The Truth About Kids & Screen Time

Friday, September 26, 2014 0 Comments A+ a-

I have always been a fan of limited screen time for kids. Mostly, I limit screen time to about 60 minutes a day, but we have unplugged completely on occasion.

I'm always interested in learning about viewpoints that challenge my own. So, when I read an article about allowing children to self-regulate television habits posted at, I was intrigued. To sum up the article, when we limit access to something, we make it important. When we allow unlimited access to something, it becomes less important. So, when we limit television, we make kids want it more.  I wasn't sure if I was sold on the idea, but I was willing to give it a try. So, for the past 7 days, we've allowed out kids to watch unlimited television, and gave them unlimited access to the Kindle & LeapPad.

In a nutshell? I'm so not a fan of unlimited television and screen time for my kids.

Here is what I observed.
  • They clocked in 6+ hours each of television a day. Between the two of them, my kids would, when given the chance, watch television from 9am-noon. Then, after lunch, from 1pm-4pm, and sometimes have room for a show or two after dinner. Watching television and playing Kindle/LeapPad literally became their life. And, for what it's worth, they only watched two shows, both of which were non-violent, and age-appropriate: Wild Kratts & Toopy & Binoo.
  • They weren't interested in activities they would normally be interested when the television was on. The would normally love to cuddle on the couch to read a book together, but this week, not only did they not want to listen to a book, they actually seemed to hate the idea.
  • They became aggressive. Turning off the television to eat became a battle. They became full of anger, hate and resentment because they needed to stop watching television.
  • They became impatient. Normally, if they'd call me for help, I could tell them to hold on, and then I'd take care of what they wanted. This week, if I didn't help them immediately, they became furious.
  • They became uninterested in things that were educational. Usually, I can get my kids to watch an educational DVD, read an educational book about science, etc. But, this week, they wanted nothing to do with anything educational. Both as a homeschooler and unschooler, this simply wasn't going to fly. While I consider myself an unschooler because I never force my kids to do anything educational, they're usually open to doing educational things. It'd very important to me to keep this desire for learning alive.
I've been told that the copious amounts of television my children have been watching is part of the binging process... allowing them to have as much as they want until they no longer want it. But, I just couldn't live this way. I couldn't deal with the lack of desire to learn, the attitudes and dis-respect. So, I've officially put our unlimited screen time experiment to an end.

AAP And Screen Time Recommendations
  • Children Under 2 - No Screen Time
  • Children Over 2 - 1-2 Hours/Day

Can Children Be Addicted To Television?
In short, yes. A person can be addicted to anything. Here's what the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition says in regarding use-related disorders.

Substance use disorders span a wide variety of problems arising from substance use, and cover 11 different criteria: 
  1. 1. Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than the you meant to
  2. 2. Wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but not managing to
  3. 3. Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from use of the substance
  4. 4. Cravings and urges to use the substance
  5. 5. Not managing to do what you should at work, home or school, because of substance use
  6. 6. Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships
  7. 7. Giving up important social, occupational or recreational activities because of substance use
  8. 8. Using substances again and again, even when it puts the you in danger
  9. 9. Continuing to use, even when the you know you have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or made worse by the substance
  10. 10. Needing more of the substance to get the effect you want (tolerance)
  11. 11. Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance.
The DSM 5 allows clinicians to specify how severe the substance use disorder is, depending on how many symptoms are identified. Two or three symptoms indicate a mild substance use disorder, four or five symptoms indicate a moderate substance use disorder, and six or more symptoms indicate a severe substance use disorder.

I suppose that for some families, children may learn to monitor themselves, but it wasn't working with ours, and I wasn't willing to keep trying in hopes that one day things will change. This unlimited television experiment also reminded why I started limiting television time in the first place. It's not because television is bad, but rather because play is so good. Every minute my kids spend in front of the television is a minute they could have been playing. I'd much rather have them playing, especially since they're so young. At this age, playing is a child's work. It makes sense to take advantage of this wonderful time by giving them as many opportunities to play as possible. I already knows what works for us, and I'll be going back to that. :)

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