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Some Thoughts on Screen Time in Today’s World

By Sahara Pirie, CPDA

Media influence is a challenge in today's world.  Television and other screen media are significantly different today than 20 or even 10 years ago and those changes have deep repercussions.  As a parent, I have concern about it - AND I realize there is only so much I can do within our family.  My goal has been to teach our values and what effect TV can have us - and try not to be controlling about it, sometimes a challenge. 

Here are some ideas:

·         Educate yourself.  Learn the benefits and pitfalls of screen time.  The National Institute on Media and the Family (www.mediawise.org) has some great information to share.  Studies have shown direct correlation to screen time and school performance: reading time and school performance; etc.

·         Determine your values around TV and other screen media.

·         Have a family discussion about them.  Include how they may be different than other’s family values and why.  Invite questions.

·         Based on those values, define your boundaries or limits about screen time.

·         Model the behavior you wish your children to adopt.

·         When having these types of conversations with our families, it is helpful to remind the kids that our role as parents is not to control them or make their lives miserable but to teach and guide them to be capable, competent and responsible adults.  Our boundaries and limits are designed with that goal in mind and we do better when we are willing to discuss them rather than impose them.  This won’t make your kids like the idea, but it will help their understanding.

The below examples are based on my own family values, I share them here as examples.  Your choices should be made on your family values.

·         We have only one TV and it is in the "wreck" room, which is in the basement, which means that it is no where near our mealtime table or our most used common spaces.   My husband and I do not watch much TV, so our daughter doesn’t see us watching it on a regular basis.  

·         Set the stage:  we talked about TV at age appropriate levels - and as much as possible included her in the thought process and decision making.  One thing I did is explain that I believe that TV can rob you of your imagination and creativity, she asked how and I told her that when she read something or heard about something that she had to create that image in her mind - but when she saw it on TV someone else had done that for her.  I told her that I felt this was a very important skill to have and keep and for that reason we would always discuss the balances. 

·         Set limits on all screen time.  In our house computer use during the week is allowed for school work, weekends provide greater leeway.  We watch a movie as a family almost weekly.  (By the way, much of my work is at a computer so she does see me on the computer everyday.  I’m pretty sure this is why the computer has more appeal to her than the TV).

·         We were fortunate to spend a year of 'kindergarten' in the Waldorf system which highly discourages media and had a no-TV rule during the school week. We kept that rule after we entered public school.

·         As she gets older, we’ve allowed more screen time and more responsibility in deciding what is okay to watch, when watching TV we usually do so as a family.

·         Use conflicts about screen time to explore our family values.  Once she came home to show me an on-line computer game and ask if she could play it, it involved violence to a cartoon animal.  She giggled when she was successful… ouch.  She claimed, “It’s fun! It’s not real…” I asked, “What about killing cartoon animals on the screen was fun?”  This left her a bit dumbfounded.  She lost interest in that particular game soon after. It could be that she connected the dots and it was a conflict for her.  I believe it was easy for her to overlook the activity of the game because she wanted to belong with her friends and they were all doing it.  Kids “social networking” sites such as Club Penguin and Webkins have also offered opportunities for discussion and negotiation. It’s an ongoing process. 

·         When we have play dates the general rule is no screen time - play dates are for playing and building real time connections with friends, face to face. 

·         With her friends who’s parents don’t have concerns about media issues, I encourage play dates at our house.

·         It isn’t a perfect system and that is okay, as great lessons come from the mistakes. 

Do not assume that because your child is young they won’t find themselves at inappropriate internet sites, either by mistake or intention.  Think about this now, make a plan of action.  I know a third grader old who found her way to internet porn – led there by another (younger) third grader.  The site was too intriguing and she was too curious to leave, instead she searched out more sites.  Her parents had the computer in a common space. They’d taught her what to do if she came across such a site. Essentially, they had taken every precaution I know of with one caveat – they had taken parental controls off this machine because with them on, she couldn’t access sites to do her research project.

I personally don’t believe more control is the answer – it will invite rebellion – and that leaves me thinking that we must educate our kids early and often, and stay connected.  The time we put in to this early on will help us all through the teen years.

There is nothing we can do to absolutely protect our children.  Our best option is to be proactive and educate ourselves and our kids.   And that is not without its challenges.

Meal time is an excellent time to have meaningful conversations, build familial relationships, discuss greater issues and connect with each other face to face.  This becomes much harder when our kids get older and are involved in lots of sports or other after school activities.  Please do not invite your television or other screen to your mealtime table. 

From The National Institute on Media and the Family:

The Internet is full of both opportunities and pitfalls. Kids today have more information at their fingertips than we could have dreamed of just twenty years ago. On the other hand, they have access to more inappropriate content than we could have feared. Does this mean that we need to toss our computers out the window? Of course not. It does mean that we need to help our kids learn how to use the Internet responsibly and connect with them about what they are doing and what they’ve seen online.

Learn. Connect. Talk.
Watch what your kids watch.

There’s a powerful news story on video game addiction done by CBC news available on the internet.  I recommend it although it is not an easy watch.  The link is:  http://www.yoursocialworker.com/videos/Video_Game_Addiction-fifth.wmv)

One of the most interesting aspects of this video, the gaming industry and television is the influence of the advertising dollar.  Simply put, it’s all about money and many are willing to sacrifice values to get there.  It is up to parents and people who care to stand up and teach otherwise.

If you are passionate about this there are opportunities to do more, talk to other parents, get info from organizations working towards the goals you believe in.


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