Screen time, like processed cheese, was a mainstay of my 1980’s childhood that is frowned upon by today’s parents. I grew up with Saturday morning cartoons: Thundercats, She-Ra, The Smurfs, you name it. I spent hours in the basement of my Brooklyn home on our NES, playing Legend of Zelda and Duck Hunt. We weren’t a family that sat around the table playing board games, and that was probably for the best. My mother had her hands full with three spirited daughters; giving her some breathing room was as much a matter of survival as convenience.
Today’s parents don’t get a pass when it comes to settling the kids in front of Nickelodeon and walking away to do laundry, make dinner, or just sit quietly with a book. The latest trend is to live simply; to go back to the good old days when we ate like cavemen and gave birth in our living rooms. Similarly, our growing dependence on electronics has caused many people to fear what that means for our children and their ability to interact with the world.
Instead of preaching moderation, however, we are taught that allowing our children screen time is something to be avoided as much as possible. It’s a point of pride among parents to talk about how little screen time their children get. For those who do allow their kids to indulge, it’s an embarrassment that needs explaining away (“They were sick,” “I was just having one of those days,” “It was a reward after their immersive Japanese class”) or a guilty secret that parents laugh about in whispered conversations at the playground.
My children get a fair amount of screen time. More than a fair amount, at times. My kids love video games and I let them play for, usually, multiple hours a day. I consider the hours before school to be the perfect time to let my kids have screen time, mainly because I’m tired. I just woke up; I have to make lunches, walk the dog, and make sure the kids have all of the things they need for the day. It makes life easier if I can do that without a whole lot of conversation or interruptions.
After school, I let them play because they are young kids who have been in school all day long, and they need a chance to relax and veg out for a while. It’s the same reason I play Farmville during work breaks, and my husband plays some horrible first-person shooter zombie game after the kids go to bed. Everyone needs and deserves some time to do absolutely nothing at all. Some kids want to do that by going on a scavenger hunt, but mine prefer to play video games. As long as it’s not all day every day, I don’t see a problem with it.
I’m not worried about my children becoming slugs because that is not something I will allow as their parent. My kids participate in after-school activities. My husband and I are constantly trying to find ways for us to be outdoors. I encourage a love of reading and a tolerance for school work. They love to swim and participate in martial arts. And, in addition to all of that, they also love playing video games. There doesn’t have to be an emphasis on one and a denial of the other. I don’t believe the answer is to limit our children to a half an hour of TV a week, but rather to let them explore all of their interests and enjoy all parts of life.
There’s little in this world that is all good or all bad, and I want them to know that video games and television shows are an enjoyable part of life that they don’t need to shun and look down on in order to be accomplished, worthwhile human beings. It’s we adults who saddle ourselves with worry about using our time effectively—children don’t need to be effective; they just need to be kids. They get enough of adults structuring their time and making sure it is used to accomplish something. (And usually, that is more about the feelings of the adult than the child.) So if my kids want to balance out their accomplishments with a few hours of video games, that works for me. Go grow some dragons and defeat the enemy troops. The world will still be here for you to explore when you get back.