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The Battle of the Screens

Like most American families, we struggle with the Battle of the Screens — how much time should the kids be allowed to play video games and watch TV? how much is too much? how do I establish reasonable limits? am I being too strict, too lenient, too uptight, too lazy?

We go back and forth. I’m pretty sure our kids don’t watch as much TV as the “average American” — whatever that is — but they watch too much for my liking. Sometimes I get lazy when I’m working and allow 30 minutes to extend to an hour or two (or even more?) Then there are other times when we force our kids to detox and don’t allow TV for weeks or months at a time. I’m sure that it’s best to find a level of moderation and stick to it, but that’s easier said than done.

Lately, with a barrage of snow days and a certain 5-year-old with a lingering virus, I’ve been erring on the side of way too much screen time, and I’m about ready to put a stop to it.

A few days ago, when the kids got up to a 2-hour delay, the first thing they wanted to do was watch TV. I started to waffle, and finally I took a stand.

“NO TV,” I declared firmly. “Find something else to do.”

Within 5 minutes, I found this:

See? She’s even happy about it!

I don’t know why it always amazes me that without TV, they WILL find something else to do — and most likely, something a lot more productive than vegging in front ofΒ theΒ TV.

Do you know that too much screen time can actually reprogram their brains?

Neuroscientists have shown that environmental experiences significantly shape the developing brain because of the plasticity of its neuronal connectivity. Thus, repeated exposure to any stimulus in a child’s environment may forcibly impact mental and emotional growth, either by setting up particular circuitry (“habits of mind”) or by depriving the brain of other experiences.

You should read the whole article. It’s quite interesting.

I realize that we live in a digital age, and I’m practically surgically attached to my smartphone so I don’t know why I expect anything else of my kids. And yet, at their young ages, I feel like there HAS to be some benefit in keeping the screen time to a minimum. They will have plenty of time to fry their brains when they’re out of the house. At least then, it won’t be MY fault.

How about you? How do you limit screen time at your house? Or do you?

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36 Responses

  1. in my house, it isn’t too much television but too much time spent on the computer or the wii, playing Sonic the Hedgehog or SuperMario games! πŸ™‚ my boys have grown up watching their father spend all his free time on the computer or wii playing games, so it is almost inherent in their genes. I frequently find myself alone in the silent livingroom while all the “boys” are off in the bedroom playing games. I’m the “oddball” of the family, having no interest in them.

    1. My son loooooves his video games. The girls are more into the TV. Then there is the computer. And the handheld video systems. I-yi-yi.

  2. Thank you for sharing this! I don’t think a lot of people want to talk about it. Although I don’t have my own children yet, I did a research paper on this topic (Technology’s Effect on Children) for a college class a couple years ago. It’s something I feel pretty strongly about, especially in a culture that likes to glue their little ones to the TV. However, I do believe (like with most things), moderation is important, and I don’t see a reason to take it away from them entirely. Growing up, we used to go on “TV strikes” for a week or two (especially after being sick or something when all we wanted to do was zone out!) and it always left us with lots of extra time to read and be creative!

    1. Yep! Those TV Strikes are great. We did that last summer and it was wonderful. I think it’s getting to be time for another…

  3. When my son was little, he was allowed one hour of TV per day…Sesame Street and the one show that I can’t remember the name now but it encouraged reading. Since Sesame Street came on in the mornings back then, it was easy to break up his TV viewing into 30 minute segments. I used those times to keep him safely occupied so I could get ready for work and to get dinner ready or some other pressing chore done.

    When he was older, I started realizing how much time we were spending in front of the “boob tube” and turning into boobs. So I limited our television time to movies we could watch on the VHS–that should give you a clue as to how old we are. πŸ™‚ And I limited that to Friday nights–after a long week of work (for me) and school (for him). Watching a movie Saturday night was allowed only if all the household chores were complete and homework was caught up. On the rare occasion, we would have Breakfast Sundays–where we ate breakfast foods all day and stayed in our jammies. On those rare Breakfast Sundays, we would watch two or three movies that day–but the rest of the time was devoted to creativity. Writing stories, doing crafts (I was big into plastic canvas and crochet at the time) and simply talking to each other.

    To this day, my husband and I follow pretty much the same routine since I teach at night three days a week and Saturday mornings. We don’t watch TV–so we aren’t influenced by all the MUST HAVEs advertisements; 30-second political-mercials, or Plastic Barbie Doll nation on beauty, clothing, or trendy gadgets. It’s allowed us freedom to form our own opinions, to research which product is right for our needs, and decide what is best for us.

    I love it. I haven’t watched TV since 1993-94. Best decision I made for me and my son…and it’s become the better decision for my husband and myself. πŸ™‚

    1. My kids only watch PBS or stuff we record or get on Netflix. So commercials aren’t a big problem. The only time that is an issue is with sports games. My son and husband are huge Phillies fans. And of course they like to watch in real time, so that means commercials. And not always NICE commercials, if you know what I mean. UGH. But that’s another issue entirely.

      We do Friday Night Movie Night sometimes, but they do watch TV other times as well. My 5-y/o who is home with me is the one who watches the most. I will turn PBS on for her while I’m working “for a half hour” and an hour or two later, I realize I never turned it off. ACK. I need to set an alarm.

  4. I am in the same boat…my boys love the Wii. They wake up thinking about the games and talk about them all day long. We recently made the rule NO gaming on week days, weekends only. It has been a long two weeks…..

  5. We don’t really have a set limit here. I will let her watch when she wants for the most part but with that said even with the tv on she’s rarely in front of it. For example right now Ghostbusters (the rare one that no one knows about) is playing after her asking for it but she is in the play room. I asked if she wanted to come watch and she said no and kicked me out. She did the same with the Garfield movie a few days ago, asked and asked for it so I put it on and it had only 10 minutes left when she finally wandered out of the play room to watch it. I have also started playing the radio more through the TV and she barely notices the difference. For her I think it boils down to background noise.

    Now if she was to sit in front of it all day like a zombie it would be highly limited. And I have rules about where it can be watched and what can be watched. There is NO TV in the bedrooms, something I abhor, and the DVDs only get played in the car on the long 8 hour drives to and from Louisiana. As far as what I refuse (well when we paid for TV that is) to let cartoon network show in this house. Now that we rely on Netflix for all of our tv watching I can more easily monitor everything that she watches, without worry of her changing the channels.

  6. We are having too much screen time here this winter. I’m such a push over. My son LOVES his TV shows. Jack and the Neverland Pirates and Transformers. When he wakes up from nap inconsolable (as he has done since he was a baby and is now 4) I always give in. Trying to limit time in the morning but it’s not going well. I’m determined to get a handle on this once the weather breaks and there WILL be NO TV in th summer until they have done sort of school work, whether that is learning letters better for my son or reading for my daughter.

  7. I totally relate, in fact your words sound so much like my own! We do set limits, but I often find myself waffling, as you said. About a week ago, I had enough. My husband and i came up with the idea of having my son “earn” his screen time, which still has the old time limit of 30 minutes twice a day. We created a “Reading Bank”. Every time he wants to use his screen time, he has to make sure he has a minimum of 10 minutes reading time recorded in his bank(which is just a special notebook). If we catch him “cheating”, he loses all screen time for the whole day. He can of course read more if he wants, and then put it in his bank for a later date.
    Guess what, it’s working! I actually found him reading Saturday morning in his room before breakfast. He wanted to play before eating since it wasn’t a school day. It has put the responsibility in his hands, and so far we haven’t had to nag, or negotiate once.
    Thanks for sharing your post, I’m so glad I’m not the only one stressing about this!

    1. Hey we used to do that! I almost forgot. I do use it as a bribe every once in a while, but I like the idea of making it something you earn. I think we implemented that after I spent a few weeks reading parenting books last winter, and it worked really well.

  8. My daughter was excited for school today because they’re going to watch videos all morning. Apparently both the teacher and her aide are going to be gone and the class is a bit of a challenge so they’ll be watching The Lorax, video biographies of Washington and Lincoln and something else. I’m not thrilled, but it’s only for one day. And I have such fond memories of Donald Duck in Mathamagic Land that was my school’s go to film for such occasions. My daughter’s classroom also spends time each day working on the computer playing math drill games to get their basic skills speed up. Also not my first choice but arguably more fun than flash cards and worksheets.

    Since she gets so much in school I really work to limit the time at home. We got rid of cable this summer and only have what we can find on the computer plus dvds. Week days we’re so busy it’s pretty easy to set limits. The challenge is the weekends. Back in the early days our sweet darling would wake up at 5:30 like clockwork. So one of us would plop her in front of the tv and doze while the other slept in. Now she’s sleeping until 7 or even 8 but the tv ritual remains and the morning is more than half gone after the same amount of screen time.

  9. “at least then it won’t be MY fault”…. ahahahhaahah so true.

    We limit xbox360 time (2 hours total on the weekend with 1 hour max each day) and my son doesn’t have a DS or whatever came after that. He watches some TV but with driver’s ed 2-3x nights week, confirmation 1 night a week, that in itself is a self-imposed limit on screen time. — OK but having said that my son’s class has 1:1 computers at school. So he’s on a screen WAY MORE than I personally would like.

    I found the ages of 10-12 were the hardest to limit the screen time.

  10. Maggie is four (for 7 more weeks) and goes to preschool three half-days a week. On non-school days I try to limit her tv to no more than one hour. On school days, she probably watches no tv at all. She plays games on the laptop maybe twice a week for no more than 30 minutes. We haven’t purchased a hand-held gaming system because she would want it WAY too much. AND our new minivan does NOT have a DVD player.

    1. YES! We purposefully did not get the DVD in our new car. We’ve never had one except ONE trip last fall to Williamsburg in the Chevy Traverse I was allowed to drive for review purposes. It WAS nice, but I figure, we made it this far without one, we can suck it up. πŸ™‚ They do watch so much at home that I’m glad the car is one place where it’s not a temptation. Of course, they do have handheld video games. @@

  11. I am ashamed to say that, at times, I use the TV as a babysitter. Every morning, I allow A to watch one episode of Wonder Pets while I get myself or M ready in the morning. It’s tough because I just don’t know what else to do. She’s too young to entertain herself and there are times that I just can’t entertain her – like when I’m showering in the morning or getting M dressed. Some mornings, I’ll bring A into M’s room and she’ll play quietly on the floor while I’m changing and dressing M but other mornings, it’s just too difficult. While I’m cooking dinner is another difficult time. She’s too young to help and I can’t always have my attention focused on her. Any suggestions from a seasoned mom like yourself?

    1. You are in a tough season. The ages of your kids is hard, and if they are particularly curious or active, I know that it can be really tempting to use the TV as a babysitter. No judgement here. I can say this, though. It gets easier. πŸ™‚

    2. I remember those days. Don’t be too hard on yourself. My child refused to watch TV til he was 4 – it was a longggggggggggg 4 years. I’m probably going to get stoned to death by the anti-tv people, but here’s the deal – if you know your child is glued to the TV (i.e. physically safe) and you can get your other child/children ready, I consider that making the most of what you have.

  12. I used to let the boys watch waaay more TV than they do now. I just realized that we were accomplishing nothing with it and all of the entertainment was stopping us from doing what GOD wanted us to do. so we have gotten rid of most of our DVD collection and are slowly working towards no TV at all. If we have a movie night or someone is sick I have Netflix which is readily available, but not at the same time πŸ™‚

    I don’t plan on having game stations in the house because I know how much time they suck and I just don’t think the boys need to have that around. Of course, my boys are young enough that I can mold them to my way of thinking still Hehe. If I had older kids that were already familiar with all of the glorious wonders of electronics, I’m sure none of my plans would go over well at all!

    1. Yeah, I said ALL OF THAT. πŸ™‚ Then my son’s friends all sat around playing their DSes and he was left out. At my house, I could tell them to put them away, but I had no control at other houses. I finally caved.

      My brother gave us his old PS2 and we hid it for months. Finally we got it out and let my son play on it and the rest, as they say, is history. That was years ago.

      He will play it elsewhere, so I figure it might as well not be such a novelty. We try to limit it, and he is pretty compliant, for the most part.

      This past Christmas he wanted a PSP (hand held thing) and it is all he talked about. He has basically ditched his DS in favor of the PSP. It’s a great discipline tool, I can say that about it. I just take it away for a week as punishment, and his behavior shapes right up! LOL.

      He’s a good kid in general, but I do want to protect his developing mind.

  13. My issue lately isn’t so much “how much” tv they watch, but what tv shows they watch. My oldest daughter is 12 and alot of the girls in her class watch shows that I feel are inappropriate for their age. My daughter hasn’t really shown any interest in any of these shows yet, but I am worried that she will. Then it becomes a struggle of deciding if it’s better to forbid the shows that all of her friends are discussing in front of her (so she’s basically getting the content anyway) or allow her to watch it with the idea that THIS is the world we live in and instead of running away from some of the realities, use it to teach right from wrong. I am just heading into the waters of all of this sort of stuff! I don’t want to raise a naive young lady, that’s for certain, but I also don’t want her exposed to things too soon. I definately feel like girls (maybe boys too…I don’t know because I don’t have any!) are growing up much too quickly these days. Unfortunately, unless you shelter them from the world, they are going to either feel left behind because their peers are racing ahead or rebel. GEESH! Okay, so I veered off topic there I guess. sorry πŸ˜‰

      1. JL, have you found that “girl” shows are different than “boy” shows? My son always like “dirty jobs” and funky things like that. The History channel is also a big deal here. Disney and Nick at Night are/were never big at our house.

  14. The first step is to question the screen time. Lots of families don’t. I think it’s particularly important to limit when they’re young, like your kids. Frankly, I really believe kids up until about high school age, would be much better off with no TV, and computer time only for school work. Their brains are developed by outdoor play, coloring, legos, etc. TV gives a lazy brain. Even computer games tend to train the child’s brain into one particular type of response, over and over.

    We watch almost no TV (like, an hour a week) b/c we got out of the habit when we had no TV for 4 years. So glad. The kids have limited computer time. My kids are 11, 16, 18. When kids get into high school, and buy their own laptops, you’re basically telling them, “Your computer use monitoring is now in your own hands. Use wisdom.” Eventually they have to learn moderation, or the other areas of their lives will suffer. Basically, when you curtail their use as little kids, you’re helping them not to be addicts when they’re older.

    I do think computer use for email, news reading, school projects, writing, or educational websites — all this is different from mindless game-playing or video watching.

    1. I pretty much agree with all that. Fortunately my husband is on board. He’s not a big gamer. We just need to pull back on the reigns a bit.

  15. My older daughter is in first grade and she watches no TV during the week and my 4 year old is limited to about 1 1/2 hours spread throughout the day. We got rid of satellite TV last year and I will only let them watch PBS. I am a stickler about it! If they want to watch TV, I tell them they must first play for a set amount of time. You’re right, they WILL find something, anything, to do. TV is just not a neccessity in our household. Now, the computer on the other hand….I seem to have grown a permanent attachment to it!! I DO need to cut back my computer time. What kind of example am I setting by spending as much time on it as I do?? Do as I say, not as I do!! πŸ™‚
    Thanks for the reminder!

    1. I am the biggest offender of the satellite usage of anyone in our family. Sigh. Totally do as I say not as I do person here.

  16. Great post! We limit screentime by not allowing the kids to watch television at all. We thought we would do it until they were 2 – but then the big one was 2 and the little one wasn’t so we had to wait until the little one was 2 and at that point – it had been working – we couldn’t figure out why we would put them in front of the t.v. if they never asked to be there. So, we’re 4.5 years in to parenthood and they don’t watch. We do allow them to watch major events though – so that’s a caveat. They saw the National Anthem during the SuperBowl, President’ Obama’s inauguration, the World Series Final game, etc. But other than that – they don’t even know that cartoons exist – and it works for us.
    I do struggle with other screens though. Like the LeapFrog Explorer we bought big for the holidays. How much is too much. Is it ok to use it in the car or will she get to used to having to be entertained and she’ll stop looking out the window and counting cars and reading signs…it’s a struggle – but we’re putting it together one step at a time!
    Thanks for sharing!

  17. TV is the bane of my existence. I don’t watch it much myself and would happily chuck it out the door and live the rest of my life without it. My kids (8 and 4) love it, of course, and my husband has always needed to have it on as background noise. The main problem we have with the TV is that the kids always, always end up “squirrely” after watching it–they suddenly seem to lose their manners, they get cranky and whiny, and if they watch too close to bedtime, they have trouble falling asleep. And don’t get me started on the arguments over who gets to watch what and who gets to watch their show first. My husband now watches TV in the basement man-cave, and we limit the kids–TV is OK in the morning, but not on school nights unless something really special is on. Friday night is pizza and TV night. Like you said, Jo-Lynne, they always find something else to do.

  18. We limit screen time during the week according to the boys’ behavior in school. If they stay on “green” (they use a behavior traffic light system in their classrooms), they get 30 minutes of playing Wii, watching a movie, or playing on the computer (or Daddy’s iphone). If they get on yellow, they only get 15 minutes, although, if they turn their behavior around and work their way back to green before school is over, they can get 20 minutes. If they go on red (or as in Josh’s 5 color light system in which purple then orange come in between yellow and red), NO screen time! I set the timer accordingly, then that’s it.

    We don’t have a TV signal/broadcast, so we don’t have to worry about TV shows and commercials. Our TV is just used for watching DVDs/VHSs or playing Wii. The boys do like Star Wars Clone Wars, so we download episodes from the internet and make DVDs for them to use if they choose that for screen time. If there are behavior issues at home, screen time is the first thing lost when there are privileges taken away.

    Saturday is a little different because Tim and I like to take advantage of sleeping in. So, the boys are allowed to watch 1 movie when they wake up. πŸ™‚

    Anyway, this system seems to work really well for us. Great discussion! πŸ™‚

  19. Actually, my kids don’t watch a whole lot during the school year–they are too busy with school work and other stuff. But in the summer I have a hard time. I have set limits in the past, but it’s hard, especially with a middle schooler who doesn’t work yet and has not a lot to do.

  20. I’ve had the same problem lately. I’ve been allowing way too much TV. My two youngest are home in the morning and my youngest is home all day so it’s easy to let 30 min. turn into much longer. My goal for them is no more than 1.5 hours. My kindergartner is in school full time and usually only gets 30 min. unless it’s a family movie night. I’ve also decided that I’m being really picky about what we watch. I’m trying to only allow education shows for a bit. We’d started letting them watch old He-Man and She-ra episodes via Netflix and their behavior worsened. Too much violence! However, Scooby-Doo will likely stay around. We all like him occasionally! Okay, that’s probably long enough. πŸ™‚

  21. I try to be mindful of how much time they watch, but it is so easy for the time to slip by. I have my 6 yo DS make choices, like if you watch this 2nd show now you cannot watch Fetch or Jeopardy later on. That helps him not watch just for the sake of watching. On the weekend he & DH watch things like Mythbusters and Man Vs Wild together, and he has learned a ton from those and then does experiments & such afterwards. I am fine with that because it challenges him in ways a basic cartoon would not.

    My 11 yo DS never liked all the normal older kid/preteen shows, so when we ditched Directv for basic cable he was fine with it. He prefers to watch ESPN or shows like House or NCIS anyway. I do worry sometimes about content, so we tend to watch together and talk about stuff.

    The tought thing for me is tallying up all the screen time, because they do like their games, too. My youngest will be told he is all done with the Wii and then he goes can I play Ds now ?? Ugh, he is a challenge!

  22. Libbie’s gotten WAYYYY too accustomed to watching a LOT of TV and movies during the end of my pregnancy and the first two months’ of David’s life. I’ve decided for Lent that we will have no TV until Daddy gets home. I know it might be a few days of battle, but I am positive she will quickly adjust and we will be happier overall.

    Hold me to it, kay?

  23. I have no kids of my own, so I probably shouldn’t comment. However, I was a kid once upon a time and my mom limited our t.v. watching quite a bit. Now I watch a LOT of t.v. Not saying it’s her fault, just that I wonder sometimes if we subconsciously seek out to do what we weren’t allowed to do when we were younger. And if that’s the case, maybe fixating on keeping your kids away from t.v. will only end up backfiring in the future.

    On the other hand… it is cool to find other things to do. Maybe that should be the focus. On saying yes to those things, instead of on saying no to t.v. Make them so busy that they forget what they’re missing. And then schedule in regular family t.v. time. Make it something to do together – something they look forward to, instead of just something they do to take up time.

    xoxo
    Jennifer
    The Art of Being You

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