It is no secret that I am not a fan of screen time for kids. Our daughter’s time is limited to a couple hours a week on any form factor (iPad, TV, computer) with the exception of the Kindle Paperwhite. This may sound harsh, but many weeks pass where she hardly glances at a screen since she is too busy with school, friends, and books. For our boys (ages 2), I’ve issued a no screen policy until they are 4. Being the man of the house, naturally, my rule is law. Except when it isn’t.
Like many a traveling family, when we strapped our kids into that 12-hour flight for the trip home last summer, introducing them to some new screen friends like Blue’s Clues and Caillou allowed us to get through the flight with our sanity intact. Back in Beijing, somehow this transmogrified into a bowl of popcorn and a little TV on Friday nights. Seemed harmless enough.
Over time, I noticed another screen trend that had built up in their little lives. Now and again, for various reasons, a mobile phone will come out to distract them. Maybe one kid is having a difficult time eating, or someone isn’t feeling well, or they simply won’t cooperate while getting their teeth brushed. Suddenly, there were a lot of exceptions to our no screen policy.
All of this struck home the other morning when Ryder informed me that he wanted to watch Handy Manny shortly after he woke up. “I’m sure you do.” I told him, and then added, “Do you hear a dinosaur in the drawer?” Thus, I deftly diffused the situation by distracting his desire with his affinity for prehistoric reptiles. Still, I realized we had a problem to contend with.
Like so many negative influences that we try to manage in our children’s lives (sugary foods, air quality, unsafe toys, the NBA) there is a need for vigilance and periodic reevaluation. Maybe a little screen time once a week is no big deal, but when I find them surfing the Internet for Sponge Bob outtakes, I know things have gone too far and it is time to take back the remote. Or, um, close the iPad and switch off the phone.
Maybe we just need to find a high shelf.