Screen time. The mere mention of those two words give every parent (and non-parents for that matter) an opinionated, judgmental and guilty feeling. How much screen time is too much? The American Academy of Pediatrics (https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/10/19/peds.2016-2591) recommends no more than one hour of screen time per day (on average for a week) for children ages 2-5 years old. No matter what the educational content of the videos, this cannot replace learning through doing. Would you trust a surgeon, accountant, or even a truck driver who watched thousands of hours of how-to videos on YouTube but has not practiced?
Tracy and I have 2 boys, 5 and 2-year-old boys. Like all kids, they are a handful. And yes, we do give them some screen time. Sometimes, we even let our screen time guards down. 2 hours pass and our 5 years old is still watching his unboxing videos. Dad throws down the hammer, tears are shed, threats of no YouTube for a week are made and the household goes to DEFCON 4.
During long car rides, train rides and plane rides, we do not restrict screen time. We are in a confined space for a period of time. Screen time helps avoid tantrums and preserve our sanity for the duration of the travel period. I do not know screen time is the ‘best’ option to avoid the scowls and dirty looks from fellow passengers; however, most of the time, it works.
In our household, especially now during the holidays, I have been implementing negotiables and non-negotiables. Negotiables: screen time with their grandparents and on long trips. Non-negotiables: feed yourself, be kind to people, greet everyone you see, turn those devices off when Dad is talking to you.
Fellow parents, give yourselves a break. Don’t be too hard on yourselves. My cursory Googling has found that the ‘new technology is ruining our youth’ cry has been made before. The printing press, radio, television, and video games. I watched my fair share of television and still do occasionally find myself binging some Netflix series that keeps me up until 2am. Many super tech entrepreneurs spent an incredible amount of time playing videos.
When my kids are doing something I like, like hitting golf balls at a driving range or 2-on-1 child friendly wrestling, we can spend an inordinate amount of time (away from the screen) together and enjoy each other’s company. I’m trying to find more things that we enjoy together.
Negotiables for me as a parent: screen time, candy, the occasional meal that consists 90% of rice (9% protein, 1% vegetables that somehow made it through the Maginot line.)
Non-negotiables: I must teach work ethic, grit, kindness and do things together that we all enjoy.
Here is my battle cry to the millennial, screen-time obsessed parents: don’t be too hard on yourselves and enjoy the parenting roller coaster ride.