks to Nanny Netflix, I’m able to get the dishes done without interruption. Is it for everyone? No. But screen time isn’t destroying a generation. We will adapt. Just as many of our parents had to when we got dial-up in our homes, and just as society has adapted, and continues to adapt, to the ubiquity of smart phones. All things in moderation, right?

I’m not saying the way we do screen time is perfect. There are some things I would do differently if I could go back. If you have a system in place that works for your family, that’s great. Our somewhat laid-back approach to screen time probably isn’t for everyone.

I should have created the habit of keeping our TV off until after bath time and then perhaps turning it back off about 45 minutes before bedtime. That would give us a couple hours after the end of the school day to read, eat, clean up, and play before they watch shows or play video games. Learn from me, y’all. Consider what you want screen-time to look like before you allow it. Your children won’t always be toddlers who watch Mighty Machines and Thomas the Train on a loop. Think about what you want screen usage to look like in the next few years.

We have implemented a few changes. We removed the Prime Video app from our Xbox and their Fire tablets. If I had it to do again, I would never have let our children stream Prime Video or know that YouTube exists. Prime Video has fallen short by not allowing parents to remove or restrict specific programs. I don’t want my children watching some moronic YouTuber scream as they stream videos of themselves playing video games. And don’t even get me started on all the horrible “content” YouTube’s algorithms throw at children. Give me True and The Rainbow Kingdom or Llama Llama or Word Party on Netflix. Or Curious George on Hulu. Or literally anything on Disney Plus or PBS Kids.

I use the strictest parental controls on their tablets so we don’t get any surprise in-app purchases. Is it just me or do software updates mess with parental control settings sometimes? And we block off portions of the day during which we keep the television turned off. They use this time to color, read, and play together. But it’s not on a fixed schedule. This gives me the flexibility to turn on Toy Story when I need to do loads of laundry or finish some overdue articles.

I also take the opportunity to talk with my children about how we budget and make good choices. We discuss everything from whether we should try a new food that seems really different to whether we should spend money on an expensive toy or save that money so we have it for the school book fair. I tell myself that my children are learning about making good choices. My son is older and has a better understanding of this, but I love when I hear him tell his sister, “I think we should turn off the TV like Mom said so we can save energy. Want to play with your Paw Patrol toys with me?”

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