Screen Time For Kids: Then And Now

In my review of the 6 most important studies of 2011, I selected the recent survey on kids’ screen time conducted by the nonprofit group Common Sense Media. This report provides very new data that tells us what we suspected – kids’ screen time keeps increasing even though the American Academy of Pediatrics continues to urge parents to try to stick to reasonable guidelines. One reason for this is that technology – especially mobile technology – is becoming more central to many people’s lives, including youth. Another reason is that stationary technology (like a TV and DVD) is becoming a staple in kids’ bedrooms. But the question remains: Is this a problem?

Here’s the thing that many of us are now worried about – do all the new options out there flood many kids with too many opportunities for screen time? And even disregarding content, is the ever-expanding volume of screen time going to inhibit other forms of cognitive development? I don’t have an answer to that question. But I admit, as someone who studies child development, I do have concerns. Even though I watched lots of TV growing up, and was pretty much unsupervised, I had a grand total of 6 channels to choose from as a kid (yes, this is before cable TV became a reality). There were no DVD players, and in fact no VCRs. (Okay, so by now you’ve figured out that I’m not exactly a young adult!). And I’ll state the obvious: we didn’t have home computers and hand-held devices and mobile phones. So after a while, you kinda ran out of options in terms of sitting in front of a screen. 

But that’s not the case now. A great blog post by my fellow blogger Allison Winn Scotch titled “Moderating Screen Time – What’s Okay, What’s Not?”  touches on lots of the issues that most of us parents wrestle with. Allison mentions that, like me, she is somewhat liberal in terms of how monitors her kids’ screen time, in part because, like me, she “grew up watching bucketloads of the tube  and still developed an avid love of books and reading, and still became (quite obviously) a writer.”  But she is still trying to figure out what’s enough, and what’s too much, when it comes to her kids – as am I.

My only thought is that we – meaning those of us who offer advice on child development – may have it backwards when we talk about setting limits on screen time. Maybe we should be emphasizing the things we think kids should be doing, like reading at least 30 minutes a day, getting 30 minutes of exercise daily, and having devoted time every day for family talk without any devices on. As kids get older of course homework needs to be done. Let’s not forget that each kid needs to get a sufficient amount of sleep night after night  so a consistent and appropriate bedtime needs to be upheld. Once all those conditions are met, then we don’t have to worry so much about how much time our kids spend looking at a screen.

Let’s face it, I’m not worried that kids aren’t learning how to read because of screen time. I’d just like to be sure that some young kid who could develop into a prolific writer like Allison (check out her bio here) can still develop a love of writing while living the life of a digital native.

Image of young girl with mobile phone via


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  1. by Not a Notting Hill Mum

    On December 19, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    This is a massive concern in our house. Our five year old wd happily spend all day and all night on the phone playing games or on the computer watching videos on utube with a bit of TV thrown in. He uses my phone to text his dad to ask when he’s coming home ( because he has better games on his phone than I do!)
    I definitely worry about the effect on his sociabillit – he wants to play on the phone at family parties – and on his eyes. His reading is great for his age he loves that – but he flies into a fury whenever I try to get him off the phone or computer which tells me something is not good for him – or me

  2. by Allison Winn Scotch

    On December 21, 2011 at 9:28 pm


    Thank you for the lovely shout-out. I’ve also embraced this round-about philosophy: it’s not what they’re watching, it’s the other ways that they’ve filled their day that really matter. After that, things are negotiable.

    Love this idea-thAnks for blogging about it.

  3. by Denee

    On January 26, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    I agree to tell parents good portions of time to spend on necessary things like reading & exercising… But I would add eating together, talking, writing… As busy parents we forget how much time has gone by wo a conversational meal. The older kids get, (mine r 13 & 14) the busier they become with school, volunteer jobs (which go toward scholarships) social functions, games… It’s VERY important to question ur self as a parent, “when did I just relax with my teen? When was the last time we spoke wo a tv or app sound in the background?” Im a major tech/geeky mom… But no matter what other adjective is used to describe me “mom” is foundation of my purpose. I’m successful in business… But what have I gained to gain a whole company & lose my children? (lol I believe jesus Christ sad “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world & lose his own soul?) So in my busy life, I ask the pros to not merely tell me how much is too much, but remind me wat to do instead of screen time. Great piece!

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