Guiding our kids into their fast-changing futures.

Here a Screen, There a Screen, Everywhere a Screen Screen…A Good Thing for our Kids?

In this long but engaging piece from the Atlantic (which, full disclosure, I read on a screen), Hanna Rosin explores the complexities of parenting at a moment of huge change when it comes to kids and tech. How young is too young? How much time in front of screens is too much for any age? And where’s the manual? (Hint: There isn’t one.)

Rosin takes us on a journey of surprise, angst, fear and a whole bunch of other emotions that are tied to this bumpy transition parents and others are trying to navigate as app and social media publishers target an increasingly youthful audience for their wares.

If you’re struggling (like I am) with navigating a balance between real life and screen life for your children, read on.

Not to date myself, but the only screens I had growing up were a black and white Sylvania television set and, when I was a teenager, Pong, which we actually played on the black and white Sylvania, so I guess that doesn’t count. Today, most of my waking hours are spent in front of one of any number of screens: computer, tablet, phone, television, and, maybe soon, wristwatch. (Dick Tracy anyone?)

Regardless of what age we are, the screens have changed since we were kids. And they’ll continue to change. This is certain. And in many ways, the rapid and radical shifts that new technologies bring to our lives make parenting around this stuff feel like a crapshoot.

My two teenagers tell me they’re the only ones in the county that don’t have iPhones. They’re shocked when, in their presence, I tell other parents that our Internet connection goes down by design at 9 pm every night, or that I have the passwords to their Facebook accounts.  This isn’t easy space to make sense of, but all my wife and I know is that while we both love technology and connections, we also want to balance that with the real world of bumps and bruises that come with play outside, and the personal interactions and negotiations that require a real person standing in front of you to figure out.

But that balance stuff is messy, and shifting daily. I find myself constantly trying to reach into the future and understand what rules or expectations I set around the technology today will best serve my kids down the road. I’m 100% certain that my own kids will need to be literate and fluent at connecting with all sorts of people online, strangers included, and that screens will be an integral part of their learning lives. I’m 0% certain, however, that the parenting decisions I’m making today to try to influence that outcome will be successful.

But here’s the thing; if we’re not feeling at least a healthy dose of angst around our kids’ use of technology, I wonder how successful our parenting can be. Regardless our comfort level, screens represent big “C” CHANGE, in how we create, how we communicate, how we connect, and a whole bunch of other ways that we’re just starting to figure out. The more we share, both onscreen and off, our own attempts as parents to make sense of that change for our kids, the better off we’ll all be.

So, I’m wondering, how are you parenting around the influx of screens in your kids’ lives?




  1. Nicole Tomaselli says:

    As usual you are on target and you get me thinking…. Looking forward to reading and following along.

  2. Jeremy McBride says:

    I was happy to read your take on this subject. As a high school administrator, I tell parents all the time to make sure that they are not only friends on their children’s social sites, but also that they have access to them as well. I also stress to them to try a technique that I use with my own children. I do random iPod (they don’t have phones yet) checks. I do these at very random times, sometimes it will be in a restaurant during dinner, other times it will be just as random. I also do not allow them to change their lock screen with out my knowing the new code. If I do not know the code, then the device gets taken for a day. This has allowed for open communication and usually they tell me of a questionable conversation before I have to check for it.

  3. I love the last paragraph emphasis on “feeling a healthy does of angst”. As a teacher of a newly developed #digcit curriculum, my own children are often my guinea pigs (much to their own angst — we trade). It is a continual discussion. Some things work well and simply (no screens at the dinner table – complete with exceptions for Dr. Mom who may be getting a call from a patient in labor) and sometimes it gets messy – actively “talking” with a best friend at another school after homework is finished but before siblings have completed their work.

    The key for our family and the drive of our class has been to place a reflective lens on our practices — knowing that we do not always get it right and knowing that it is ok to “zone out” at times but being conscious of the difference between passive consumption, forming relationships, creating new works, and avoiding the real world.

    Great article. My take from last year:

  4. Since I read this last week, I’ve been super vigilant about the amount of time my son spends in front of a screen. My 5-month-old son? you ask. Yes. :) Not because we’re purposely plopping him in front of the television, but because it’s a large TV, it’s in a family common area where we spend most of our time, and because for the past month or so I’ve noticed he takes an increasing interest in what’s showing on the screen and the sounds that are emitted from that general direction. He also is quick to notice when my iPhone is being used, and I will admit that I’ve shown him snippets of Elmo’s World on the iPad when I needed 10-15 uninterrupted minutes. Will he use these devices in the future? Yes. At my baby shower, did my colleagues present me with baby iPad and iPod Touch cases so he could use them safely? Yes. So, clearly there’s a market for cases and covers and all-things-devicey that are made exclusively for babies and toddlers. Crazy! I’ve been more cognizant about the time I spend in front of screens since he’s become more alert. While I often read from the iPad at the kitchen island, now that he watches me intently during meals I instead talk to him about the food I’m eating and how he’s going to enjoy it in a month or two. Or, I use the iPad to play some of his favorite songs and we sing together. The devices are not all bad, of course, but I think that as long as parents have an awareness of the potential effects of overuse and do their best to provide balanced sensory experiences for their children, there can be a place and time for our kids to learn to use the devices for good. We have to make our kids’ uses of these devices our business and model appropriate use.

  5. Samantha Reid says:

    I too am struggling with this very topic. My two year old loves to play on my iPad. Between watching videos on iTunes, the piano app, coloring pages, alphabet games, etc… She loves it all and is constantly asking for my iPad. I try to limit her to about 20-30 minutes a day, but when I take it away she just screams and cries. I also allow her to watch about an hour of TV a day. She loves Signing time and Sesame Street. For the most part if she is in front of the screen I try to be in front of the screen with her so we can talk and I can ask her questions and encourage her to participate. (of course there are times I need 15 minutes of her occupied so I can get other things done)


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