Screen time

Many kids often opt for screen time, when left to their own devices.  (No pun intended, really.)  The adult reaction is predictable – we react the way adults usually react when kids do things we don’t want them to.  We get right to work on getting them to stop doing it, on our terms.  “Limit screen time!” cry out the doctors and teachers and various experts.  And yet kids’ average screen time keeps increasing.

With kids (as with humans in general) when you try to summarily block something without investigating or inquiring about it, you’re likely to intensify it; so it goes with screen time.  It’s like tug-of-war. One way we could stop the tugging is to ask ourselves this question: What if they’re choosing screen time not because they’re lazy, or because they don’t know what’s good for them, or because the screen is just too immediately stimulating for anything to compete with it, but rather because we’re not making it possible for them to live lives that are as interesting and rewarding as what they can find on the screen?

It’s likely that it’s not any one thing, but I think it’s worth taking a good look at this possibility, though its implications are far more confounding than any of the easier answers (laziness, etc.). What we offer kids gives such a bleak outlook of what’s available offscreen that they’d be daft not to choose the screen whenever they could get away with it.  If kids’ offscreen lives were characterized by engaging, intriguing, rewarding, relevant exploration that was born of and grounded in their own experience and interest, you’d see the self-regulation of screen time increase.  We can’t expect that kids will stop wanting to participate in the wide range and vast complexity of media available to them, but we can do better at making it possible for there to be other appealing ways to pass the time.  At the moment, trained by the generation before us, all we’re offering is long repetitive assignments, with no end in sight, all for their own good. What kid in their right mind wouldn’t take the first exit off that highway?