I’ve blogged before about how Wendy and I limit the amount of media time that Tess and Tucker get, that we struggle with knowing how much time is too much or too little to be on the computer, watch television, play the Wii or poke around on the iTouch. Most people think that since both of us spend so much time of the computer that we’d naturally let them play all they want. But we don’t. In fact, I get the feeling we’re more restrictive than many parents, ironically. (Tess swears there’s only one other kid in her grade at school that doesn’t have a phone yet.)
When I mentioned in passing our 45-minutes-a-day on the computer policy during a recent presentation, I was seriously amazed at how many people came up afterwards (and even e-mailed me later) and asked about that. There was like a whole ‘lotta angst going on in terms of people wondering if their kids were getting too much screen time and how we came to the decision to limit our own kids. I had no answer for the first part, and I felt like I stumbled through the second part because to be honest, it’s a really complex equation that is going to be different for every kid, every set of parents. For us, I think it’s a combination of having two very energetic kids who love to physically play, a reaction to the struggle for balance in my own life, and an expectation that when we’re together as a family, we’re together as a family that interacts more often than not without media. Frankly, I don’t even like it when Tess plays the apps or listens to her iTouch for long periods in the car. But she (and Tucker) can read as much as they want, and they do. We always bring their books with them and we encourage that at every turn. (For some reason, my kids don’t get car sick when reading.) Is there a huge distinction? I don’t know. Books give us something to talk about. Mario on the iTouch? Notsomuch. And there are exceptions. Tess happens to really like Google SketchUp, and she can almost always get more time if she’s making something or exhibiting some creativity. All I know is that we, and I mean we, tend to push back against technology for our kids as much as we embrace it for ourselves. And that is ironic, I know, but that’s what we’re comfortable with right now when they are 9 and 11. As they get older, they’ll get more time, but I know that we’ll monitor what their doing and have lots of conversations about it. When they get ready to start creating and publishing in earnest, we’ll certainly help them if that’s what they want to do.
Now does that mean that isn’t perfectly ok for some other parents to make other, perhaps more liberal choices about their own kids media time? Absolutely not. To each his own, and I’m not suggesting to anyone how they parent their kids. I’m also not holding myself up as the poster child for fantastic parenting. (I could tell you stories.) All I know is that’s what we’re comfortable with right now, that the real cuts and scrapes they get in their physical worlds are more important than the virtual ones at this point, that we are always struggling with it, and that for today at least, I really like who my kids are shaping up to be. They’re creative, social, articulate, thoughtful and fun to be around. Most of the time. And I hope some of that, at least, comes from our parenting around technology and media in their lives.
Such a great thing to think about. We don’t have any rules about how long our kids use media. They probably use it far too long now that I am thinking about it! For me, some of it is the same issue that my parents had with me talking on the phone to my friends during my teen years! Like you, I am much more flexible if they are doing things beyond games–creating, finding information, downloading photos and videos to create a graphic or a movie. My older daughter has spent lots and lots of time over the years playing with design on the computer. Definitely something we will continue to think about as parents and teachers. For me, I use the computer for social reasons, work reasons, entertainment reasons and more. I have never thought about how much time i spend on each but I know there are days when it feels like far too much time!
Lindsay Jordan says
I’m thinking that, most of the time, the medium isn’t so much the issue rather then the content. I remember having a fair amount of conflict with my parents about *what* I was reading – they obviously preferred me to read intellectually challenging material; which I was happy to do in small doses, but I needed my chill-out reading too, and the occasional total regression into Asterix and Enid Blyton. Although they were successful in part in influencing my choice of reading material, I think it’s fair to say that at the end of the day I read what I wanted to read. You say yourself that you’ve never limited or attempted to control your children’s reading time – so now we have the question of whether the printing press, as a technology, is that different to the microchip…? I think that’s a huge debate, especially when we move into the domain of web-based, social gaming. But on the whole, if your kids are “creative, social, articulate, thoughtful and fun to be around”, then you must be doing a flipping good job, and I salute you 🙂
Great post on an issue that we all struggle with — I know I have ( http://web20parents.blogspot.com/2008/10/evil-square-box.html )
The issue of evaluating WHAT they are doing online before placing restrictions is a really important one but one I still have trouble with. I still find myself telling them to get off after a certain amount of time rather than critically evaluating the worth of whatever it is they are working on. I guess a bit of parental laziness ;-).
I also ask myself — does every activity they do have to worthwhile? Like Franki I use the computer for social and entertainment reasons and wonder why am I reluctant to allow the same for my kids?
You are so right — there are no easy answers but as computer users I think we are more aware of the difficulty finding the balance in our own lives and that extends to being more aware of the need for balance for our children.
Jason Alley says
Will, spot on! We’re in a slightly different boat with a 5 year old, but I try very hard not to emphasize her using the computer and our Wii. People expect that she uses it a lot because of my own interactions with technology, but she needs to be a kid in my opinion and pretend mix me a milkshake out of breadtags and read and retell me a story. She’ll have plenty of time to get lost in using these technologies for fun and academic reasons later in life. I have a friend who’s a big gamer, so he set up “game night” with his young daughter where they play games on the Wii or XBox for an hour or so one night each week. I think it’s a novel idea.
I think parents need to hear what you’re saying. Not because you’re telling them what to do, but because I really think these are the right behaviors to model and encourage; like reading to a child from early on. It’s simply the right thing and many parents likely do not know the incredible affect these good choices can have on their kids’ development.
My own kids are 11 & 12, and aren’t getting phones until I don’t know when (in the first place, NOBODY that age should ever be in a place where a phone is needed and there’s no adult around). All they really want one for is the games anyway!
I have struggled with the screen time policy for a long time. Right now it’s 30 minutes a weekday, maybe, if our lives have time (single mom, pick up from afterschool at 6, bedtime at 8:30-9:00-ish), and a couple of hours per day on weekends (including a movie). I’m one of the most restrictive (mean) parents I know of, and that’s ok in this regard. No Wii, no console, no Gameboy equivalent. No network TV, no cable, just DVDs from the public library. Sometimes I think this shows my digital immigrant-ness, thinking of the computer as a tool rather than a lifestyle accessory, but getting the kids to think of activities that don’t involve something or somebody else to entertain them, is really important to me, and hard for them. And yes, screen time is more likely to be extended for typing practice or “how to draw” videos on YouTube than for “blowing things up” games or iTunes.
It’s an ongoing struggle, constantly challenged and needing to be revised, as with every other thing about parenting.
“NOBODY that age should ever be in a place where a phone is needed and thereâ€™s no adult around”
Heh, it’s exactly because of those unplanned emergency situations that I would consider getting a cell phone for a child.
I think there is an under-appreciation for modern culture — it’s hard to make an honest connection or productive working group with someone who has been deprived of the core elements of culture. If I say “It’s Morphin Time”, “Your princess is in another castle”, “We need to talk about your T.P.S. Reports”, “I believe I can fly”…it’s not a Benjamin Franklin quote, but these truly are building blocks upon which analogies are built. They say that if you don’t learn history, you’re doomed to repeat it…but if you (or your kids) don’t experience modern culture, you’re repeating history all the same.
Dar Hosta says
I have to say I’m leaning toward Dave’s side on this one because I definitely feel more ease of connection and increased productivity with those who share the same awareness, at least, of the modern culture that I experience. I would also echo the thoughts of those here who are weighing the value of online reading against book reading–what’s the difference? Seriously.
Having said all that, I do believe that parents need to monitor their children’s tech time and balance it alongside all the other things that we consider appropriate or inappropriate as parents. And, I would say that, should someone wish to limit their children’s technology exposure and involvement, at least during a school day, then a Waldorf school is the ideal environment.
Jim Homan says
I have 2 daughters aged 9 and 11 and we have an extra phone that we give them when the situation calls for it. For example, we were on a soccer trip with the 11 year old’s team. The soccer team decided to go to the mall and wanted to shop as a group. I gave her the extra phone and told her that I would be walking around the mall and to call if she needed anything. Although, if we give the 9 year old the phone for any reason, she calls us every five minutes 🙂
We also have limits on computer, Wii, Nintendo, TV, etc and sometimes make them go outside when they want to play on those devices–so I agree with your thoughts on those issues. I like your idea that there are no limits on reading.
Gary S. Stager says
What is the point of raising this issue again?
Gary S. Stager says
It seems as if you’re projecting a bit when you suggest that your “screen time” procedures may be amended when “they get ready to start creating and publishing in earnest.”
Are you concerned that this statement might sound like the comments of a “stage mother” or shopkeeper who is disappointed that his children don’t want to go into the family business?
Will Richardson says
Dean Shareski says
Just want some clarification on this statement:
“We always bring their books with them and we encourage that at every turn.”
Books=reading. Can’t you discuss what their reading/doing online in the same way?
I realize that’s not the main gist of your post but I just fear that making the distinction between reading a paper book and reading online clouds the issue.
Unfortunately there is not enough age-appropriate content online that stimulates the kinds of discussions I can have with my kids as Maus I & II, Chasing Vermeer, or ghostgirl can. Once there is more age-appropriate reading online that also sparks their interest, I’ll be happy to let them read away online in the car or in their bed.
Penny C says
There may or may not be a difference between book reading and online reading but I don’t want my kids to be doing just 100% of either one. Balance is needed.
Right now my 6 year old is obsessed with his DS. We limit his time so he will do other things. Hopefully he will learn to moderate his own use after this initial period of newness.
So…if they had Kindles, what would be the time limit on those? How about reading other types of books on screen instead of on paper?
What an honest and refreshing look at such a difficult and problem. I do agree that books are extremely important for children to take in. Comprehension, language skills, and even some social development are built among many other lessons in just a simple book. All of which have been done by our parents, and their parents before them and so on.
Yet, now we are in the digital age, I do agree that productive computer time is just as important. Maybe (if they are older) they can follow or create their own blogs. They might be able to analyze a news story told from different points of view, in real time. They can also research easily any unknown topics at their finger tips.
Keep up the great posts. I just found your blog, and I’m looking forward to reading more.
Doug Johnson says
Although they are getting a little old now, the Alliance for Childhood’s Tech Tonic and Fools Gold reports still contain some excellent and as yet unanswered question about this topic.
My daughter and son-in-law strictly limit “screen” time of the grandsons and good for them. Not only does it create time for reading and F2F play, but makes it easier for me to spoil them when they visit.
All the best,
I give my kids 40 minutes a day, but if I think the time isn’t being used sensibly I’ll cut it down.
There was a similar conversation on Gifted Exchange last week with some interesting points…many of which are coming up here too.
Lumping everything into “screen time” hasn’t been working for us as well. On the TV, it makes a pretty big difference to me whether they’re watching a Planet Earth DVD or a mindless cartoon jammed with ads for stuff we’ll never buy. Same with the difference between learning or creative games on Starfall vs Disney ads disguised as games where they’re basically just watching promo videos online. As others have pointed out, the content really matters.
The advertising issue is huge for me — the last thing my kids need is more desire for consumer excess. That comes in a close second to most important issue: time. Every hour spent in front of a screen is an hour not spent in the real world — in communities, in nature, with friends, in libraries and museums, drawing, reading, creating and experiencing life. Yes, there are virtual versions of most of these things online, but we know it’s not the same. I want my kids experiencing their world first-hand.
I agree with what you said about “Every hour spent in front of a screen is an hour not spent in the real world â€” in communities, in nature, with friends, in libraries and museums, drawing, reading, creating and experiencing life. Yes, there are virtual versions of most of these things online, but we know itâ€™s not the same. I want my kids experiencing their world first-hand.” I am taking a technology in the classroom grad class and one of the projects is to write a con ppt for using tech in the classroom. Cognitively speaking, children from the ages 2 to 11 need concrete interface with everything. To put them on a computer and expect them to learn like an older student would is wrong. The younger they are the more HUMAN contact they need to build social skills, as well as, learning how the real world works. In saying that, I understand that some kids mature faster than others, which leaves us in the same place… how much is too much “screen time”?
I try as much as possible to sit with my child to engage them while they’re playing games online. 45 minutes seems to be a limit for my child too, I am constantly looking for programmes in which I can be involved with my child. I still feel the need to monitor and engaging her with games that I can be involved in. Any recommendations for such games/programmes out there?
Parents, I know that games like club penguin has time restriction based settings, you are able to alter the duration that you want your child to be on.
Dean Groom says
The singer from Def Leppard said recently that if ‘they’ had had Wii and internet as kids, they would have not explored music. In proportion to the hours kids have (given the rigor of school routine and family ‘must dos’) then each parent has to try and help them balance their time. It all depends on kids. My eldest likes to do a lot of one thing for a while, then moves to another, so more ‘mono’ focused than his siblings. I think the important part is that you are ‘considering’ it when many are not, and that you are negotiating it and not simply rolling over.
The good thing is that you can do more, in less time with technology than ever before, so 45 mins is quite a long time really – unless playing WoW (doh). 6 months ago, we put Miss5 onto http://www.readingeggs.com and she’s loved it – but after 20 minutes, we kick her off. During the 20 minutes we don’t hassle or try to help. Following it she often ‘chills’ out with a book or drawing.
Hold out on that mobile phone.
Warren Buckleitner says
Tess & Tucker, don’t worry… we’ve read your dad’s blog and called DYFS (division of youth and family services for those who live outside NJ) on your behalf. A specialized digital iSWAT team (you’ve seen us in the Verizon commercials) will storm your schoolbus tomorrow to sneak you a smart phone — preloaded with your friends and a FaceBook page so you can catch up on your social deprivation. It will be disguised as a Thoreau novel. Don’t worry — we’ve saved thousands of kids just like you; in no time you’ll be safely on a family and friends plan.
Interesting conversation. Right now, we are limiting our kids, 9 & 13, to 1 hour/day during the week and 2 hours/day on the weekend. Mostly when they’re on the computer, they’re playing games. I think if I said, you can spend as much time on the computer as you want, but only 1 hour per activity, that might be a better approach. They both have blogs, for example, but with only 1 hour of computer time, they don’t have time to both play games and write in their blogs (something that takes them both a while to do).
On the other hand, we actually told our 13 year old that if he’s doing all his school work and making A’s, he can have as much computer time as he wants. As we said, right now, we feel that too much computer time causes you to lose focus on school work, so we have limits. It’s complicated because I think the computer is big draw for him. Online gaming is where he hangs out with friends, both local and far flung. So it’s an important social outlet. On the other hand, I feel balance is important–both for my kids and myself–and it’s something we have to work at.
Steve Ediger says
We’ve recently turned it around for our 14 year old son and told him that he has to earn his time on the computer with household chores, reading, homework (some of which is done on the computer), etc.
It’s made some difference, mostly to the extent that we enforce it (but that’s another story).
Just curious if this 45 minutes includes schoolwork. I know in the past you have indicated that there has not been much technology-assisted work from your school district, but I am wondering if the limits you and others are suggesting is just for “recreational” use.
Michael Berner says
This is an extremely interesting topic. I have often thought about the down fall and benefits of limiting computer use. As a teacher I see the power of technology to allow students to be creative, yet at the same time I see the destructive nature of technology. Students abusing social networking and intellectual copy write.
I recently started a blog (http://generosityeffect.blogspot.com/) in order to get some feedback regarding teaching ethics in school. One of the major arguments that I have received from my coworkers is that cultural shifts and the proliferation of technology have created a â€œflexible moralityâ€ in students. Iâ€™m now wondering what they would say to limiting computer use and itâ€™s effects? Willyou have my wheels turning. Pop by my blog and let me know what you think.
Steve Ransom says
I think it is all about “what” they do while in front of the screen… any screen. In front of the TV screen, they are couch potatoes. In front of the iPod screen, they are antisocial music/game/video potatoes. In front of the computer screen, they are virtual social mouse potatoes. Of course, these screens can all be used to meaningful and important activity… I realize that. But in my experience, most kids veg in front of them and waste precious time learning to become a beautiful, knowledgeable young citizens. If they are reading (using any type of media), are they reading significant works… transformative works… works that help us connect to ourselves and others? As Will puts it, works that lend themselves to meaningful discussion? Or, is the extent of their online reading limited to Facebook status updates and wall posts? It is no different than limiting your child’s reading time to comic books alone (not that there is anything with comic books per se)
Here are a few tests: Ask you kids to read the book ______________. If their eyes roll back, they may be spending too much time digitally connected. If you can’t sit around the dinner table and have a good discussion, they may be too digitally connected (and disconnected from you). If they are too distracted by their devices to listen and communicate well, they are too digitally connected. If they idea of camping scares them because of no cellphone signal or wireless internet, they are too digitally connected. If the idea of visiting a retirement home to chat with the elderly reviles them, they may be philanthropically disconnected.
Here’s what I think. Be a good parent. Help them live balanced, healthy, and significant lives and grow into adults that know how to and want to make a difference. Through this lens, and I think this may be Will’s lens, it’s hard to go wrong.
Tom Waterson says
Mr. Richardson â€“
Great post. Itâ€™s refreshing that an Ed tech specialist acknowledges that technology does not have to be central to childhood learning and development. I love your phrase that we â€œparent around the media and technology in their livesâ€. I have three children (6, 4, and 2) and struggle with how much screen time to allow. I like your litmus test (of sorts): Does the screen time encourage creativity? Does it limit family interaction / meaningful communication? Does it limit physical activity to an unhealthy degree?
In addition to your concerns, I would add a few more â€œscreen-timeâ€ questions / concerns, especially in regards to younger children:
1.) Are they able to manipulate and innovate through the media, or is the media primarily concerned with manipulating them through ads, etc.
2.) Does the screen time promote narcissism?
3.) Does it promote immediate gratification / distraction over than thoughtful reflection, suspended judgment, problem solving, and higher order thinking skills?
Gary S. Stager says
Isn’t blogging narcissism?
Tim Goree says
Many bloggers are narcissistic, but blogging itself is not narcissism.
It seems pretty narcissistic to me, however, to continually comb through other people’s posts and answer them with trite questions that only allude to an informed opinion, but don’t actually articulate one.
Paul McMahon says
Great post Will,
Made all the more important for the comments it is generating here. I can see that this is a topic for all of us to unpack a lot more.
I was after a debate topic to generate some really passionate arguments as an opener for an international conference on 21st C Learning here in Hong Kong this October http://21c-learning.hk/ Thanks to your post I think I have something I can shape up.
Will Richardson says
You can, sure. But I’ll confess to a bit of old fashioned attachment to book in hand, one that I want my kids to experience. It does cloud things up a bit, tho.
Will Richardson says
Good questions, ones I haven’t really processed yet, and similar to Dean’s question above. Reading is reading as I just proved to myself by reading my first novel on my iPhone. The form was small, sure, but the novel was a great read no matter what I was reading it on.
Will Richardson says
Hey Jeremy…I was struck by the “is an hour not spent in the real world” part. Isn’t online community “real world.” If I’m interacting with folks on Skype or Ustream or Twitter or here in the comments, is that of less value than being off screen? Not pushing back real hard here, just asking. I think it does come down to some balance, and I have to say I’m unsettled by kids who spend the majority of their free time on the computer.
Will Richardson says
If you could hear some of the “conversations” in my house over the Wii… ;0)
Will Richardson says
Barn Dad! Thanks for looking after my kids. ;0)
Will Richardson says
Schoolwork? What’s that? ;0) My kids never have work to do on the computer.
Will Richardson says
Thanks for those thoughts, Steve. I imagine there are lots of parents who really don’t think too much about this stuff, in fact I know it. Not saying they’re not good parents, but I sometimes wonder why they avoid it. And for me, at least, there is a huge issue of social interaction that comes into play.
Joseph Corbett says
The more web 2.0 technologies become a standard in Business, Education, and Socializing the more controversy will swirl around them. What came first? The bad habits (too much screen time) or the propensity to adopt bad habits when introduced to them? You might want to check out the http://www.isteconnects.com where there are two Nings populated by educators who I’m sure could give you some opinions about this topic. Great Post!
Even as I typed that about the “real world”, I knew it was easy to poke holes in it. I guess that’s why I also added: “Yes, there are virtual versions of most of these things online, but we know itâ€™s not the same.” And by that I mean that I don’t believe there is the same value in online communities…but I also know that’s a value that others won’t share.
What I was getting at here is that I’ve been really questioning my own online habits lately, and how the sheer amount of time I spend plugged into the network takes time away from the offline things I claim to value way more. The photographic discussions I participate in on Flickr are fun for me, and often involve some good learning, but I spend more time doing that in a week than I do hanging out with my “real life” friends, or even in the local coffee shop where I might bump into neighbours who have a much bigger role in shaping my life and community than anyone I know online.
The network seems to be trumping what I actually value, almost by accident, because it’s easier to engage online (asynchronous) and integrate it into the rest of life somehow.
Steve Ransom says
Jeremy, your honesty about this is probably true for most… at least it is for me. I was at Starbucks the other day and of the 9 people who were frequenting the shop, 7 were “plugged in” and yet physically alone. I made the observation that coffee shops used to be where you went to meet with people in the flesh. Of course that still happens, but more and more these virtual social places are creating isolated physical places for some. It happens for me at home when there is some Elluminate or Wimba session I want to attend and my kids are wanting/needing my attention. I think because information and connection is so convenient and accessible it is also hard to resist. It’s strange and hard to figure out really what is going on. But today I was listening to a video presentation by Yong Zhao from Michigan State titled The Social Life of Technology: An ecological analysis of technology diffusion in schools and its implications for teacher professional development and in it he references Bertram (Chip) Bruce who comments, “We tend to overestimate the short-term effects and underestimate the long-term effects of innovation.”
I think the key is that we continue to critically think and discuss issues related to societal/cultural change. Neil Postman was often a hard critic, but had and still has some extremely valuable ideas for us to think about. His notion of “faustian bargain” is one that we must continually think about.
So, let me post this comment and get back to my family 😉
It’s tough to say how much is too much. Interactive video games and computer activities are better than staring at the TV in my opinion. I think there are also differences in the type of play that is occurring. Is the child playing alone or is the child playing video games with siblings or friends? There’s always the weather factor. In the winter I can see letting kids play a little longer because it’s 10 degrees outside. It’s different when the weather warms up and it’s not a chore to get dressed just to go out the door. I think an hour a day is fine and maybe a little more on the weekends as long as the children are active when they are away from the screens. My kids love to read and the 10 year old likes to cook. It’s all about balancing. Some of my favorite memories as a kid are when my friends and I would play the Atari 2600 together. Of course we’d also play wiffleball and ride bikes without anyone telling us to go outside and do it.
Paul James says
Thought-provoking post. It seems to me that balance is the key. We have 2 boys, aged 5 and 8, who are very active and love to be outside, but also enjoy playing on the DS, the Wii and the computer.
We do limit their time on games to about 30 minutes per day (a bit more at weekends), but encourage use of more traditional learning software (also games!!) such as WordShark and NumberShark. Is this a contradiction? Sometimes “going on the computer/DS/Wii” stimulates creativity and discussion, at other times the intensity of it all can wind the boys up and cause conflict.
I have noticed that our boys can sometimes go for days without even asking to play on a games console or the computer. This makes me think that we have got it about right.
I know that we will have on-going discussions about this issue as they get older and their interests change. However, I believe that the principle of a “balanced” lifestyle is one that will help us to ensure that our sons grow up able to benefit from computers/the web and other new technologies, without losing sight of the fact that there are other more important things to be doing with their time.