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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Day 2 - Kiddie Tech Talk

Ems here:

A few weeks ago, I took two of my children in for their yearly well-child checkups (ages 6 and 8). The young male doctor, new to the practice, was very detailed and very thorough. I could tell he paid close attention in medical school and was hip to the latest and greatest kid medical information. He was essentially grilling me on my parenting skills, and I freely admit to being a bit nervous! Especially when my annoying kids were giving the kind of answers that implicated me negatively:

Doctor: "Do you go to the dentist?"
Child A: "Yes, sometimes, but Mom says it's too expensive."

Doctor: "What's your phone number?"
Children A and B: " Uhhhhh......"   Crickets chirping. Doctor looking displeased.

And yes, we do go to the dentist regularly. Not sure about the phone number problem, but I'll use the old "homeschool" defense. They are home all the time, why know their number?

Finally, the doctor threw me one last curve ball: "How much time do your children spend in front of a computer or TV? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours of screen time per day."

Uh oh.

Before I go on, I want to assure all readers that I am fully on board with Jules' Lenten Phone Free Friday. I think it very important that we all "plug in" with each other sans the comfort of devices.

However, I pose this question: Is 2 hours a day of screen time truly practical in today's world?

7 kids, 1 iPad. Daddy put on a World War I historical video. If you play it, they will come.

Now, I appreciate what the AAP is trying to do, encouraging parents not to park kids in front of Disney Junior for 8 hours a day followed by a rousing game of Plants vs. Zombies chased by Angry Birds. But for most of us (fairly, usually) conscientious parents, holding that 2 hour deadline over our heads could easily lead to paranoia and major guilt.

Here are my specific objections:

1. Online school. We work at the computer frequently for school. Now, probably not nearly as much as folks assume when I say we attend a Virtual Academy, but definitely there is some computer time involved. At the 5th grade level it looks a little like this:

Math: 50% online
Lit, Grammar, Writing, Vocab, Spelling: 10% online
History: 50%
Science: 90%

2. Kindle books. The kids love reading books on the computer. The variety and availability is virtually endless. Of course, we also have an actual bookshelf. Isn't it lovely?

3. Internet for Information. With supervision (i.e. computer in the living room), the internet is a fabulous way for kids to learn and explore their interests. Theo, for example, is an ocean fanatic at the moment and loves to view marine life and aquariums online. He and Matt have also been known to look up various football and soccer statistics. Additionally, reading about hurricanes and other natural disasters is also a family (okay, a morbid boy) hobby.

4. Learning Games and Apps.  Before the other children begin school, Tad (age 4) is allowed to get on the website  This site has been so valuable for all my children in learning and practicing the dreaded Math Facts! Tad, having started young, has nearly all his addition facts memorized and a good portion of his subtraction facts locked down too.  He enjoys the games enormously and associates math with fun. He is off to a much better start than I! Gabe (age 2) loves to play puzzle games on my Kindle during his computer game time. Nate and Theo are learning to program computer code via this innovative website:  There are many amazing resources out there.

5. Free Play. At the end of a hardworking school day and on the weekends, screen time for fun is allowed. Whether they are choosing to play soccer on the Wii, Minecraft on the laptop, or PBSKids, the kids enjoy a bit of downtime. Of course, we have time limits.  Another upside of allowing "fun" screen time is the delightful leverage it gives us parents as a means of discipline. It's the first thing to go if the kids are mouthy or lazy or otherwise troublesome.

The fact is, in this digital age, our children will be exposed to more and more screen time.  How many of us work at a computer all day? And then for our downtime, we play on our phone, kindle, or watch the TV? It's a part of our life, for better or for worse.

We can (and should) give our kids limits and balance, as in all things. We need to make sure they are playing soccer and board games and dress-up and Legos and getting to the park and interacting with friends. If we incorporate all these things into our children's lives, I don't think we have to have the black cloud of Two-Hour Screen Time Guilt hanging over our long-suffering parental heads.

Unless your baby is obsessed with the iPod like this:

And then makes this face when it is taken away:

Easy Rule #3589: Shoot for balance and put technology to work for you and your family.

Easy Rule #4110: Taking a techie timeout is a reminder to us all that we don't just view life through a screen...we are the stars of our own adventure!

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  1. Fun4theBrain is now bookmarked. Thanks for sharing.

    I really like the photo of B surrounded by the kids, although the laundry chair in the background is telling. :)

    My question is how to control screen time when it isn't just their own 30 mins or whatever on a video game, but then they want to watch every other sibling playing their games too. With all the siblings, that becomes crazy screen time! Your thoughts, oh wise mama?

    1. I'm going to have to start offering some sort of prize for the lucky reader who spots the laundry chair first in my photos...maybe some detergent or fabric softener...

      Regarding the shared screen time--I feel your pain! A couple things can help though: (1) on school days, while the oldest child(ren) are working diligently (I'm sure), the younger ones take their turns in another room. Then at night, when the little ones are in bed, the older ones can be on the computer. (2) On weekends, we are more relaxed, but one way to streamline it is to bring out multiple devices...someone is down on the Wii while another is on the laptop and another plays on the Kindle. So, either stagger it or make it simultaneous. When the school year is new and fresh, I usually ban all school age kids from the computer anyway. Just as the long winter drags, my will is weakened....