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We Need to Talk: Kids & Screen Time

Not to be overly dramatic, but I read the most fascinating New York Times post the other day and it completely changed my thoughts on kids and screen time.  If you have kids, then you have surely been bombarded with the news that TV is not great for them.  Your pediatrician likely recommended nixing the boob tube completely until the age of 2 and keeping viewing to a limited amount after that.  And if that didn’t sink in, you’ve probably run into at least one mom eager to share links between too much TV and ADHD or perhaps even autism (I have!).  Then there was the guilt-trip smack down a Waldorf dad laid on a whole room of unsuspecting parents at a preschool info. night I attended last year, “When my kids read about Peter Pan, they have an image of his world constructed completely by their own imagination – not by Disney”.


I’m being a bit glib here (that’s kinda my thing) but I really do believe that TV (especially in large and consistent chunks) is detrimental to children’s brain development, not to mention their levels of physical activity, and I’ve limited my kids’ viewing time accordingly.  It’s one parenting task I can firmly file under the “getting it right” column.  Or at least it was until the iPad came along.


“Screen time” no longer solely refers to the time your littles spend planted in front of a TV – now there’s so many more screens to worry about!  And the rules here aren’t nearly so black and white.  I definitely don’t want a 3 year old pre-diabetic Angry Birds addict on my hands but I’m also a little worried about him falling behind his iphone-proficient peers once he starts school if I don’t introduce him to some level of technology now.  Have you heard of the “app gap“? It’s a phrase coined by researchers who found that almost half of families surveyed with incomes above $75,000 had downloaded apps specifically for their young children, compared with one in eight of the families earning less than $30,000. More than a third of those low-income parents said they did not even know what an “app” was.


So what’s the answer here?  Do I hand over the iPad or not?  It’s a question I’ve struggled with, especially once C started skipping naps and the thought of him quietly plugging away on it while I got some work done became increasingly enticing.  And that’s when I read this amazing post that convinced me it’s OK to let the kids discover what an app is – as long as it’s the right kind of app.


The take-home here is this: Screen time needs to be for creating, not for watching!Here’s what the post author, KJ Dell’Antonia,is selling (and I’m buying):

What if, instead of turning the computer off during the week, I turned it on, but with a catch: no watching. No playing. Only creating. They could program with Scratch or Alice, the simple languages that allow kids to build games and create and move characters. They could use painting or drawing programs or create movies or cartoons for as long as homework and bedtime and sports allowed. How would I feel about screen time then?

KJ’s idea of emphasizing creativity apps and computer programs over all others stems from America’s growing need for technology experts.  She reports that despite the president calling on universities to graduate hundreds of thousands more engineers and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers in the next few years, 40 percent  of students who enter college intending to get a degree in a STEM field don’t.  The message is clear, computers are a part of our children’s world – and always will be.


So how do all us well-meaning parents find these creativity gold mine apps?  I’m not entirely sure.  But I did recently stumble on this round up of websites that promote children’s creativity. And this is also an excellent post written by an occupational therapist who works with special needs children.  She writes that she initially believed, “everything [her children] needed to learn, they could do so through play, their daily experiences, and interactions with the people in their world. What I hadn’t realized (and obviously do now), is that the iPad does not replace any of these things, but can be a fun way to further explore and explain my children’s world”.  I highly recommend you check out the full post in which she offers up an extensive list of apps, 10 practical use tips, and effectively demonstrates how the iPad can be used to extend learning experiences.

I want to be clear, I’m still very much in favor of limiting all types of screen time and I still believe that interacting with their world is the best way for young children to learn.   But I’m also coming around to the idea of the iPad playing a role in some of that limited screen time.  What do you think about all this?  We’ve gotten so good at sharing with each other around here lately and I’d love to keep it up.  What (if any) restrictions do you put on screen time around your house and are there any kid apps you swear by?

UPDATE: Sometimes when I write blog posts, I forget you guys don’t actually know me in real life and I skip ahead of myself a little.  To clear up some of your confusion – until very recently my stance on screen time was very limited TV (2 – 3 hours/week) and no apps at all.  Reading the article above simply made me feel comfortable beginning to hand over my iPad for even more limited amounts of time to be used with very specific types of apps.  I certainly don’t believe that creativity is best fostered by computers or that technology needs to be present in our preschools.  I hope that clarifies where I’m coming from.  But I really didn’t write the post to try to convince you of my way of doing things anyway.  I wrote it to say I’m still figuring it all out and to start a dialogue about the topic.  To that end – keep conversing and thanks!


P.S. In case the exceptionally observant amongst you are wondering – C isn’t watching Top Gun in the photo above, it’s a Mighty Machines episode.

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