As parents in the 21st century, the issue of screen time would more than likely be an area of discussion, debate, contention, disagreement, etc not only between parents and kids, but even between parents and other parents as well. How much is too much?
To be clear, issues like these have always been issues of contention. When I myself was young, it was television: it was never good as it kept kids glued to it and made us spend less time outdoors when exercise was important, it wasted time when we should have been studying and it cause eyesight problems as we stared too long into them without rest.
I felt that analysis was unfair as parents and adults then spent that many hours on their own televisions and computer screens for work, wasted an equal amount of time, spending less time with their kids and most time watching TV themselves or using work as an excuse for not being with their families. I was then young and kept those thoughts to myself.
Fast forward to the 2010s, when I myself was working and became a parent, did my mind change? Nope. I still believe that people who complain that screen time is bad for kids can be quite hypocritical too. They themselves want to limit screen time for children but do not put in the effort to spend the time saved from screens with their kids. Instead, they push their kids to non-screen activities like sports, music, etc while they themselves continue to stick their own eyes in front of their own screens, this time, their mobiles or tablets.
Fast forward to the COVID19 pandemic years of 2020-2021, now children are forced to be in front of screens. Online learning was the only option for many months. Suddenly most parents sing the praise of technology, as they can now continue to get their children educated during the months of working from home. The parents now silently thank the techno gods for keeping their children in studies and keeping their own minds sane.
How much circumstances can change our perspectives! Personally, as a parent, I believe that there should be moderation in all things. Screens are inevitable. Cutting them from the children’s lives will not benefit anyone but managing their use of screens would build in them the wisdom they need to handle the technology in the coming years.
I cheekily use a familiar phrase from the Bible: “All screens are permissible, but not all screens are beneficial.” When I say screens I mean the internet as well in general.
The following may not be applicable to most, but some may find it useful to consider or even adapt for personal use, this is what I do at home (when my boy and girl were 8-years-old and 10-years-old up till now and ongoing):
- I do not restrict the kids in the use of their tablets, but the ground rule from the start is “with great power comes great responsibility”: when there are more important things to do, they need to stop, until those things are done, like schooling, eating, sleeping etc (including when their father wants them to play boardgames with him). This intends to build the mindset of freedom to act within the boundaries of non-negotiables as well as the authority of the father (small caps)
- Taking a cue from our omniscient Father who can see all we do, but allows us the freedom to do anything (almost), I allow the kids to watch YouTube with minimal restrictions, but because they watch under my ID, I see what they see at all times. General guidelines are given beforehand to spare them unnecessary mental trauma. If they stumble upon videos of questionable content, they are to tell me that evening itself. Then we will take time to discuss what was there and why the content was questionable, or restricted, or prohibited. Teaching sessions emerge from stuff they encountered.
All kinds of topics come up: relationships, crime, horror themed stuff, violence, sex, politics, religion, theology, rules, social issues, etc. The discussions become meaningful times of sharing of knowledge, of opinions, of what we as parents think of these topics, and what we as parents want to pass on to the next generation.
Many times, I rewatch some of those clips with them to explain to them in detail what some of those stuff mean.
We need to realise that those things are out there on the web, and no matter how we try to restrict them, they will get to them some day. I would rather they getting exposed to these things under my watch when I can guide them through, than on their own when the only people whom are there to guide them through are their peers or the internet itself.
So if you even remotely find this something you may want to try, as a parent, you yourself need to have your mind made up about many topics beforehand and where you stand in the spectrum of things; then when you encounter them with the kids, you can share what you believe and why you believe.
While there are many topics, I feel the critical ones are:
- Why do you believe in Jesus Christ? Why follow him rather than anyone else? Why follow anyone at all?
- What’s wrong with the world and why isn’t anything being done about it properly? Should we even bother?
- Where do we come from? What is sex?
- What are we here on earth for? What am I here for?
And many more…. these questions help us understand our lives better and from there, hopefully, with the help of God, help our offspring to navigate this world better….
So screentime, what do you make of it? A Godsend? A necessary evil? I believe it is a tool that can be used for good or ill. What do you want to use it for? Only you can answer that question for you and your children…