Screen Time: Where We Are Right Now

Screen Time: Where We Are Right Now May 27, 2014

Since creating Building Cathedrals over 7 years ago, we have had several conversations about screen time. Each of our families has worked hard to find the balance that works best for our particular situations; our decisions have involved factors such as the ages and the personalities of our children, our own comfort levels with technology, sibling dynamics, housing situations, etc. Currently, my children are 10 (boy), 6 (girl), and 4 (girl), and our baby is due in September.

We have typically been comfortable letting our children watch certain videos or shows on PBS Kids, but decided a couple of years ago to stop our cable subscription. This decision was based mainly on two factors: our discomfort with some of the programming on “child-friendly” channels, and our unwillingness to pay extra for cable. While this has been a bummer for my husband because he can no longer watch many sporting events, and for me because I lost the Food Network and HGTV, it really has not been that big of a deal for us. It may be more of an issue in the future, and we regularly re-evaluate our decision, but that is where we currently stand. We do have a subscription to Netflix which allows us to access many shows instantly, and we also receive movies in the mail through Netflix, and from the local library.

In terms of the amount of TV that our kids watch, I would say that we are pretty normal. During the week, my older children sometimes watch 30 minutes of TV, and sometimes none, depending on after-school activities and homework. My youngest is home three days during the week, so she will usually watch about an hour during the day, but sometimes more or less. On days like today, when I had things that needed to be done at home, she had closer to two hours of screen time in total. During the hot Texas summer, when we are often stuck at home because of the oppressive heat, my children will watch closer to 1-2 hours of videos on days when they are not in camp. I imagine that the scenario is similar during the winter months in northern climates.

Just Dance game on the Wii
We have passwords on our TV, iPhones, and computers, so our children can only access these if we allow them to, and we do not own any other personal electronic devices at the moment. A few months ago, a co-worker generously gifted us her Wii, which is comical because my husband and I have spent years agonizing over whether to purchase a gaming system. Quite honestly, we have not used the Wii as often as I would have thought, but when we have it has been great fun. Watching the kids dance along to “Just Dance” is quite entertaining, and the sports games are fun, although frustrating for our 4 year-old. Our other two games are MarioKart and Mario, and really the only one able to enjoy these games at the moment is the 10 year-old.

The positives that I have observed about the Wii are: 1) There is no Internet access, so in many ways I feel that the Wii is more secure than the computer. Our son really enjoys Minecraft on the computer, but I worry about the potential to unintentionally access damaging Internet content. 2) Certain games are fun for a variety of ages, which is great for families. 3) The kids can only play the games that you buy for them, so if you are uncomfortable with certain games, you can just choose not to allow them in your home. 4) Boys love video games, and for better or worse, they often ask whether they can play while they are hanging out. When we didn’t have a gaming system, we found that the boys usually migrated to someone else’s house instead. We want our house to be a fun place to hang out, so hopefully this helps in that equation.

Some of the downsides of the Wii: 1) Some of the games are frustrating for younger kids, who lack coordination and skill. 2) Some of the games can be addictive and/or mindless.

As with any parenting topic, we are continually re-evaluating our decisions regarding our children’s exposure to media and technology. My husband and I balance each other out quite well, and it is helpful for me to hear his perspective as a man. We have also found it necessary to adapt our rules to our changing family dynamics, while not compromising any of our core values. I would love to hear your thoughts!

Mary, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!

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  • What a great post evaluating the positives and negatives of this particular gaming system. We don’t own a gaming system at this time, but our oldest boy is 8. He has not asked for one, because he is insulated from it a bit (homeschooling) and is generally a very outdoors type of kid. I do think he would become very attached to it though if we owned one. It is very interesting to me how girls seem to have such little interest in these things. My daughter is 10, and has not asked about any video games but wants a Facebook or instagram account. That seems to be the female temptation. We have said no at this time, but will probably allow her to have one at some point in the next few years. One of the things we invested in this past Christmas, and it is a huge hit with the boys — a ping pong table. We have an unfinished basement, but we have the space down there for a table. Our boys seem very drawn to that, much more so than our girls. We also have a backyard batting cage, and I would love to own a trampoline. Again, these are outdoor things, but the idea is the same as yours — we do want other kids to want to play here, and a nice lego collection is not longer an attraction!

  • Katrina

    Yes, sadly, the Legos are no longer an attraction…Otherwise, my son would be the most popular kid in town!
    I’m brainstorming ideas for how to make the outdoor space at our new house attractive and fun for kids. A trampoline could be lots of fun! I also wonder if we could find a space for a ping-pong table…

  • Karen

    Always go back and forth about this issue too. I think it depends how much their peers are into it. For us, we don’t have cable and the kids are homeschooled, so I think that they are misfits enough with pop culture – thus we have a wii. However, if their peers didn’t have it, I think life would be better without it – in some ways. A plus, I think, is that my children care very little for watching TV, which once you get past the preschool shows, all the shows go down hill quickly with content (esp. romance- why do 10 years need to date??). Down side is they care VERY much for their screen time on video games, but I guess it is good to teach them to learn how to manage their time and put pleasure in its place.

  • Bethany

    Also don’t underestimate a foosball table too. My guys love that whenever we’re somewhere that has one!

    Otherwise, Kat, your current situation sounds very familiar. I am stoked because I recently found an app called ParentControl that allows me to set time limits on the boys’ iPads. It is awesome and then “when you’re done, you’re done!” They don’t have internet access and can play their games for the allotted time. I’m thinking I will let them have a half hour/day during the summer with a chance to earn more time with chores.