Photo courtesy of Meg St-Esprit

I Don't Limit Screen Time, & I Feel No Guilt

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On any given day, a friend might walk into my house and see all three of my kids — 4-year-old twins and a 6 year old — sitting on the couches zonked out on a tablet. The screen illuminates their tiny faces, while I sit at the table working in peace and quiet. I have a Master of Education degree, I worked in early childhood education for almost a decade, and I don’t feel bad about this. At all. I do not limit my kids' screen time.

I realize this may be the unpopular opinion in the age of anxiety-riddled motherhood rife with the idea that the world is ruining our children. I have no fear that I, nor the world, is ruining my children. In fact, I think they are going to turn out just fine.

Once upon a time, when I had no kids, I assumed I would limit screen time. I had a lot of thoughts about parenthood before I had kids… now I laugh at that version of me. Oh, she was so naive. My focus on limiting screens persisted through my first child. Though I set no actual limits on him, I just did not use screens very often.

Cue the entry of two more children the day before he turned 2. When my twins were born, my ideals went out the window. I had two newborns with Early Intervention appointments in our home — physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech, vision, nutrition — nearly every day of the week. Giving that iPad to my toddler was how we survived.

Limiting screen time made the tablets some type of Holy Grail of toys that my kids desired above all else.

Once, during that first year of three-under-3, our iPad broke. I took it to the Apple store, with tears in my eyes, pushing a triple stroller. I was aware that my hot mess entourage was fully out of place in the sleek store, but I did not care. FIX IT, I implored. The 10-year-old child working there insisted there was nothing he could do, and we went home dejected. In my frustration, I smacked the iPad really hard on the back.

It turned on. I threw up praises to the heavens for the resurrection of my life-saving device. It worked for another year after that, until a wonderful family member got all three of our kids Kindles.

At that point, I did try to limit screen time. The Kindles had neat features and parental controls with time limits, and I tried to use them. I did not like the change I saw in my children. Whereas before they might spend 15 minutes on YouTube before aimlessly dropping their device and wandering out to the backyard, setting time limits made them desperate to use every minute. Limiting screen time made the tablets some type of Holy Grail of toys that my kids desired above all else. Like the cookies on top of the fridge that mom says you cannot have before dinner, the tablets became their singular focus. If they had 30 minutes, they were going to cling desperately to all 30 minutes. Noticing this immediate change, I stopped with the parental controls related to time.

Photo courtesy of Meg St-Esprit

On a typical day in our household, my kids have free access to technology when they ask for it, as long as their behavior is decent at that time. A typical day is us modeling how technology can be a useful tool and entertaining toy, without being over-reliant on it. I notice my kids learning something a strict time limit would never teach them. Self-moderation. Some days have more screen time. We are exhausted, it is raining, and we spent seven hours at the zoo the day before. Zonk out for a few hours, kiddos. I am going to sit right here next to you with my phone and do the same.

Other days they don’t touch their device, by their own choice. Building a lego set with mom and dad, going to the park, or playing a board game always win over technology when my kids are given a choice. I am proud of this. I think by allowing them the space to set their own limits, our kids have learned to prioritize and make their own decisions about entertainment. Rather than giving into the fearful belief that unchecked, unlimited screen time would produce zombie kids who don’t know how to play, I have seen the exact opposite.

Treating technology as some evil to be controlled and limited, to me, does not prepare them for an adulthood laden with electronics at every turn.

I see healthy kids growing up in a world that revolves around technology, and learning to find balance for themselves. When my kids graduate high school, the majority of jobs available to them or programs of study will all be in the tech field. Learning to find balance now, on their own, is so important for their well-being. Treating technology as some evil to be controlled and limited, to me, does not prepare them for an adulthood laden with electronics at every turn. My 4-year old daughter sometimes sits and tells Alexa about her day. It’s weird and confuses the robot, but this is the norm that their generation is growing up in.

Photo courtesy of Meg St-Esprit

You will most often find my kids not with their face glued to a device, but out in the woods exploring nature, in the city exploring culture, or sitting at the table crafting. They amaze me with their zest for exploring the world, and unfettered access to electronics has not dampened this one bit. Sometimes we weave the two together, as we watched a fishing tutorial before our recent camping trip, or used my phone GPS to find our way back to my car when we got lost for three hours hiking last month. Sometimes my oldest asks to vlog some of our adventures, and while he doesn’t have a YouTube channel, he talks to his “fans” anyways. Some days we draw coding paths with markers on paper that our Ozobot learns to follow, and giggle when we give him the “spin” code and he gets dizzy. This shows my kids how to weave technology into everyday life without letting it overtake everyday life. Useful, as a sidebar, and not the centerpiece.

Will we always have this stance? I don’t know. Parenting can be quite an unpredictable beast most of the time, and my beliefs are ever-shifting as my kid grow. Will my approach work for every parent? Likely not. Every kid is different, and every family is different. I would urge moms, though, to think about what signals controlling and limiting the use of technology might be sending to their child about the importance of electronics. Maybe, just maybe, loosening the reins a bit might allow your child to surprise you.