Neighbor Lady: Limiting Screen-Time for Kids

Neighbor Lady on kids' addictions to screen-time, and the importance of teaching them to live real lives.

Dear Neighbor Lady,

My kids have all sizes of screens available to them. They watch big TV screens, small screens on iPhones (that they swipe from my husband and me) and medium screens on obnoxious “learning games” toys given them by my parents and others. Learning? Ya right! More like stultifying and deadening. And how do I keep all this texting in check? Or is that a losing battle?


Dear Screened-out,

Lordy how times have changed. While technology is novel every single day, it is not really a novelty anymore. Screens are everywhere, and I know my kids expect me to fork it over. You should see the way my four-year-old huffs and puffs when I put an end to any particular screen session! 

We have an approach in our house. Screens are a supplement to our kids’ lives—not their whole lives.

We teach them how to interact with live people, and then they can friend them on Facebook. 

We watch cooking shows together, and then go in the kitchen and cook what we learned. 

We do math on our fingers and in our heads and on paper—then punch it out on calculators. 

We save up our bills and coins, pay for toys by handing over cash, then another time we swipe a debit card. 

We play games in the car on long trips, count Mac trucks and bird watch and play Alphabet with license plates, but so help me, never, ever, will they watch a movie in the back seat.

Even if you can’t easily limit texting, you can talk about it. Maybe say how you want them to speak with people, too, so they can then learn the social skills that are not needed when one is texting.  

For example, even if you don’t feel happy toward someone, you can simply fake it via text like this :) That is why it is easier to interact via text—you don’t have to work as hard. Thus, kids and grown-ups alike are going crazy for it. 

I almost never believe a smiley emoticon that is so easily tossed into a note. And I want my kids, too, to know that fake emotions are never substitutes for real ones. 

Nor are virtual experiences the same as real life. John Steinbeck said, “You have to stand up and live before you sit down to write.” I think that goes for blogging, texting and status updating, too. 

I think we are doing our kids a favor by keeping it real. What I worry about is all the fast-traveling fake stuff. When either of my sons falls in love, I want him to be able to say "I love you" with eye contact and a quivering voice rather than a cheap text: I <3 U. I hope there’ll be someone out there for him who knows how to hear that for real.

Got a question for Neighbor Lady? Email neighborlady617@gmail.com or visit Neighbor Lady's Facebook page.


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