Let’s get this out of the way; screens are definitely not a bad thing. They can provide not only endless hours of entertainment in the form of games or shows, but they also can do a lot when it comes to helping your child learn. The only issue seems to be that these days they are introduced when a child is so young!
Obviously, sometimes a parent needs their kid to calm down, like when they’re trying to shop for groceries or throwing a fit in public. Maybe they just need ten minutes to breathe for a moment, and this can keep the kid distracted. Screens are an amazing distraction when you need them to be, but too quickly children can become entirely dependent on them.
Smartphones and tablets are kind of a requirement for teens, but why would a two-year-old need constant access to a tablet?
The Pros and Cons of Screen Time for Children and Teenagers
Electronic devices have taken over the world in recent years. Even my son wasn’t as obsessed with his smartphone in high school the way people are today. That’s okay, times are always a-changing. But what about when the screen time takes over all other activities?
It can be hard to set a solid line between what’s good and what is too much, so let’s look at some pros and cons of screen time for your kids.
Pros for Little Kids
- Can help with learning: there are plenty of games designed for toddlers and babies to teach them their colors or their numbers or even strategies. This is a great developmental tool if you happen to be busy during the day, as many stay at home moms are.
- Can teach communication- babies recognize pretty quickly that telephones mean they’re talking to someone else and will mimic their parents on their own toy phones. Facetime and other video chats are another way to teach them about communication and help them say hi to dad when he’s on his lunch break. They also can learn cause and effect by hitting buttons and learning what responses may occur.
- You can pick what they see- There are all sorts of parental controls you can put on a tablet, or you can just buy a tablet meant for toddlers. This means you can pick and choose exactly what your child plays and watches without having to constantly change a channel r look for something appropriate. IN fact, many children’s tablets come preloaded with just that sort of fun and wholesome content.
- You can play together- this is a great way to spend some time together, even watching a baby cartoon together can get your little one to comesit in your lap and cuddle. You can clap and sing along and be involved without needing to be the one to solely hold their attention.
Cons for Little Kids:
- They can actually become dependent on it- we all know that toddlers become fixated on objects, which is why they may throw a tantrum if they don’t have their favorite toy to cuddle or safety blanket to sleep with. This is the same case when it comes to smartphones and tablets or television. Kids grow way too dependent and don’t know how to entertain themselves. This means they may freak out when you try to do something with them that isn’t screen related and can mess with their social skills and other abilities.
- Screens have actually been shown to slow down language development- this isn’t because parents aren’t using games directed at teaching language enough, but just that kids need real actual feedback and response from people to learn language. There’s a sort of back and forth that needs to be involved to get the conversation started.
- They can cause less imaginative thinking- a hallmark of childhood is that we all have to experience playing by ourselves and entertaining ourselves. This often can involve creating or moving around, but with tablets or television that just doesn’t happen. Instead of building with play dough or drawing with crayons, kids are focused on what already exists instead of what they can make to enjoy. Building blocks take a backseat to whatever is mesmerizing them on the screen.
Pros for Teens
- Screen time can actually open up communication for teens- too often we all have those teenagers who are going through the rough years where they don’t want to talk to you or tell you anything. When they refuse to leave their bedroom you can at least communicate with them via text, and they are also more likely to ask you questions that they would be afraid to in person, which can open up your relationship further.
- Teaches them to be tech-savvy- in this world being tech-savvy is very important these days. Even those who grew up with cell phones can have trouble understanding the updates and new technology that grows with every passing year. Allowing your teen to utilize all the current technology gives them a chance to have a better innate understanding of how to use these things, and can potentially lead to them having more career options.
- Gives them independence- Using smartphones is a great way for them to stay connected to their friends. It can seem scary, but being constantly connected to your friends is really the social era of our time. Disconnecting your teenager from that world can make them feel isolated and limit the quality of their friendships, just because that’s how all teenagers manage their relationships now.
Cons of Teen Screen Time
- Can you say obsessed?- too easily teens will become obsessed with their smartphones, never letting them go and even scrolling to oblivion all through the night. They might feel the need to be constantly updating statuses or talking to their friends, and going even a few hours disconnected can be impossible. This is a huge cause of anxiety for many teenagers because they never really learn how to handle being alone, and it can get in the way of the time you try to spend with them. Video games also can take over a teenagers life and they might always want to spend more time gaming than actually hanging out with people. It’s a fine line.
- Negative self-image- Constantly being unregulated on social media means they are always having advertisements thrown at them and media meant to be sold. This means they are taking in unhealthy body and beauty standards and setting expectations that honestly do not make sense in the real world. This can lead your teenager to look at their life and feel dissatisfied and cause depression. Social media really does not do a good representation of reality at all.
- Can actually physically harm your teen- spending all their time scrolling, watching TV, or playing video games can put a strain on your teenager’s eyes. Too much screen time can cause blurred vision, headaches, and impair their eyesight over time. Using phones can even make their wrists and fingers hurt, or cause stiff necks. It can be too easy to get caught up for hours in the same position.
I tried to make sure that the pros and cons matched up, and that this wasn’t just a post all about the horrors of screen time, because we all know they exist. Instead, it’s just a stark look at the reality we all will find ourselves in when it comes to the increasing use of tech in day-to-day life.
Now we can check out some great alternatives to screen time for your children so you can still come together as a family, and that way limited screen time won’t feel like a punishment.
What to Do Instead
There are plenty of alternatives give your children to do, or things you can participate in as a family to ensure that less screen time doesn’t feel like such awful mistreatment to them.
- Go to the park: This will always be my number one idea for kids because they always love it. There are plenty of different types of parks out there, from indoor to outdoor, to splash pads and jungle gyms. Hopefully, there are a few different ones in your area, and you can easily entertain your toddler for hours. Maybe your teenager can plan to meet a friend or two there or you can offer to pick one up. They can hang out at a picnic table like proper hooligans and you don’t have to worry that they will forget how to socialize.
- Cook together: Family cooking time is a great way to include toddlers and teenagers. If you have a few of each you can easily put your teenager in charge of something more important while you play with the toddler as you teach him about making food. This is a great way to teach your teenager life skills and let everyone feel included. Too many kids grow up not knowing how to make a good bowl of mac n cheese, don’t let yours be one of them.
- Find a family activity: Maybe its board games, maybe it’s playing music together, maybe it’s taking the dog on a walk or going on a bike ride. It doesn’t have to be a nightly activity, but at least once or twice a week everyone will have to drop their phones to engage in an activity they enjoy. If your teenager is feeling sullen and doesn’t want to participate, ask them what they would like better, then incorporate that into your next plan. If they want to go to the mall, then a family mall adventure can ensue. Even invite a friend of theirs along, because that’s the best way to keep a teenager involved. It can feel wrong appeasing a teenager when the other kids might be having fun, but they deserve to feel included too, so don’t forget that.
Seriously, your best approach to limiting screen time is making sure that your requests are reasonable and you aren’t forcing them to feel like they having nothing to do. With little kids, it can be easier if you are sure to not let them get obsessed too early on.
With teenagers, it can be more difficult, but just do your best to include them. Teenagers constantly feel isolated, and instead of ragging on them about how they never participate, do your best to give them a chance to participate in a way that they will feel comfortable doing. Allowing them to bring a friend also helps them still feel connected to the outside world and makes them feel that their wants and needs are valued.
Try Not To Stress
Too easily we can become absorbed in all the negative things about parenting and judge ourselves far too harshly. This comes back to the internet and this open availability to what the “right” thing to do is, like limiting screen time.
Yeah, it’s better for babies to have no screen time at all but that isn’t always realistic. Yeah, your kid shouldn’t have a phone attached to their hand 24/7 but you can cause resentment in the blink of an eye.
Moderation, like with all things, is key, and don’t try too hard to fit this mold of “perfect parent”. You’re perfect just the way you are, every caring inch of you.