Outdoor play balanced with screen time is OK with me

In defense of screen time

The days are long, but the years are – Wait, back up a minute. The days are LONG. Lots of hours and minutes and seconds to fill. Especially if your kids are like mine — up around 5am and asleep at 9-10pm. I didn’t need much sleep when I was a kid. I guess my children are the same.

Some of you may have seen my Instagram/Facebook post this week about having taken away screen time from my kids for a day as a punishment. This post is not the result of that day. It’s also not the result of a several-month-long shelter in place / quarantine. I actually started writing this many months ago, and finally had the chance today to pull all my thoughts together and deliver you my (potentially controversial) view on screen time. So here it is.

There are days my kids end up with more than 4 hours of screen time total. And here’s why I’m OK with that. “Screen time” doesn’t mean mindlessly staring at a phone or video game all day. It depends what the kids are doing on the screens.

I’d say there are actually benefits here:

  • Educational: Do your kids know the word aubergine? Mine do, thanks to a YouTube video about slicing toy vegetables.
  • Social: When my kids play video games, they often play virtually with friends. They work together to plan, strategize, negotiate within their games, and they also laugh and triumph together. This social aspect was especially beneficial during quarantine these past several months. Note: always make sure you know who your kids are playing with. We all know there can be some anonymous creeps out there.
  • Exploration: Learning online can be a great way to explore new topics that otherwise wouldn’t be readily available. Have you checked out Outschool? We have taken two classes (one on drawing mazes, which one of my kids loves to do, and another on farts. Yes, farts. All about animal farts, what farts are, why creatures fart, and more. It was perfectly lighthearted and educational for my three silly boys) so far and plan to try some more. The classes are taught by actual human beings via Zoom, so there is live teaching, and plenty of interaction.
  • Calming: Sometimes, my kids just need the kind of downtime that comes from resting on a couch and watching a TV show. Sure, they sometimes do this with a book instead, but sometimes the TV is just what they need.
  • Productivity: If I could count the number of dinners I’ve made or loads of laundry I’ve finished or showers I’ve taken because my kids were occupied by a screen, I’d be counting for a long, long time. Occupying my kids for a short stint of time with an age-appropriate show never made me feel guilty. It helped clear the way for me to get done the stuff that needed to get done for me to be the mom I needed to be.
  • Conversation starter: Of course it’s important to know what your kids are doing on their screens. Ask them about the games they play, their favorite video they saw today, one thing they learned, what they heard from friends they texted, new facts they discovered. It opens the door for conversation, which can be hard depending on the age and stage of your child.

Before you roll your eyes or gasp or judge or poke holes in this list of benefits, consider this: On any given day (especially one that’s not a normal school day, and therefore has more unscheduled/free time available), my kids can be found engaging in a variety of activities, some with – and some without – intense parental interaction.

So many non-screen activities:

  • Baking or cooking
  • Building with Legos
  • Doing arts & crafts
  • Reading
  • Creating fundraisers or food drives
  • Playing board games or card games
  • Writing stories or scripts for movies
  • Riding bikes or scooters or hoverboards
  • Playing with friends
  • Walking around the block
  • Visiting the pond and creek in our neighborhood
  • Swimming
  • Painting rocks and hiding them around the block
  • Writing letters to friends
  • Visiting family
  • Having dance parties
  • Listening to music
  • Playing instruments
  • Making up games
  • Wrestling each other (#boymom)
  • Weeding the mulch beds
  • Helping with a house project
  • Doing puzzles
  • Planting a garden
  • Making chalk tracks on the driveway
  • Playing basketball or golf or hockey or frisbee or a made-up game
  • Doing scavenger hunts
  • Doing science projects
  • And of course, asking me for snacks

Any or all of that . . . often all before 10am!

So before we judge parents who allow their kids more screen time than we personally think is healthy, remember:

Not all screen time is bad or isolating or mindless.

Screen time can be family time, like watching a movie together.

Screen time does not have to mean no time for other things.

The days are LONG. And if screens fill part of those long days, it’s OK.

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  1. Karen says:

    I loved this, Karen! You gave some great arguments with lots of detail.

    1. Karen Lesh says:

      Thank you!!!

  2. Thank you for this great post! I allow my children to play video games because of these benefits. He has been playing Get Fire Kirin nowadays.

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