Limiting Screen Time

Matt Asay ends his essay—One Parent’s Losing Battle Against "TV Time”—wondering if kids suffer from too much screen time. I worry that parents today too readily turn to electronic babysitters, perhaps fearing what might happen if our progeny are ever bored.

Where it used to be TV, now we struggle with iPhones, iPads, iPods, laptops, as well as dedicated handheld video games, gaming consoles, and dedicated DVD/video players. eMarketer’s recent report seems to confirm what people have probably suspected: TV watching seems relatively steady while non-TV screen time is on the rise.[1] No shortage of people have argued that all this screen time has profound psychological and physical effects.[2] In a nutshell: we risk, apparently, raising fat, lazy, violent children.

Whatever the effects, adults and children today squander staggering amounts of time in front of screens. Adults fritter away more than 12 hours per day. Kids 8–18 are more efficient, multi-media-tasking almost 11 hours of media time into the 7:38 they spend staring at a screen per day.[3] Toddlers and kids under 6 are reportedly spending more than 2 hours a day in front of a TV.[4]

Parents wishing to limit their progeny’s screen time are clearly fighting against society norms. Rules and guidelines are apparently not terribly effective. Apparently, kids do as we do more than as we say. Instead, a recent study found, parents should close their own laptops, put down their own iPhones, put their own iPads back in the bag, and turn off the TV. If nothing else, we might get to know our children better.

  1. The report studied adult usage, but it seems as likely to reflect childhood usages as well. See: Digital Set to Surpass TV in Time Spent with US Media – eMarketer. Anecdotally, I would guess kids are spending much more time in front of screens. Think about how frequently cars come with video systems as standard equipment now or how many kids are watching an iPad or playing a Nintendo while waiting for dinner or how many kids are playing with an iPod while walking through the mall. Hell, on a recent trip to Disneyland I watched a kid walk for 10+ minutes playing a Nintendo before standing in line for another 10+ minutes still playing the Nintendo.  ↩

  2. The Center on Media and Child Health offers a clearing house of such research.  ↩

  3. This according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds  ↩

  4. Seriously, toddlers? Two hours per day? I didn’t work to find the source of this claim, but find it repeated all around, e.g., here. Whether or not there are any negative effects from watching TV, I find it vaguely depressing to think about spending two hours in front of a TV. A not too small part of me hopes this number is internet lore.  ↩