Screens & Screen Time: a Precarious Balance (Soapbox Series #10)

The Soapbox Series is a periodic post that allows me to vent, share, or comment on ideas, experiences, and topics that may or may not relate to the literacy and reading mission of the blog.
tv_xfswiaWhen I was a girl, there was only one kind of screen: television. It was for spending our leisure time. It gave us a window to “outside worlds,” the ones beyond our neighborhood. Most of the time it was turned off, and we were outside, or playing games, or reading, or drawing … finding other ways to fill our days.

Now screens are a “necessary” part of our daily lives and those of our children. We’re using or “on” our screens almost nonstop. Just as we used to use a television as Mother’s Helper at home, we now have smartphones and tablets to help us too.

When my daughter was a toddler and preschooler, we had strict limits on screen time (1 hour a day), and rationalized that educational television or computer games mitigated the advice to refrain from any screen use.

Now, as the parent as a nearly 13-year-old, I am rethinking that logic. Now, screens – namely computers – are so pervasive that life without them is seemingly nonexistent. The educational use – homework assignments, research at school – feeds an addiction to do *everything* with a screen at hand.

  • Drive the 20 minutes to school, and we get requests to play games on our phones.
  • Walking in the door from school, and after a perfunctory “hello,” we’re asked if we can log her on.
  • Offer a print book, and we’re asked if it is available for her eReader.
  • Remind her that her time is up and its time to take a break, and deal with a teen meltdown.
  • Turn off a screen, and we’re confronted with “I’m bored” within 10 minutes.

This is my personal window into the phenomenon of screen addiction. I have struggled with this quite a bit trying to find the right balance. The last straw, however, came in the form of a newspaper article. In yesterday’s Washington Post. On Page G4 (Technology and Innovation, Sunday Business), Hayley Tsukayama recommended an app that teaches kids how to unplug.

Seeing that was like a smack in the head with a 2 by 4. It is a true oxymoron. We need an App so parents can tell kids to get off screens (and it has a built-in timer for parents) to set limits?

For the record: I felt the same way about Nickolodeon’s short-lived series Lazy Town, which told kids to turn off the television and live healthy lives.

Is this a cautionary tale? I don’t know, and it is too soon to really reach any conclusions.

Modeling (ideal) behaviors is a foundation of creating readers and, in a broader arena, parenting. How do we balance the very real need for Mother’s Helpers with living a “real” life?

Sure would love your thoughts!