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OPINION: Spring is perfect time to set limits for screen use in your home

May 5th, 2017 | Carey Restino Print this article   Email this article  

On Saturday, I happened to wander into the house for a minute from the sun-drenched gardens outside. It was a beautiful day, blustery, with birds singing and puddles all over the place. Inside, however, it was quiet, stone quiet, which could only mean one thing — my children were glued to something.

Sure enough, one was on their iPad, the other on a Kindle. It made my head whirl. A beautiful day after a long, cold winter and they gravitated to their screens like bees to the apple tree blossoms. We have pretty strict rules surrounding screen time in my house, but obviously not strict enough. Perhaps I've let it slip after a long winter, but now that it's spring again, it's time to renew our pledge to help our children experience something real instead of spending all their free time glued to video games and movies.

I'm not the only one. Bill Gates himself recently said in an interview he doesn't think youth should get a smartphone until they are 14, and he recommends limiting screen time, which he does in his own house. Gates is not alone, especially among technology chief executives, who by-and-large reportedly take a strict stance on technology use with their own children.

Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired and chief executive of 3D Robotics, which makes drones, told the New York Times his children accuse him and his wife of being "fascists" when it comes to technology use.

"That's because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand," he said. "I've seen it in myself, I don't want to see that happen to my kids."

Most people know there is a time and a place for technology indulgence. I couldn't imagine a plane trip or long road trip with my children without a portable entertainment system. And some programs are interesting and educational, to be sure. But it isn't really even the content that worries me so much — it's what they are not doing while they are engrossed in their programs.

After the hammer fell and I chased my children outside, my son asked if he could remove an elderberry bush with his machete. After a few whacks, however, he called out that the bush was getting ready to grow and he felt bad cutting it down.

And my daughter had a job to do moving a winter's worth of bunny droppings to the compost pile. At first, she complained that she wasn't strong enough to do it. But pretty soon she was enjoying the work, telling me how she backed the heavy wheelbarrow into the compost area with the pride of accomplishment.

They both spent several hours outside that day, reacquainting themselves with the outdoors just like most of us did as children in the days before devices and non-stop entertainment from a screen. They breathed fresh air, watched the world wake up and were reminded that they didn't need anything but a couple of puddles and a piece of wood to be entertained.

That night, after they were asleep, I went on the devices and learned how to use the parental limits. I want my children to be able to access these things without having to police them all the time, and luckily, manufacturers make that easy. No more wars and tears — the limit is the limit and it's clear.

Most people in the know recommend 30 minutes or less of screen time for children under 10 and an hour for children under 13. Some recommend no use in the bedroom. And the general consensus is smartphones are best left to the 14-and-up crowd and even then, activity on social media sites should be limited.

It might not make you the most popular parent in the world, but that's not really the goal. They might get bored, but guess what — from boredom comes creativity. As someone who grew up in a household with almost no television during a time when everyone had television all the time, I can tell you that the technologically disadvantaged go on to live full, unstunted lives.

Spring is the perfect time to set some limits on technology use for your family before school lets out and the hours of unscheduled time get gobbled up by videos clips showing what animals would look like if they were all round and other spell-binding, mind-numbing content. Like everything, moderation is the key.


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