The Screen Time Dilemma

Like most parents, I am concerned with my daughter Soleil’s welfare and education. One of the most disconcerting things about this time period is her interest in video and games, and what is an often poor reaction to being separted from the media.

Soleil throws sever temper tantrums when she video and ipad time ends, which is now causing us to discipline her more frequently. Specifically, we are using corner time, room time, restricted access to video, and grounding to work through this period.

She doesn’t go to school yet, but her start is imminent (waiting on pddy training to take hold). Until then we’re actively reading with her and more. We’d love interactive games and fun learning to be a part of this. She’ll need the skills to succeed later in life, but the impact on her mental and emotional development requires close moderation of use and access.

The Need to Be Engaged

With education in the United States continuing to deteriorate (41st int he world), parents need to be more involved in their children’s welfare. It’s important for parents to actively participate in their child’s education. It’s not enough to go on autopilot and let schools and tools (technology and media) lead the way.

This is one of the reasons why I am thrilled to help my client the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) with its first annual Big Give, or the #BigGive4Families, this November 1. More on this at the end, but in short NCFL’s mission is to use the family as the focal point for learning.

I think that’s more imperative now, thanks to technology. Digital media are advancing so quickly that parents have to be actively involved in their child’s activities. There are many unexpected traps.

One example is the application PBS Kids. PBS offers great programming, but it’s also addictive and creates the Soleil zombie state where she won’t do anything else, and then throws temper tantrums upon separation. Perhaps that’s Soleil’s personality at play, but I would normally feel safe trading on the PBS name. Sorry Daniel the Tiger, but access to you has become restricted (My Little Pony, too).

Screen time behavior is the biggest challenge facing Soleil right now, so all in all, we have high quality problems. Soon she’ll start Montesori school, which has no tech, no phones lying around, etc, and that will help. Notice that we are sending her to private school.

It is my intent to make sure she has the opportunity to participate in the finest schools possible. If that means going to private shcool, then I will work to make it happen.

To be a part of Soleil’s growth, I make sacrifices, the same sacrifices that many parents choose; keeping that camera another year, buying a lesser version of a car, eating out less often, etc. Most importantly, I sacrifice my time. I stay up late and wake up early to work, so I can spend more time with her. I know spending time with Soleil on education dramatically improves her learning process, and increases her chances of a prosperous life.

Many families don’t have access to the education resources that I do, nor do they have the knowledge to learn with their children. Because of cost and the deterioration of the country’s educations system, I feel very strongly that NCFL’s work is necessary.

If you’d like to help me or the more than a dozen individuals fundraising during the #NCFLBigGive, here are two easy actions:

1) It may seem obvious, but if you can’t fundraise the best way to help us make our goal is to donate to my personal fundraiser on November 1 or before. Even $50 makes a big difference as we try to attain $25,000.

2) Participate in the #NCFLBigGive Thunderclap. Hundreds of people will blast out a timed Tweet on November 1 to launch the Big Give. Just sign up here and Thunderclap will take care of the rest.

How do you handle access to phones, TVs and other forms of screen-based media with your children?

P.S. Though NCFL is my client, fundraising is not part of my scope of work. I architected the big give, but also decided to fundraise because I believe in the cause.


  • So it only gets worse as they get older. Knowing what I know NOW, I’d have restricted ALL access to computer and TV in our home UNTIL your child MUST have it for school (she’ll be out of Montessori soon enough). We have ENDLESS fights over our kids sneaking more than their allotted hour/day of screen time. The best thing for both of you is to teach her NOW, while she’s still little and more flexible, to live without it.

    • You are not making me happy! ;) We are definitely limiting it much more these days. Have to get her trained to live with out it!

  • Lots of research suggests that children shouldn’t be put in front of the TV before age two. Like TV, computer screens keep young kids from doing the key thing they should be doing – interacting with their environment and with other people – so it only makes sense to keep them out of the hands of young kids. We now know that chronic web surfing actually changes the structure of the brain in adults. God only knows what it’s doing to our kids and their growing brains. It can’t be good. Not to mention all of the parents at the playground who are busy wasting time on their smartphones instead of engaging with their kids. In the evenings, everybody in today’s fragmented family is on a separate screen, alone in their own little world. I’m in web marketing as a profession, but I really think we’re living through an epic tragedy with this stuff, a net loss. It’s sad. I’m waiting for the day when we have electronics-free communities where people actually have the opportunity to really live and interact with each other as human beings in the flesh.

    • Well, they already have go-dark only vacation resorts were cell phone use and screen time are forbidden. It’s definitely a major issue, and we may not be wired to handle the media.

  • This has always been a fascinating topic for me. My kids are older (early 20’s) but we had the same discussions about TV then as we have about computer and screen time now. I am still a firm believer in everything in moderation. My kids, just like I did, grew up with a TV or radio running as background noise all the time. Rarely, did they ever actually watch TV. They were always involved in other activities – legos, coloring, games, reading, their train sets, etc… The one thing I was always very aware of was never using the TV and later computer time as a distraction. If I was busy and needed them distracted, I got them involved in something, rather than stick them in front of the TV. If they interrupted me when they had been asked not to, they learned that disobeying came with consequences.
    I learned a lesson from my mother that I applied to my kids and my brother and sister have also used with theirs. My mom always had full candy dishes in the house. We were allowed to have it, as long as we asked first. Just like the TV being on, it was made to be a part of every day life, not some special something that had to be hidden away and only rationed out. This took away the mystique of it. Yes, there moments when we had too much, but they were rare. By making it something that was just there and not a rarity, my mother taught us moderation and self-control. Our friends on the other hand, the ones whose parents did not let them have TV or candy or made it such a rarity, would go nuts when they came to our house. Literally sitting on the end of the couch by the candy bowl because it was like finding hidden treasure.
    Just like it did with my brother, sister and I, this lesson in moderation and self-control by de-mystifying candy and TV worked with my kids too. Yes, they occasionally had things that were not good for them, but the battles over what to eat and not eat and how much TV/computer time versus doing other things time were much more rare then I see with so many other parents.
    In an age of all-encompassing digital, maybe this would not have worked quite the same way, but I personally think that by making something just regular and not special, we take away some of the intense desire to want it. Kids get bored easily, that is a fact of life. Another fact is that by making something regular and every day, they will get bored even faster. Helping them learn to make good decisions about things in their life using intelligence, discretion, moderation and self-control is part of our obligation as a parent. And, as any parent knows, that does not come easy and it comes with a pretty good share of need earplugs for the temper tantrums.

    • It’s funny, since we began rationing and enforcing the limited video rules, she is becming much more civil. She no longer assumes that she can have it when she wants it.

      I don’t know what the right answers are, but your experience here is really helpful and insightful. I do know that making sure she has an understanding of impact (financial, too) and consequence is my role as a dad. I’m not doing her any favors by letting her have what she wants whenever she wants it. This is not life.

  • Had a very similar issue; got an app called TimeZup for the PC and to our huge surprise, eliminated the issue 100%. When the app says the time is up, he walks away. It was a 180-degree turnaround in 1 day — we were shocked…but happy! I believe it exists for other platforms…

  • Perhaps we were lucky in that electronic devices weren’t QUITE as prevalent when our kids were growing up. Therefore, they did not get cell phones until 8th grade, and they never played games on smart devices until they were in high school.

    And neither of them really took to the games. They’d rather interact with real people. Of course, they are now SnapChat maniacs, but that is because we have fun as a family doing it…especially since we are scattered out now. Those SnapChats have replaced a lot of our text messages since you can “put a face to it”.

    We read to our daughters constantly. We took turns reading to them at night…to the point that my oldest had me reading her senior reading assignments to her in high school – just so she could hear the different voices and be immersed in the story.

    Today’s parents have a harder time w/all the distractions that can also be justified as interactive and educational. I’d say try to captivate them with the reading and non-electronic games/activities…there will always be time for more electronics and always-on connectivity.

    • SnapChat scares the hell out of me!

      I do enjoy reading to Soleil as does her Mommy. It’s a real important time investment that cannot be underestimated, especially with all of these distractions. I say kudos to you my friend for all that you did with your daugheters. You seem very happy!

      • We just took the “keep it simple” approach for most things when it came to raising these two daughters…and that worked for us.

        Have fun reading to Soleil – it is a time you BOTH will remember fondly forever.

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