"Screen time" has changed.
My first son was born 19+ years ago. Parents were already wary of the "electronic babysitter," but I kept an open mind. I still remember the moment I popped in a "Baby Einstein" video for the first time, when he was 7-8 months old; it instantly captured his attention. By age two my son was reading, writing simple words, and drawing detailed pictures so I assumed whatever I was doing was working. I never considered electronic toys anything but an asset to his early education.
Tablets, smart phones, YouTube, and more...
When my 7 year old son was born, I thought our experience with electronics would be similar, if not better. Wrong.
Initially, I allowed a few kids videos (Baby Einstein, the "Signing Time" series to teach my little ones sign language, etc.) but shunned certain toys as being "a bit much" for a young child. What child needs a tablet? Eventually that changed. When my husband and I embraced smart phones and tablets, our kids wanted to use them, too. We eventually let the kids play some of the popular electronic video games that many of their friends were playing, and experimented with what we thought would be a safe, friendly, educational children's app -YouTube Kids.
The addictive reality.
The nature of many popular electronic toys and television programs today is different than what I expected, and highly addictive. If parents do not set a timer for screen time, children can power through a series on Netflix at the speed of light -and many new programs are a far cry from the slower-paced shows that my oldest son grew up on. Worse yet, many of the videos on YouTube Kids are long advertisements for toys with zero educational value and a lot of questionable language. Sure, there are some gems out there, but if children are left to browse videos on their own they can easily be sidetracked by low-quality programming.
Should you just say "no" to electronic play?
It wasn't possible for my oldest son to click a smart phone button and instantly access "garbage programming" disguised as a "kid friendly" show -but that is exactly what happens with kids today. So what is the solution? For some parents, it is to turn their back on electronics entirely. I know at least one family who doesn't allow any television or screen time at all, and I respect that, but the reality is most parents are looking for moderation. My family's current solution to occasionally ban electronic play entirely, but most of the time we simply manage screen time with timers and a rule that our kids can only play with electronics at the end of the day.
We have banned a few things altogether. Our children are no longer allowed to watch YouTube Kids unless it is a video selected by an adult. In a few days, we will completely remove video games that do not involve physical activity (meaning we will allow "dance" games or exercise games such as Wii Fit Plus, but we will not allow games that encourage our kids to zone-out such as Minecraft). While our children initially were not happy about new restrictions on electronics, they understand that we are becoming more strict in this area out of concern for their well being, and not as a punishment.
I have always believed that it is important to give your children choices, but to remember it is the parents's job to control the available choices -and this applies to electronic entertainment. What role do electronic devices play in your home? Have you made any changes to acceptable "screen time" in your home? Experiences welcome!
Kristina Johnson is a homeschooling mama who is passionate about childhood education and the quest for a healthy, clean lifestyle. Visit the "about" section to learn more about Kristina, her family of seven, and the mission of the "learning and laughing" website.