When I first got into non-fiction, I remember reading several self-help books and articles that claimed to add time to your life… literally to every day of your life. How? In a roundabout way, they would tell you to stop watching TV.
It’s true. Americans used to watch way too much TV. They still do, but media consumption has expanded. Hours spent in front of the TV have actually been on the decline. We are, however, spending hours in front of other types of media, and in most cases, we’re wasting more hours than TV was stealing.1
There were a few years where people started to notice the decline in TV consumption, and thought we were doing better. Over the last five years though, everyone is becoming privy to the fact that it’s no better to mindlessly scroll Facebook or Snapchat than it is to mindlessly binge watch a series on TV. Actually, social media is all about instant gratification so it’s worse for your mind. At least we were finishing an entire episode when we were watching TV.
This chart shows the decline in TV hours…
What this chart doesn’t show is the increase in other media consumption.
This chart does though:
This is where the time went that people saved on TV. They put it into other media, and then doubled it. And then there was the wave of people (I may have ridden said wave…) who bragged about cutting the cable, and didn’t mention their subscription to NetFlix, Hulu or PrimeVideo. I’m not saying those things are bad, but while they’re more cost effective than cable, it’s still TV.
As parents, how are we to tackle mindless overconsumption of media? We combat mindlessness with intentionality… or more simply: mindfulness. The first step is being mindful about everything that comes into our home, and that includes media devices and the media itself. The latter is often forgotten.
How Much Screen Time?
I’ve talked to parents from every end of the screen-time spectrum. From parents who have no limit on their child’s media consumption to parents who don’t allow any screen time at all. This is not one of those times where I will say there is no wrong answer, because I’ve seen the effects of kids without technology limits (and adults for that matter).
Sure, it’s your decision, but if you’re using media as a babysitter, you’re doing it wrong. And to be honest, if you feel defensive about how much time you let your kids spend on media, there may be a reason for that as well. I’m ok risking a few negative comments to help people see that they’re ruining their kid’s mind.
So how much screen time should your kids be allowed? First, remember that all screen time counts: TV, phones, pads, computers, gaming devices, etc.. Once you’ve decided it was the right time to give your child a phone, count that phone as screen time for sure. Older teenagers should be able to make their own decisions eventually, but young teens and below need a limit. For our kids, they’ll have a limit as long as they live here. We limit ourselves, why would we not limit them?
Once you get over one hour a day on technology, it starts getting dangerous. At that point, your child is going to start relying on and needing technology. One hour a day is a lot. I’m not saying you should give them that much. It’s your call. But I would suggest—yes, as my own opinion—that one hour is the most you consider. If your kids don’t get screen time everyday (ours don’t) then the hour cut off isn’t as vital. Here’s what we do…
Screen Time in Our Home
We aren’t anti-technology parents. It can be useful. Some apps and games are educational, but it’s almost always low-quality education. It’s good for a break here and there, but technology is not a teacher.
We let our kids play video games on some Saturday mornings, but they do it together, and it actually helps them play well with each other. We’ll let them play for a few hours since they likely won’t be on technology the other days of the week. Sometimes we’ll play with them. Sometimes we’ll just watch.
Other than the video-game Saturdays, our kids really don’t get screen time. And they’re fine with that. They don’t even ask. We’ll watch a movie together as a family, but that’s only once a month, if not less.
If our kids need to use the computer for school, or if they want to use the computer for something else, all they have to do is ask. And we’ll let them 99% of the time, because they don’t ask often. But our oldest is barely a teenager, so they are monitored fairly closely when they have internet access.
The Overlooked Device
If there is one device that I’ve noticed being overlooked more than any other, it’s a cell phone. You have to decide when it’s the right time for your kid to have their own phone. When our kids actually need them, we’re going to get phones for our kids, but right now they’re either at home or school, so they’re never alone to need one.
Our kids have asked for a phone, and we always tell them that if they have a good enough reason, we will get them one. They haven’t had a good reason yet.
I see 10-year-olds (and younger) playing on their phones, and all I can think is how dangerous it is to let a child roam their own phone with open internet access. I don’t want to restate everything I said about kids and phones here, but we must be mindful of our kids internet usage, for their sake.
There are great tools like Covenant Eyes and Google Family Link that can help you with monitoring their activity. And of course, you can always just get a dumbphone without internet access.
The Media Threat
I published an article in Simple Money Magazine titled, The Ad Threat, which was about how dangerous advertising and marketing can be for children if we don’t pay attention to it. Media is no different, and of course, media is where ads live.
It’s becoming normal to let kids have a phone at an early age, give them free rein on the computer whenever they want, and give them their own computer at a young age. It’s easy to justify that they need it for school, but one family computer can accomplish the same goal.
Media presents many threats, like pornography, inappropriate relationships, and identity theft. These are real concerns that affect people every day. We’ve all seen the videos where someone goes undercover to see if they can lure a young teen to meet them in real life when they’ve only ever talked online. And the parents are surprised every time it works.
I think the biggest enemy is overlooking how dangerous media can be. We blow it off, and acknowledge that “everyone” lets their kids do it, or that “it’s 2019.” All I’m saying is maybe we should be more intentional. It’s our job to protect our children from the world when they’re too young to understand what they need protection from.
Last Updated: June 29, 2020
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- Lynch, J. (2016, June 27). U.S. Adults Consume an Entire Hour More of Media Per Day Than They Did Just Last Year. Adweek.
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