One Parent's Losing Battle Against "TV Time"

Google may not be making us stupid, but it's sure as heck making it harder for me to keep my kids off the TV. Or, rather, the computer, phone or tablet that today doubles as a TV. Growing, I remember "that rich kid" who had a TV in his room. Now seemingly every child in the US and Western Europe has scads of "TVs" at her disposal.

Which makes parenting really, really hard.

TV Is So 20th Century

On the plus side, according to a recent report from eMarketer, TV time, at least for adults, actually declined in 2013 to four hours and 31 minutes. The bad news? Time spent with other digital screens increased to five hours and 16 minutes each day. 

When it comes to kids, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, things aren't much better:

  • Roughly 66% of infants and toddlers watch a screen an average of two hours a day
  • Kids under age six watch roughly two hours of screen media on average per day, primarily TV and videos or DVDs
  • Kids and teens 8 to 18 years spend nearly four hours a day in front of a TV screen and almost two additional hours on the computer (outside of schoolwork) and playing video games

Again, the positive to take away from this is that traditional TV time, the bane of child development experts, is waning. The negative? It has simply shifted to other screens, screens that are far more invasive in our lives.

Even worse? The best predictor of a child's viewing time is not family rules or the location of the TV: it's how much time the child's parents watch TV or fiddle with their devices.

In other words, my kids are doomed.

Do As I Say Not As I Do

Not that I'm a heavy TV watcher. Aside from Downton Abbey and one or two Arsenal matches per week, I don't watch TV. I haven't seen Breaking Bad or House of Cards or Homeland or any of the other "must see" TV. I think my life is better for it. I read books. And, yes, I'm kind of snobby about it.

But where I really fall down, and in spectacular fashion, is with non-TV screen time. I work from home, and all of my work is done over the phone (usually with a laptop in front of me) or directly on my laptop or other mobile device. My kids see a lot of me, as I try to work in our home's public spaces as much as possible, and pretty much all they see is "Dad typing on some mobile device."

Given this fact, I can't really blame them that their first instinct when they get home from school is not to turn on the TV, but rather to pick up one of the several laptops or tablets we have scattered around the house. To minimize the contagion, we have a policy against devices finding their way into rooms (except for Kindle PaperWhites, which we freely allow our kids to take wherever they want), but this hasn't stopped them from gorging on screen time in our family room or other public places. 

As fast as I ask them to turn off whatever device they're using, a different child has picked another one up. With four kids, it's like digital device Whac-a-Mole.

I want to tell them to close the laptops and put down the devices. And I do. But I also want them to not see me spending so much of my life working on my computer, because I don't want them to assume it's normal.

Though, I guess, it is.

To Hell In A Handbasket

Maybe it's not as dire as I think. When Nick Carr wrote his article on how the Internet is reprogramming our brains, and not in a good way, many pushed back and called our modern, screen-heavy world "progress." Maybe they're right. 

Or maybe I'm ensuring my kids grow up thinking that they can't possibly live without a device and a connection to the Internet. I'd be very grateful for any insight you may have on how to manage screen time, and whether you think it's a bad thing in the first place.

 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.