Should you limit screen time? Do you think we should restrict television and computer games in the best interest of our children? In this post, I explain why we don't limit screen time at all, and how greatly it's benefitted our children.
If you google “screen time”, you find articles saying how terrible TV and video games are for kids. Like this one about how too much screen time causes obesity and behavioral problems. Or how too much screen time will make you die young: Too Much TV, Screen Time May Mean Earlier Death.
Sounds pretty scary, eh? I don't believe a word of it. We don't limit our daughter's screen time at all. In this post, I'll explain why.
Why We Don't Limit Screen Time
Before I get into why we don't limit screen time, I need to first talk about unschooling.
A few years ago, my family and I attended the Adventures in Homeschooling conference. We had such a blast. It was my second time to go with my daughter, Kate, but this time I brought my husband Seth and my inlaws, Ed and Nancy (both former schoolteachers, they can't stop raving about the conference).
I'd heard about unschooling prior to the conference but I was skeptical. Deep down I thought unschooling was just a bunch of lazy parents who did not want to take the time and energy to properly homeschool their children. I thought these parents were just not strict enough to enforce bed times and schedules. I was pretty certain that unschooled kids would end up not properly educated.
Sandra Dodd changed my mind. My husband's too. We were absolutely blown away by her lecture, and we left the conference, a copy of her book in hand (which is amazing), 150% committed to unschooling.
UPDATE: It's been 4 years now since I wrote this post, and unschooling was the best possible choice we could have made. At the end of this post, I will explain why unschooling and not limiting my daughter's screen time has made her smarter, happier and just the most amazing kid!
Some Arguments for Why We Should Limit Screen Time
Let's talk about some of the arguments for limiting screen time…
Obesity Is Caused By Excessive Screen Time
Let's start with the argument that screen time makes you fat and unhealthy. This is a ridiculous argument.
Mark Twain, one of my heroes, wrote his books in bed. He wasn't fat and he was perfectly healthy. Funny, I also blog in bed (that's where I am right now if you must know.)
And there are lots of people who spend 12+ hours a day on computers who are not obese. Take Bill Gates, for example:
Not exactly fat, eh?
Not everyone wants to be outside running around all day. While some people want to grow up to be professional soccer players or surfers or jungle explorers, others (like me, and like my daughter) enjoy reading and writing and playing on computers.
Just because you feel compelled to spend a lot of time lying around writing or reading or watching shows or playing games, that doesn't mean you can't get your share of exercise. When you bloody feel like it. I happen to like swimming. And I like to listen to audiobooks while I lift weights, garden or go for long walks. But please don't put me on a soccer field — I'd rather have a root canal!
Books are Good and TV is Bad
I can hear you out there, saying, “But reading books and writing is good! Watching TV is bad!”
This is another argument that drives me crazy.
Why is The Sopranos a lesser artistic achievement than Shakespeare's plays? Of course not. Is The Simpsons less intellectually stimulating than reading short stories by Oscar Wilde? Definitely not.
Going to see plays by Shakespeare or Wilde were the equivalent of watching TV in that era.
I argue that good television is just as valid and just as enriching as good literature.
I know the negative comments will come in with this one. People will say, “Yes, but there are a lot of bad TV shows out there.” Well, sure there are. There are a lot of bad books out there, too.
When it comes to TV, there are lots of choices, many of them excellent. Sure, there are lots of bad choices, too. But isn't that like anything? You can read Danielle Steel (sorry, Danielle) or you can read Kurt Vonnegut. Your choice. Just because there are a lot of bad TV shows doesn't make TV bad. Just like the zillions of bad books don't make reading bad.
And maybe if more of our very smart and creative kids spent more time watching TV, they'd move to Hollywood and make better TV shows.
Computers and TV Are a “Waste of Time”
Really? How much do you guys learn on a daily basis browsing the web? How many blogs and articles do you read? How many podcasts do you listen to?
How many TV shows and movies have inspired and delighted you and turned your entire life in a new direction? I can list hundreds of them.
Not only that, but TV and computers are a way to bond with others. Everyone's always afraid that homeschoolers won't be adequately “socialized”. Cut them off from TV and computers and I guarantee you, they will have a harder time fitting in in college, and will not be able to relate to fellow coworkers and clients in the workforce.
I've known friends who grew up in Europe and Asia. They really felt left out when bombarded by continuous media references when we were in college. They had no idea what The Brady Bunch was, or Gilligan's Island. Same thing at my various jobs at digital ad agencies when we were all quoting Monty Python and The Simpsons.
Furthermore, if the 10,000 Hour Rule theory is correct (featured in Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers: The Story of Success), the more time our kids spend on computers, the better — if in fact, it is computers that they love. If they love playing guitar, they should do that, as much as possible. If they love rock climbing, they should do that, ad infinitum.
And, by the way, who are we to judge? If your kid's big dream is to be a world-famous author or an engineer or a game designer or a trumpet player — who are we to judge? Why is one thing better than another? Every child has a special gift that he or she brings the world. Who are we to judge what they should or shouldn't be doing instead of that thing that they love?
They should do what it is they love as much and as often as possible because this is, according to the 10,000 Hour Rule, precisely what will lead them to greatness (not to mention true joy):
A common theme that appears throughout Outliers is the “10,000-Hour Rule”, based on a study by Anders Ericsson. Gladwell claims that greatness requires enormous time, using the source of The Beatles' musical talents and Gates' computer savvy as examples.
The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time, therefore meeting the 10,000-Hour Rule. Gladwell asserts that all of the time The Beatles spent performing shaped their talent, and quotes Beatles' biographer Philip Norman as saying, “So by the time they returned to England from Hamburg, Germany, ‘they sounded like no one else. It was the making of them.'
Gates met the 10,000-Hour Rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13, and spent 10,000 hours programming on it. (Source)
What If Playing Computer Games Makes You Smarter?
Watch this video about how video games can make you smarter — so fascinating! I had never even heard of the Flynn Effect.
It's the “gamifying” mentality that inspired Kevin Richardson to “Speed Camera Lottery” — a brilliant idea of paying people to stay under the speed limit. Watch this video below; it's very inspiring!
Computers: Where the Jobs Are
I read this next excerpt on a blog written by a Cheeseslave reader. I think it's just brilliant. She's talking about her son who already knows several programming languages — and he's not even 10 years old. They're an unschooling family and they do not limit screen time.
Meanwhile, check out this article from Forbes about how Silicon Valley is where are the jobs are:
With 9% unemployment continuing to make headlines throughout the country, the current job landscape shows few signs of improvement. And while the rest of the nation wonders when the hemorrhaging will end, Silicon Valley is bucking this economic trend… According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, economic growth in the San Jose-Santa Clara-Sunnyvale area grew 13.4% to $168.5 billion compared to overall U.S. GDP growth of 2.6% last year. Unemployment in Silicon Valley has fallen below the national average over the past year from 11% to 8.5%, with April experiencing the biggest drop in unemployment in more than two years. Most importantly, companies based in Silicon Valley are hiring at a fast clip; engineer recruitment fueling much of this resurgence and recovery.
Silicon Valley is currently in the midst of a talent war for engineers and IT professionals where companies are sparing no expense to lure some of the brightest minds to join their ranks. Top paid engineers at some of the most venerable companies in the Valley like Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter can expect to earn an average salary of between $125,000 and $180,000 annually. Source: Forbes
So Why Are We Limiting Screen Time?
What would have happened if Apple founder Steve Jobs' parents had told him to stop tinkering in the garage with co-founder Steve Wozniak? What if they had said, “You need to stop wasting time and get outside and play.”
What if Mark Zuckerberg's parents had limited his computer time and told him he couldn't learn BASIC in middle school? How many thousands of hours do you think Zuckerberg “wasted” in front of a screen prior to launching Facebook in college?
If we restrict our kids' computer and TV time, maybe we'll feel better in the short term, knowing that they are spending more time riding bikes and soaking up vitamin D. Maybe they'll also never end up writing for The Simpsons or winning an Emmy or designing computer games or making $100K+ in Silicon Valley or starting a multi-billion dollar computer company.
I guess there are always jobs at Taco Bell.
Update on My Children and Our Decision to Not Limit Screen Time
We've officially unschooling for a year and a half (she was in Montessori for a couple years before that) and it's been 4 years since we decided not to limit screen time. Kate is one of the smartest, most together, most mature children I know. Yes, I'm biased, but this kid absolutely blows me away.
A few examples from Kate (she's 9)… here are just a few of the things she wanted to discuss at the dinner table recently:
- Copyright law
- Kim Jong-un and North Korea
- Why Japanese is such a hard language to learn (we are learning Japanese together)
- The fact that Hillary Clinton wanted a no-fly zone in Syria
- Why we need currency
- Real estate investing and passive income
- Hatsune Miku and Japanese vocaloid music
Whenever I ask Kate where she learns about all of these things, you know what she says? YouTube.
Kate's little brother, Oliver, who is 2, only started getting interested in screens recently. Which makes sense because he's talking now and obsessed with learning words. He has been learning all of his colors, numbers, and now has a huge vocabulary, mainly from watching videos on YouTube.
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Do You Limit Screen Time?
What say you? Do you limit screen time, yes or no? Share your thoughts in the comments below.