What The Experts Don't Mention When They Talk About Screen Time

How Screen Time Affects Your Kid

Tons of articles warn you about your kid and screen time, but they keep missing the point: your kid.

Historical Hysteria

I was 13 when the shootings at Columbine horrified the country. It was scary and it was sad, but it was also odd, because every news station went nuts speculating that violent video games might’ve caused the tragedy. I played those games all the time, but I never really wanted to hurt anyone. Because of that, I rejected wholesale the idea that the media we consume affects us.

Present Paranoia

But now, decades later, our three-year-old daughter runs up breathless to tell us she has bones in her arm. She’s super pumped about it, and a quick glance at our iPad shows us she gathered that amazing fact from an episode of The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That.

What’s really amazing is that she fractured her arm last year. We showed her the x-rays and explained why she needed the cast, but it wasn’t until a dandy talking cat told her about bones that she really took it in.

All of a sudden it was obvious to me that screen time does affect people, my kid included. That made me a bit worried, so I started Googling. Big mistake.

The Can-Can

What you’ll find online are countless articles written like warning labels.

Here’s a sample from one of them:

“TV and other electronic media can get in the way of exploring, playing, and interacting with parents and others, which encourages learning and healthy physical and social development.”

Here’s another:

“As kids get older, too much screen time can interfere with activities such as being physically active, reading, doing homework, playing with friends, and spending time with family.”

None of that is untrue, of course, but look close and you’ll notice a recurring element: the can-can. Video games can encourage antisocial behavior. TV shows can cause mild cases of divorce. All the can-canning shows that the author can’t really tell you how screen time will affect your kid.

Like so many others, that article concludes with two bits of advice:

  1. Monitor the content your kid consumes.
  2. Limit their daily screen time.

Both solid points, but there’s a third step these articles keep leaving out.

The Third Step

The question “what does screen time do to kids?” is too vague to be really useful. Like video games, mobile apps, and TV shows, kids aren’t all the same.

Of course monitor the content your kid consumes. Of course set reasonable screen time limits. But most importantly: pay attention to what shows, sites, and games do to your one-of-a-kind bundle of joy.

The Cat in the Hat increases my kid’s curiosity. Last week, she got up from an episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood that was all about vegetables, and told me she now loved and wanted to try bell peppers.

Of course I’ve also seen prolonged exposure to those Strawberry Shortcake automatons turn my girl into a swamp monster. But it might be different for your kid.

Maybe educational games like Leo’s Pad will make them grouchy. Maybe Elmo will make them kind and thoughtful. Maybe Daniel Tiger will give them night terrors. You’ll have to see for yourself.

You can read statistics and panicky op-eds all day long, but that time would be better spent learning from your kid. Notice how much screen time is too much. Notice what they’re drawn to, and remember what sites, shows, and games bring out the best in them.

How does screen time affect your kid? You tell us.

Torch is the smart, wifi router for connected families. Torch allows parents to put limits on the Internet so they can let their kids explore online without the worry. Check out Torch here: Web | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram