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In Support of Hands-On Play (and Defense of Myself)

I apologize to everyone tuning in today hoping for some playtime fun (soon!), but I’ve got to start this week by getting something off my chest.  Ever since publishing the post We Need to Talk: Kids & Screen Time, I’ve been tossing and turning in bed over the response.  On the one hand I was really happy that the post generated a (mostly) constructive discourse on the topic of kids and screen time.  On the other hand, though the conversation was a good one, it wasn’t the one I meant to start.  I tried to chalk it up to a blogging lesson learned and move on, but a nagging little voice in my head just wouldn’t let me.


I’ll be honest, at first I wanted to blame the whole thing on you. Grr! Why do people take the time to comment when they don’t even take the time to read the entire post?  But then more and more readers seemed to be making the same “misinterpretation” of what I wrote.  Finally, the straw that broke the camel’s back, the tech division of a blog I follow and really respect linked up to the post with this jaunty teaser “Interesting post about why a mom decided to give her 3-year old more screen time”. Yikes!  I so wasn’t advocating more screen time.  Something clearly went awry with my message and all signs were pointing to “it’s not you, it’s me”.


Before we get into exactly what I did wrong (as well as some good info. on the benefits of hands-on play), let me take a second to lay out, once and for all, exactly where I stand on screen time for my kids:


I do not believe that screens of any type are good for (and certainly not necessary to) young children.  I do believe that too much screen time actually has a very real and negative physiological affect on brain development in young children.  Completely eliminating screen time from my children’s lives is a bit extreme for me but I limit it to about 2 hours/week.  What I was suggesting in the first post was being (newly) open to the idea of allocating something like 25% of our current screen time away from TV and to the iPad, but only for very specific “creator” type apps.  These are apps that go beyond just being creative (i.e. virtual coloring books) and head more towards the Leonardo DaVinci / Steve Jobs realm of creating – apps that kids can use to actually build and create things ranging from computer programs to books or stop-action movies. 


Part of what I was hoping to accomplish with the first post was to find apps like these appropriate for my 3 year old.  That didn’t happen and I’m thinking now they may not exist for such a young age.  Maybe it’s best to keep my new iPad approach in mind for when the kids are a little older and, for now, settle on reading 1 out of every 10 books to C on the iPad.  That way he gets to interact with it every once in a while and we’re not totally withholding it from him. (I’ve heard some very wise people suggest that completely forbidding something gives it an inordinate amount of importance.)


Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, can we talk about what went wrong?  As I see it, here were my three big mistakes:

  1. I made an assumption and got ahead of myself – As I briefly tried to explain in the original post.  I assumed when writing it that you all already knew I was a HUGE advocate of learning through hands-on play (the blog is called Modern Parents Messy Kids after all and I have the entire Make & Play Vault crammed with hands-on creative projects for kids and I post several times a week on playtime activities).  Maybe more of you got that then the comments show.  It’s entirely possible that a lot of those commentors were first-time visitors who made their way here via Pinterest and hadn’t really had a look around the place before digging in.  Never-the-less, what I did a poor job of conveying was that I’m a parent way on the “no apps” side of the spectrum and I recently read something that nudged me just a smidge closer to the middle.
  2. I’m slightly afraid of being “all judgy” – Not my finest sentence ever, I’m aware, but you know what I mean, right?  I don’t want to be a blogger up on my pulpit telling you that you need to burn your TV, and here’s why.  In truth, this is probably the bigger reason the “screen time is the devil/open-ended creative playtime is the promise land” sentiment has lingered in many of my posts but never taken full billing as a headliner.  As a blogger I’m still figuring out how to put ideas out there with the clear intent to generate productive conversations (not to look like I’m peddling an agenda).
  3. I failed to be totally clear about my intentions – By mentioning the “app gap” and writing of “being a little worried about C falling behind his iPad proficient peers once he starts school”, I was in no way arguing that preschoolers need to have iPads to keep up.  What I meant, and apparently did a poor job of conveying, was that my husband and I had actually decided C doesn’t need exposure to the iPad right now.  However, as is the case with almost all our parenting decisions, I still worry a bit that I may be wrong and those were two of the things that I worried about.  Finally, I wasn’t trying to suggest that the presence of an app gap correlated with eventual success.  I was only saying that the gap exists and I, as a parent, was wrestling a little with whether it was important and whether or not I cared what side of the gap my child fell on.


I hope that clears things up (I know it won’t for everyone.  There will still be people who somehow think I’m pushing “teach your baby to read” apps.  That’s OK – should I get more comments in that vein, I’m fully prepared to go scream into a pillow for a few minutes and move on with my day.)  Before we wrap up, I wanted to leave you with some good info. on kids and limiting screen time:


  • In the first post, I talked about the growing demand in this country for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) course-taking, degrees and careers and wondered if that demand might be a reason to familiarize kids with technology.  In rebuttal of that line of thought, is this finding that children who play with puzzles between ages 2 and 4 later develop better spatial skills and how that can be a positive predictor of STEM success in older children.  (P.S. C is 3 1/2 and he LOVES these and these puzzles – they’re great for keeping him occupied if I need to get something done.)
  • If Silicon Valley execs are in favor of going low-tech then why am I even thinking about my 3 year old’s iPad skills?
  • An interesting look at the benefits of good old fashioned play.
  • I attended an amazing talk on raising creative children in a hurried world last week by Nancy Blakey.  I’ll have more on her to come, but for now all of her books are on the top of my “to read” list.


Ok, time for the comments.  Be gentle please… or don’t, it’ll give me a chance to try out some of the stuff I’ve been learning here  (affiliate link  and it’s more about negativity and less about anger than the title suggests).
Back tomorrow with something light-hearted and fun!


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