How much screen time should kids get?
Let’s remove the science and physical health from this debate (does it damage a kids eyes, brain, how they develop, etc…?). I’m not a doctor, researcher or scientist. Like you, I’ve read countless different types of research on technology, kids and screen time, and I can only sum up what I’ve understood about the topic like this: it doesn’t look good, but it’s not definitive (dig into the research for yourself). Even the notion of tech addiction has resulted in inconcluisve findings. Still, what we see can often make us cringe. Case in point: My recent vacation. Out in the sun, in open family spaces, I saw everything from a kid dining at a table (all alone) with headphones on and watching YouTube videos, while the parents laughed away in conversation with another couple… at another table. I watched kids dig a six foot hole in the sand with surrounding sand castles while a sibling sat nearby with headphones on and thumbing through their tablet. Perhaps most disturbing was being at a local park, while dozens of kids played on swings, slides and crazy park structures, as a child was lying down in the middle of the park (kids were running around and tripping over them) simply watching videos on a smartphone. In another instance, the local shopping mall has a new installation: a 93 foot high glass and steel giant slide that is free to slide down. Countless young kids could be seen going down the ride while still on FaceTime.
What’s the argument?
There are so many questions. How will these kids adapt decent (and basic) social skills? What kind of person does all of this alone time with technology might make them? What is this digital content and communication doing to their mind? The problem is that we – the adults – have become slaves to our technology and screens. We may not think that we are, but look no further than Apple Screen Time to see what your usage is like, or just clock how much time you’re working on a screen (laptop/computer), on your smartphone or watching something leisurely at home. Better yet, how much work can you actually get done without a screen? Now, how successful do we want our kids to be? In a world that is being changed by automation, robotics, artificial intelligence and the like, who will our kids become, if we can’t get them to be proficient (maybe even master?) these devices and technologies… sooner rather than later? Do we want our children to read and understand language later in life… or as soon as possible? If the world has changed, shouldn’t we approach technology and screens with the same philosophy?
Let kids be kids. There’s plenty of time for screens and being an adult later in life!
At what point are we failing our kids? This has been a personal struggle for me. As someone who is a deeply engrained in technology, my kids have very limited screen time and even less access to screens. I find it surprising just how much time they spend on screens at schools. Still, at what point am I harming their development with this approach? At what point are their friends all discussing Fortnite, while my child stares off into space because they have no idea what the game is, how it is played or how to react to this conversation? It’s a constant grapple and battle. We want our kids to be normal. Socially engaged… and now screens are everywhere and a part of what makes them normal and social engaged. Right?
This is the paradox of kids and screen time.
On one hand, we want (and need) them to become the best human beings possible. Healthy relationships, the ability to look someone in the eyes and hold a conversation, the love of picking up a book and reading it, and more. On the other hand, we want them to be successful, to have a full professional life, to enjoy the process of collaboration, innovation, entrepreneurship and – if all goes well – to save and help this world. Can they accomplish this without being proficient on a screen? Ugh. So difficult. People will have opinions, but we are truly lacking the data to know what is right, what is best and what should be done. I want nothing more than the kids of today to become the leaders of tomorrow. I want nothing more than the kids of today to save our planet (sooner) than tomorrow. If they are our future… is it a future with more technology or less? More screens or fewer? I’m guessing more.
So, what are we to do?