The other night, my husband and I went out on a long-overdue date.
“How were the kids?” we asked our au pair when we walked in.
“They were fine, but I thought that you should know that long after Eli was supposed to be in bed asleep, I found him sitting at the computer and watching videos on YouTube,” she told us. “Maybe you should think about putting a password on the computer.”
My husband and I looked and each other and sighed. The amount of screen time our kids have each day is a constant struggle. Like unhealthy snacks, screens are everywhere and nearly impossible to avoid. Smart phones, tablets, TV, computer... the list is never ending.
Our kids don’t discriminate, they love each one of them. In the morning, our 7-year-old reaches for our smart phones. When he comes home from school, he asks is if he can watch TV. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times we tell him our house rules and enforce them. The pull of the screen is too great for him to resist. Until now, he was dependent on me turning the TV on with our three remote controls or typing search terms in to YouTube so he could watch clips of “Sesame Street.” Not anymore. He can read, type and use devices as well as I can.
I’m the first to admit that I love to relax in front of the TV after the kids go to bed, and I rely on my smart phone for everything from scheduling our family’s week to responding to work email to using it as a flashlight. However, we feel strongly that our little ones don’t turn into couch potatoes or smart phone addicts. Aside for the obvious danger to their developing brains, I would hate for them to miss out on the pleasures of childhood, like swinging on the swings, riding bikes and creating fortresses.
Pediatricians around the world seem united on the need to limit kids’ screen time. At our last appointment, our pediatrician recommended no more than an hour a day. If his advice wasn’t enough of a push for us, a recent New York Times story certainly was. “Steve Jobs Was a Low Tech Parent,” read the headline. The article went on to detail how tech giants limit their own kids’ screen time. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/11/fashion/steve-jobs-apple-was-a-low-tech-parent.html
As soon as our au pair mentioned putting on a password, I went upstairs and set one on the computer. We also sat down and came up with a clearer list of rules to help the kids better understand what and when they are allowed on TV and devices. Hopefully, this will give them the headspace to think of other activities they would like to pursue when they have a minute of downtime.
As our kids get older and have even more access to technology we know that the pull between ‘real life’ and technology will only intensify. I can only hope that the foundation we lay for them now will help them to understand later on that when it comes to screen time a little can go a long way.
Rachel Elbaum is a London-based writer and mother to three boys.