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How much screen time do your kids get each day?

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time, Parenting, The Juggle, Uncategorized, Working? Living?


Here in the vast frozen north — a.k.a. New England, post-blizzard — we’ve been dealing with snow days, too-cold-to-venture-out days, and how-did-it-get-so-dark-out-already days. Which means that my kids have been spending more time in front of the TV than the American Academy of Pediatrics would like.

And that’s just TV. Add in the time spent playing Wii (it counts as exercise if it’s too crappy to go outside, right?), the time in the car with their Leapsters, and the time I’m on deadline and I hand them my iPhone and, well, that’s a lot of screen time.

Recent studies show that my family isn’t the only one where the screens are on a lot of the time. Last year, the The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation shows that kids age 8 to 18 spend more than 53 hours a week online or in front of a TV screen. That’s a little more than seven-and-a-half hours a day during which they’re viewing or clicking away, not just at the computer, but on smartphones and video games as well.

That statistic instantly made me feel better, because 7 1/2-hours a day? Not in my house. At least, not on a school day. Unless I’m also on deadline. Or their older siblings are home and we’re having a Rock Band/Wii Sports/“How It’s Made” marathon. Also: My job involves sitting in front of a computer and writing and editing for 8 to 10 hours a day; no matter how much screen time they get, it’s far less than what I do.

Still, when it comes to working moms and their kids, TV is just another something to feel guilty about. No matter how strict you are about what they can and can’t watch, when, and for how long, the day will come when you are slammed and, next thing you know, you’ve inadvertently allowed your kids to watch back-to-back(-to-back-to-back-to-back) episodes of “Spongebob Squarepants.” They’re mimicking Squidward and nasally whining that you’re interrupting their genius, while you’re wondering if there’s any way to undo the damage.

The thing is, even with the TV on, my kids are usually involved in something else. Right now, that’s usually sneaking around the house playing spies, or putting on costumes and being Spiderman (4-year-old boy) and Tinkerbelle (6-year-old girl), or building fortresses out of blocks and then hiding matchbox cars in them. So while I do feel badly about it sometimes — usually when check-up time rolls around and our pediatrician asks me how much screen time they get (my answer: “Probably more than they should”) — for the most part, I’m going to chalk TV time up to the perils of modern-day parenthood and cut myself some slack.

But I’ve ‘fessed up, so readers, chime in: How much screen time do your kids get? Are they usually watching, or is it on while they’re involved in other things?

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6 comments so far...

  • Most days, the only screen time they get is what they get at “school.” I honestly don’t know how much that is - I know they have a TV in their classroom but they probably average less than an hour per day. Besides that, they average maybe 2-3 hours per week watching videos at home, plus a little bit of computer screen time here and there. I’m gonna 10 hours or less per week in total.

    A lot of people say that when their TV is on, their kids are not really watching it. My question is, why not turn it off, then? Can’t the kids play just as well (or better) without the background noise? Personally I won’t allow the background noise because (a) one of my kids is an incurable vidiot and (b) it irritates me to hear it. I would rather they don’t have the idea that being home automatically means having the TV on.

    SKL  |  January 14th, 2011 at 1:25 pm

  • Good point about having it off at home, SKL. At hour house, the TV may be on because an adult is watching something (especially during football season) and since the main TV is in the Family room, if the kids are playing there (where most of their toys are) then they’re in the room with the TV on. (Our other TV, in the guest room, doesn’t get a lot of use). If my step kids are with us, the chances of the TV being on or video games going in the background are high, too (they’re teenagers).

    Lylah  |  January 14th, 2011 at 1:31 pm

  • None! Would you believe that? Whenever I tell people that our 4 year old and 2 year old don’t watch any TV, people look at me like I have 3 heads. Who has time for TV? We do so many great crafts, playing, reading, outdoor exploring and other activities that our day is packed. You can check out some of our very cool crafts on FB at Pure Play Kids. We try to promote other parents to get “unplugged” with their children. We were at a Thanksgiving Day parade last year with all the licensed characters – Elmo, Big Bird, etc. My 4 year old said “Daddy here comes a huge yellow bird duck!”. “Daddy here comes a huge red bear!” The woman next to my husband looked at him both bewildered and astonished – how could our 4 year old not know these characters?
    Eventually, the day will come when he will ask to watch TV but by then his mind (hopefully!) will be full of so many ways to fill his own time that perhaps TV will bore him. Children form their foundations from ages 0-5 so we’d like for boredom to not translate into TV watching, but instead into other creative play. It’s amazing to watch what the kids come up with when they are left to use their own minds. We are hoping that the foundation that we are building now will guide him in so many ways through his life.

    Tania  |  January 14th, 2011 at 6:53 pm

  • Tania, I agree with you. Before my kids started preschool at 2.5, people would warn me that they were going to be “behind” because they didn’t know popular cartoon characters. But on their first day of preschool, they got all caught up on that, LOL. Knowing the trendy TV stuff really should be the least of our worries, I think.

    But starting when the kids were around 2, I started letting them watch selected classic movies and quality music / movement videos, esp. when they were sick or bad weather spoiled our other plans. It’s a “special treat” and not an everyday occurrance. They are fans of Shirley Temple, Rogers & Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Weber, etc. Screen time can be used to expand the mind if it’s done thoughtfully. But, it is by no means necessary.

    SKL  |  January 14th, 2011 at 8:07 pm

  • Starting this past September (beginning of school year) we took all screen time away during the school week. The boys being only 6 and 4 it is only the TV and Wii making up screen time at this point. From Sunday dinner time until Friday afterschool there is no TV, Movies or Wii. The only screen time my oldest gets is working with an ipad app that makes a game of his spelling words. This is about 15-20 minutes a night at most. I have seen an amazing change in my boys. They play more, read more and seem to expend more energy and are tired at bed time. I got this idea from our babysitter and am so glad that we started this new family policy. Our babysitter had this change happen when she was 9 and said it was much harder to deal with. She thought it had always been that way it wouldn’t have been such a large adjustment. My husband and I agreed. My 1st grader has real homework in at least 2 subjects each night. This is only going to grow and I don’t want any distractions when they are older. Sports and other things will take care of that. I know we will have to revisit our policy when they get a bit older, but for now it has been wonderful.

    NB We also limit screen time over the weekends. They watch cartoons or play wii on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but once my husband and I are up and coffee is made the TV goes off.

    KLG  |  January 15th, 2011 at 1:30 am

  • My kids don’t get that much. On school nights, there’s no TV until after dinner, because we found that homework was being done shoddily in a rush to watch TV. We don’t eat dinner until 7, so there’s rarely time for more than one half-hour show on a school night. Sometimes they’ll play Wii or use the computer, but usually they’re sent to play elsewhere. On weekends, they’re allowed more, but they’re usually busy doing other things. With my kids, if the tv’s on, they’re on the couch, glued to it. They would do other things when they were little, but not any more.

    akmom  |  February 1st, 2011 at 10:00 am