The Screen Time Conundrum

The multi- author open letter to The Guardian in January of 2017 illuminates one of the biggest current questions in parenting in our culture:  how much screen time is too much?

The authors main arguments are that policy discussions should be had based on an understanding of the topic from an empirical standpoint – informed by research and experience rather than pseudo-science and opinion. Policy development around screen time should take into consideration context of screen use and content. An understanding of children’s health and wellbeing is complex, “affected by many other factors, such as socioeconomic status, relational poverty, and family environment” (Etchelles et al. 2017). Policy makers need to have an awareness of the difference between correlative and causal data – that time spent in outdoor play and time spent on screens is not necessarily a directly connected set of points, but rather more complex. Really, ultimately that guidelines for parents should be built on evidence.

The authors are putting forth these arguments out of concern that parents will not understand the nuances of what defines ‘screen time’ and that there will be an implementation of unnecessary, ineffective or even potentially harmful policies. Recognizing that screens are a part of life for children, policies affecting families should be guided by evidence.

Initially, I felt that this article supports my beliefs, but through more deliberation, reading it helped me recognize that I do hold a certain amount of bias. The advent of possible unrestricted screen use came about when my oldest was 11, with an iPod Touch.  As a parent, I always worked to ensure that things were balanced for my children, and that I was aware of what they were consuming through screens. For our household it was always about balance in all things, including time playing video games, watching TV/other programming, playing sports, time with family and friends, and schoolwork.  I hadn’t looked at empirical evidence around screen use in those parenting years but did what I usually did in the absence of evidence: look for moderation.

As I’ve been involved in the K – 12 school system, I’ve been witness to families that do not restrict screen time or content and seen that those children do not necessarily form healthy friendships or good relationships with the adults in their world. Being in the school context, it was clear that screen time was not the only factor in those situations but was a contributing factor children’s struggles in the school community.

This work leads me to pay attention to the reasons why I might think what I do, and to re-evaluate how I think about this topic. Projecting into possibility the idea that someone might present me with pro- unrestricted screen time evidence makes me uncomfortable. The article allowed me to recognize that I have a certain amount of bias in this, and that I’ve thought of screens as a bit of a ‘necessary evil’ in many ways, one that our children will have to navigate and find balanced and healthy relationships with.

Reference

Etchells et al. (2017, January 6). Screen time guidelines need to be built on evidence, not hype. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2017/jan/06/screen-time-guidelines-need-to-be-built-on-evidence-not-hype

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