A few days ago, a member of a Facebook group I participate in asked if anyone else allows their children to watch/play on phones or tablets during meals. I confess I was a little appalled at the idea, for though I know we live in a screen-addicted society, I was blissfully unaware of the existence of children who can’t get through a whole meal without some kind of stimulation by an electronic device.
I want you to know that I’m not feeling smug or superior, and I get it. I really do. When you are tired and frazzled, and it has been raining for three days straight, with your children bickering nonstop all that time, and you are ready to throttle someone, and every time you talk to your kids it somehow turns into yelling at the top of your voice… well, I’ve been there. And flicking on a movie or a computer game to get some blissful peace can be so, so easy. And I’m not saying you should never do this – just be aware that it comes with a price. Screens of any kind – phones, computers, tablets – are extremely alluring and addictive, and once kids (and adults, too) get used to this being their primary source of amusement, it’s hard to switch them off to other things.
Admittedly, we are aided by our lifestyle as Orthodox Jews. Since our Shabbats are tech-free, we know we can get through a day without screens, and make other days tech-free or low-tech too. And we live in an area with frequent power outages, which means that on many winter nights, the power just shuts down whether we want to or not, and though naturally our kids will whine and grumble if it happens in the middle of a movie, they eventually settle down to do other things, like drawing by candlelight (or better yet, early bedtime!). Also, we are blessed with lots of outdoor space for the kids to play, and plenty of animals to keep us all entertained.
Now, I’m not saying screen time is all bad. We take advantage of some wonderful educational videos and games I wouldn’t want to give up on. But I really, really try to make it only a tiny portion of our day, because I don’t want my kids to get used to passive entertainment.
Getting weaned off excessive screen time can be hard, and if you’re trying to do this, you should be prepared for quite a bit of mutiny and lots of complaints of being bored. But then, as everyone settles in to a new routine, good things start to happen – more reading, more arts and crafts, more outdoor play, more family time… better, healthier, more wholesome entertainment.
The idea of pulling the plug can be daunting, but I would encourage anyone to give it a try. I can almost guarantee that, after a little while, you and your kids will be happier and healthier, and will not want to look back.
4 thoughts on “The slippery slope of screen time”
I’m not sure if I am in a position to say anything, as I am not a mother myself, but just from wishful thinking, meal time should be about the food and eating and sharing with those with whom one is having the meal. However, there are already many adults who cannot weather having a meal without checking their phones, so I think when you cannot be a rolemodel for your children in this aspect, it is harder to limit their screen time.
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Miu, that’s an excellent point, of course. I am as guilty as anyone of compulsive phone checking, but I lay it aside during meals and just don’t touch it. I do the same during bathtime, story time, etc.
We are starting on Great-grandchildren, so I can’t speak for today’s generation. Our girls, who are all in their 50s, do not play with their phones, although our “local” daughter has her computer open all the time and it makes a noise when an email arrives. She’ll glance at it and answer it or not, as she sees fit. When the girls were growing up, dinner meant the phone didn’t get answered and no reading at the table.
I think that’s always a good rule. 🙂