Thoughts on ScreenTime

One of the first concerns people have when I tell them what I am doing with my children is the amount of screen time they are getting.  You’re using DVDs to teach your baby to read?  Isn’t that bad for them?  Indeed there have been many studies that suggest that our children need less, even as the average amount each child receives tends to rise.  We live in a technologically driven world, and it is hard to escape it.  Natural parenting blogs boast of their children not having any screen time until they are two, others shamefully wish they could have avoided it.  The Waldorf schools pride themselves of ridding themselves of it entirely, and I am certainly not out to get them.  Their schools are lovely.  I associate with the natural parenting movement in many ways, but not on the issue of screen time.

Last week I took a tab on how much screen time my children receive, and it averaged about 3 hours a day- sometimes more, sometimes less.  I have no intention of changing that figure, and in fact we may soon increase it.

Let’s step back a moment and look at some of the misconceptions behind the no-screen movement.

First, it is often assumed that all screen time happens when a child comes home from public school, as is often the case.  If a child spends 7-8 hours at school, then comes home to spend 3-4 hours in front of a screen, that child will indeed have little time to go outside, experience nature, have free play, and otherwise interact with their family and peers.  But for the homeschooler, the child does not spend 7-8 hours at school, and the screen time they have is an important part OF their school.  I have found that the cheapest and easiest way for me to delegate some of my teaching, so I can meet the needs of all my children, is to give them high quality screen time.

Second, is the assumption that the screen time is always mindless, passive twaddle.  Is it always?  What if the screen time is helping them develop good sense of timing while they practice the piano?  What if they exercise with someone on screen?  What if it legitimately teaches them how to read?  If it is their opportunity to hear a native speaker of a foreign language?  If it accelerates their academic progress?  What if I know I’ll never take my children scuba diving in the great barrier reef, and this is the only way to expose them to what ocean life is like?  What if the teacher on the screen simply does a better job teaching a given subject than me?  Our big break in early learning started when we purchased Your Baby Can Read, and it has only grown from there.  Originally I thought I wouldn’t use screen time much at all, and in fact we still don’t have a television, just a laptop and a portable DVD player.  Most of the screen time my children have comes from our personal purchases.  What an amazing difference it has made for our family.

Third, the assumption that it’s an either or thing.  If they have screen time, they don’t get free play time.  They don’t play outside.  If the screen imagines things for them, their own imaginations will be hindered.  While this relates to the first, it is in fact quite separate.  My children have plenty of time to play outside, plenty of time to play.  During that free-play, I admit that elements from their screen time play a part, but I would hardly say it limits their imagination.  Why reinvent the wheel?  My children may not have come up with the idea of space travel on their own, in fact I doubt it, but because of the screen time they have received, including non-educational elements like Star Wars and Star Trek, their play in enhanced.  My son makes space ships out of boxes, and models out of his legos.  They pretend to invent new technologies that make space travel faster, more enjoyable, and/or more energy efficient.  I love that kind of imaginative play because it is very relevant to the needs of our society, of the inventions we will need in the future.  Einstein is often quoted for saying “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”  I think that technology only enhances our ability to fill our children’s head with good stories.

I am not as concerned about the quantity of screen time that my children receive as I am about the quality.  I love watching them learn and improve from the screen time I give them.  I’m proud of them, while likewise feeling relieved that I won’t have to be the one to teach them whatever it is they are learning.  Sometimes I’m learning with them, and that’s even better.  We always talk about what we learn, and often reinforce the lessons off-screen.

So these are the thoughts I have on it.  This is what is working for my family.  It turns out I’m not the only one who has been thinking this way.  I recently came across an interesting post about a family that doesn’t limit screen time at all.  I agree with much of her article, while also admitting that there are some limits in my home.  For example, non-educational programming is limited to Saturdays, and only religious programming is allowed on Sunday.  Here’s her fantastic post:

She makes a good point that most jobs require a knowledge of how to program, type, and otherwise know how to use a computer.  My husband is a computer programmer, and it has given our family great security knowing that his skills are in high demand, even when there is a lull economy.  I am very grateful for his computer skills.  Many of the inventors, innovators, and engineers that shape our world and our future spend most of their work days in front of a computer screen.

If you look at the comments, on August 30th, 2012 they compare the no-screen-time movement to other objections to technology in the past.  This article was shared:  Plato Revisited: Learning Through Listening in the Digital World.

Furthermore, one of my friends started a blog that is centered on the idea of Push-Play learning, and there are many children in the early learning communities I participate in that have excelled with well-chosen screen time.  My children are not alone.

My purpose in writing this post is not to convince you to give your children more time in front of a screen.  After all, what works for one family doesn’t always work for another, and I certainly don’t know your personal circumstances well enough to suggest what may work better for you.  Certainly I would argue that it is important for children for children to read quality literature, to spend time exploring nature, and to be able think for themselves, and for the family that feels screen time is interfering with these things, maybe less screen time would be a good move for you.  I have read the opposing arguments and I understand and appreciate the virtues of a screen-free life.

No, my purpose is an apologetic article for the other side.  In the past when I have brought up our curriculum choices and practices, reactions have varied.  Some have applauded my efforts, as the results can clearly be seen.  Others have their doubts and wish to find a way to get the results without the screen time, something can most certainly be done, and I do my best to point out the best resources as far as I know them.  But others have been downright hostile to the idea, telling me how wrong it is to give my children so much screen time at such a young age.  I presume that such attitudes are a good sampling of the attitudes of the general population.  So to whom it may concern, these are my reasons for choosing screen time to enhance, supplement, and even provide my children with the education I want to give them.  I offer no apologies, nor do I feel the need to defend myself.

I suppose the purpose is of this post is to do my part to remove the stigma and guilt homeschoolers often experience when they do turn to the tube, DVD collection, computers, or tablet devises for help as they educate their children.  Technology is a wonderful asset when used properly, just as unwise use can be our downfall.  I encourage you not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.  I encourage you to rethink the use of technology in your home, to purge that which doesn’t edify and uplift, and to keep and seek out those things that will help you in your quest for a more enlightened home.  For my part, I know that screen time has played an important, nay, critical role in my children’s accelerated education.  My 2-year-old would not be reading 2nd grade materials, my 4-year-old would not know most of her times tables, and my 6-year-old would not be reading chapter books, among other things, without the programs I have employed.  So it works for us.  Take what you want and leave the rest.  🙂


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  • Totally agree! Not all screen time is equal. These are tools that did not always exist and can be a great learning resource. Now filtering through all the videos and apps out there to find the real gems – that can be a challenge.

  • PushPLAYLearning 43 weeks ago:
    What a wonderful post on screen time! It really is time to remove the stigma for using technology with young children to help educate them. Thanks for the mention.

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