Last month, in a story called Nature vs. Nintendo, the Lawrence Journal World asked me and other local moms how we balance screen time and outdoor time for our kids. Helping my kids appreciate the natural world ranks high among my core parenting values, and I feel like we’re doing a reasonable job in this domain. But we’ve struggled to find the right rules and expectations for screen time. And it has certainly become harder as my older son ages out of the sheltered preschool years.
A part of me feels guilty because my kids have any screen time at all. “Wouldn’t it be great to have no-TV kids?” I think to myself. No worries about the content of TV shows, movies, video games. No negotiating screen-time rules. Plus, the sense of pride or satisfaction that I imagine comes from raising completely unplugged kids. Mostly, there’s a part of me who wants what tracker-naturalist-mentor Jon Young calls “feral” kids: kids who catch frogs, call in owls, build shelters from sticks, and sneak up on foxes.
We don’t have a gaming system, but we do allow certain TV shows, movies, and computer games, and my reasons come down to these:
- I need a regular breather from parenting–I can’t speak for anyone else, but, for me, parenting is hard work. I sometimes struggle to keep my patience. I always struggle to find enough time for my part-time job, my household chores, and, yes, my sanity-savers, like exercise and walks in the woods. I struggle to find enough quiet. So, I plan my kids’ limited screen time almost neurotically so that I can have 30 minutes or an hour to myself.
- I want my kids to fit in–Although I greatly admire the parents who have chosen to surround themselves with other unplugged families (mainly through home-schooling or the Prairie Moon Waldorf community), this has not been our path. So of course my seven-year-old has friends who play video games. It sounds insane, but I believe he needs some basic joystick skills to navigate the world of elementary school friendships. This seems especially true for boys.
- I don’t want to be the parent who always says “no”–My sweet seven-year-old calls me occasionally from a neighbor’s house to ask if he can watch a movie. Sometimes I say yes, sometimes no. But it hurts me a little every time. When is he going to start wondering why he has to call and ask? When is he going to feel more than just short-term disappointment when I say no? When is he going to feel real resentment because the limits we set are more limiting than those he sees in other homes?
This last one keeps me up at night. And I’m beginning to believe that the consequences of too many no’s will be more harmful than the consequences of lightening up.
So….. I’m trying to find a new set of rules or guidelines—something that gives my son some more latitude when he’s with friends but something I can live with. I guess my husband and I will never have feral kids. But, with the right set of rules and relationships, can we still have happy, well-rounded, cloud-watching, owl-calling, earth-loving, frog-catching kids? Can they wield both sticks and joysticks? Can it be both Nature and Nintendo?