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Screen Time: How Much is Too Much?

Do you limit screen time for your children -- or for yourself?

Regina Martine
Can I play Wii? Can I play on your phone? Can I watch Cupcake Wars? Can I play on Daddy’s iPad? Can I play chess against the computer? Ugh. We all know we are supposed to limit our kids’ screen time, but those little screens are everywhere.  However, in our house, the people who are usually parked in front of screens are the parents.

My husband works at home several days a week, and I am a freelance graphic designer —so my kids think “working” means sitting in front of a computer. When I’m not working (actually, when I am working, too) I have Facebook open on my computer and I am usually listening to the news or some political talk show online. My husband and I have IM conversations throughout the day whether he is at his “real” office, out of the country, or right upstairs. I have a laptop downstairs that is almost always open on my kitchen counter to one or more of the aforementioned sites … especially Facebook. I know I have a problem. I don’t play games on Facebook—not even Words with Friends—I just like to feel like I am connected to the rest of the world. Being a stay at home / work at home mom can be very isolating and having an outlet to talk to and hear from friends can make my day far more interesting. And I have a lot of brilliant and smart-alecky things to say. Also, in my defense, nearly every single work opportunity I have had in the last four years—including writing this column for Patch—have come from friends, or friends of friends on Facebook.

None of my kids have cell phones, or iPads, or a DS, or their own computers, or
Facebook accounts, so limiting their screen time has been pretty easy. My son asks to use various electronics, but he would usually prefer to play a card game or play outside with someone else. Our main problem is that our two girls play all kinds of elaborate made-up games together and he often feels excluded or just isn’t interested in what they are doing. When he has no one to play with, he turns to electronic games. I worry more that so much of his screen time is
alone, rather than with his sisters or friends.

My husband gets hundreds of emails a day and he has employees scattered throughout the world. Someone who works for him is always working at any hour of the day or night, which means he needs to stay connected all the time. This does mean that he occasionally checks his email at the dinner table, but for the most part, our kids seem to understand that they are lucky that both of their parents are home most of the time. My husband travels a lot for work and the kids get to talk to him (and get virtual tours of hotel rooms in foreign lands)
thanks to FaceTime. They think of computers as a tool to get work done, design
books, volunteer for their schools, send messages to friends, get directions,
research school projects, and learn about the world. The world they live in isn’t getting less wired—only more so. I’m glad they get to see how all these electronics can be used to shape the way they live, work, interact, and play as
they grow up.

Laurie Hunt
We are a family of four and have four laptops.  We also have an ipad, ipod touch, iphone, a couple of android phones, a couple of Nooks, a Wii, televisions, DS’s, an alarm system that talks to us - we can even order a pizza via our tv. Some may say we are “plugged in”; I prefer “technologically savvy”.

One of the first things I check each day is my email – right after I am done with
my turn(s) on “Words with Friends.”  My cell phone is usually in my hands if it is not on my ear and my ipad is always close by in my bag.  I am a Realtor; I need to be able to be reached.  I don’t mind being able to be reached easily, that is part of the value I bring to my clients. As a Mom this also affords me
the opportunity to be able to pick up my kids most days from school and be
there for many things I would not otherwise be able to if it were not for having technology at my fingertips to continue doing my job on the go.

There is also the social aspect of being plugged in. I have a website, a personal facebook page as well as one for business, I tweet, have an about me page, I’m on Link'd In, have Pinterests and I .  I love Pinterest.  (Did you know you could make a margarita by pouring tequila over lime sherbet in a salt rimmed glass and make corn on the cob in a cooler by pouring hot water over the corn and closing the cooler?) I love Facebook.   I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t kept in the loop on what Tasha, Gina, Jillian and Melissa were up to.  They are funny, smart, strong and inspiring women and I like keeping up with them.  I enjoy getting a glimpse into the lives of my cousins, old friends and it is a great way to share information about what is going on in my community.   I love being able to share the funny stories about the things my youngest daughter says – I call them “Jessisms”.  I’d like to think people enjoy reading them too and I can pass along a smile.  Social media is my water cooler, I am a social person and I am not afraid to admit that I truly enjoy it. 

So, how does this all affect my children?  Sometimes they absolutely hate it. 
The same way we hated it when our Mom was on the phone or having coffee with a neighbor when we were growing up. Kids want their parent’s attention
constantly. All.the.time.no.execptions.period. My oldest is at that place where
she doesn’t want anyone to know anything she is up to, much less have me share pictures of her online.  (So, when you find out she got all A’s on her report card and her Mom is really proud of her, you didn’t hear it from me, okay?) 

When it is important the phone is put away and voicemail can take a message forme. For example, there is no need for me to take a call during dinner.  I hope that my kids will realize that while there were many times I was on the phone, texting or emailing it also allowed me the flexibility to be able to be there to pick them up from school, work from home so I could be there when they were sick or had a half day.  It allows me the chance to let them have school vacation week off and sleep in if that’s what they want to do.  The other thing is this is where life is headed, well in a lot of cases it is where life is. 

I think allowing my kids to experience technology is allowing them to experience life. My kids like technology the way some kids like sports and that is okay with me. 

Jillian Sallee
Self-reflection is never easy. It’s hard to look at yourself and see a flaw, maybe two. Luckily, I have very few flaws but the exercise isn’t fun even for those of us who are near perfect. I’d like to think that I don’t take part in too much
screen time...but I know better now. Since we first discussed this topic, I tried to keep an eye on my screen time. Screen time being computer, cell phone, and television. I’m choosing not to count reading on my Kindle as screen time, I don’t play games on it or anything, just read, so that’s ok right? This is also mommy focused, my kids’ screen time is another matter (and one that is much more regulated!)

I use my computer very rarely during the day. I don’t really have time to sit down and surf the world wide web, but at night, after the kiddos go to bed, I have been known to hop on a laptop and do a little online shopping. Really, I see the computer as a way for me to get clothes and stuff for the kids without actually having to put real clothes back on and go out to the mall. I am a master at finding online coupons and when I get the rare rewards gift certificate back, it beckons me to the appropriate website. I also find myself parked in front of the computer for a few hours on Sunday and Monday nights working out my Patch articles in Google Docs. I don’t consider this excessive computer screen time. It rarely takes away from my time with the kids. If the laptop does make an appearance before 7pm, it becomes a battle of wills between myself and lego.com, pbskids.org, or sesamestreet.com. None of those websites are helpful to me...although they are all completely appropriate for a 6, 4 and 1 year old.

I love the television. I love the size of the tv, the quality of the picture, and the
enormous amount of channels that I can choose from. Mostly, I love the fact
that the Bachelor Pad is coming on in just a few short months and thanks to the
DVR I can watch every glorious second. Now that I’ve spoken about the DVR, I
would like to take this opportunity to thank whoever invented the whole VCR/DVR idea (she clearly reads these Patch articles!). I wouldn’t be able to watch nearly as much tv as I can because of it. I mean, Ellen is on at 4pm! In my house the chaos starts around then and ends when they hit the pillow at 7.
Without DVR, Ellen would be a distant memory. I digress. Same as the computer, I don’t watch much TV during the kidlight hours. Most of the shows, ie. reality shows, that I watch are inappropriate for them so I’m usually stuck watching Octonauts until they go to bed. We have found that the whole family does love the Food Network and we watch a whole bunch of the foodie shows together, Cupcake Wars, Iron Chef, Chopped. The kids have TV rules though, so it’s maybe once or twice a week where we all sit down together. So while I may watch too much TV, it doesn’t take me away from the kids. I confess though, I can’t wait until Lily gets old enough for iCarly, I just love that show and it gets
embarrassing to watch it without a child in the room!

I would like to interject here quickly, that while I do love my TV, I also am an avid reader. I always have a book with me, or my Kindle, and if I have a few minutes here or there, I read a few pages. Books are my favorite way to relax and somehow I manage to squeeze it in. Ok, there’s my rationale for watching too much TV. Moving on.

Here it is. Confession time. I use my phone too much. I carry my phone in my pocket so that it is always accessible. I do everything under the sun on this phone, my lovely iPhone 4. I change the case almost as often as I change the sheets...I just love everything about it. I would say that the main focus of my phone time is spent on Facebook or my email. Oh, and texting. How can I forget texting?! I am not a talk on the phone kind of person and so texting is perfect for me. I can talk to my friends and family all day long without 10 20 minute phone calls that I don’t have time for. I can communicate with my brother and super awesome sister-in-law whenever I want even though they live in a different time zone. I can catch up with friends instantly and without all the drama. I can check in with my director at Tall Spire without getting nervous about having to call The Boss! The only problem is, with the ease of the phone, comes the time that it can take up. It seems like the little texts and email checks are just a few seconds but I find myself checking my phone instead of interacting with my kids and I don’t like that. It’s hard not to check the phone when the text bell goes off but I can certainly work on it. I want to work on it. I will...I will, I promise.

The kids have rules for screen time, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for me to have some rules too!

Melissa Schools
My iPhone is my multi-purpose personal assistant. I can use it for, you know, making telephone calls- especially in cases of emergency. This one purpose legitimizes my having it, but in truth, I use it the least for phone calls.

Reasons why I LOVE my iPhone:

  1. It’s cool!
  2. Apps! The apps I use most often are all free. Free is one of my favorite things. Consider the free usefulness:
  3. Grocery IQ. I store my running grocery list on my phone. Mine is linked with my husband’s. I can update it in real time so that I don’t have to call him three or more times in a row when he’s doing the shopping for me and I keep thinking of things we “need.” It just shows up on his list and he keeps thinking, ‘Wait- I thought I got everything…’
  4. Kindle app: I use my phone so much that it doesn’t seem weird to read a book on my phone’s tiny screen. And it costs a tad less than a real Kindle, people, as in FREE! I now have a few books and articles cued up on my phone that I can read during a few free moments (ha!) without having to be connected to the internet.
  5. Weather Channel. Allows me to complain about the weather before I even get out of bed.
  6. Pandora. I can rock out or groove or be-bop according to my mood or the season. I can play the “Toddler Station” for a great collection of kid-friendly tunes. I have used Pandora to educate my kids on different styles and genres of music or introduce them to particular artists such as, say, Elvis, Sinatra, Hank Williams, James Brown, The Boss, The King of Pop or, their personal favorite: The MC Hammer Station.
  7. Waze. GPS for phone. It is user driven and will tell you such helpful things as locations of traffic problems on your route, alternate routes in case of traffic issues and where the cops are hanging out. In case you were wondering.
  8. Flashlight. Comes in handy so much more than you might think.
  9. Facebook! It’s the closest thing to a crystal ball I’ll ever have. It allows me to touch base with people and see how they are doing without all that pesky human interaction. I’m joking! It’s not an ideal way to interact, but it’s a connection. It keeps me in the loop. I also appreciate all the witty repartee a single status update can generate. Sometimes, I get nostalgic for a 1950’s-type camaraderie I invented in my head where we are all neat and clean in smart dresses, chatting casually over the fence while hanging laundry. I get the same fuzzy feeling when I’m on Facebook.
  10. Email. I can see right away if there are pressing issues I need to address at any given moment such as some hot item on Freecyle I want to snag. I can check to see if our PTO has written to remind me of some vital activity at school I should be able to remember by myself but don’t.
  11. Calendar. I love that my calendar not only keeps track of the activities and appointments of my whole family, but that it has built into it not one, but two reminder alerts I can schedule to force me to look at my calendar. It’s the new incarnation of the snooze alarm for me.
  12. Reminders and alarms. Say I do snag some hot item on Freecycle and tell a person when I’ll pick it up. If I space out and forget to pick up said item, I risk being branded a no-show pariah on Freecycle, and a cheapskate like me can’t afford that risk. Also, I would probably forget to take my vitamins at least 50% of the time if my phone didn’t start nagging me every day at 10am. Speaking of forgetting…I have alarms set to remind me to pick up my children from school each day. The ring tone for this type of alarm is a very obnoxious mechanical pin ball machine sound. It’s enough to jar me back to reality (or wakefulness) no matter where I am or what I’m doing so that I very seldom forget to pick up my kids (pats self on back).
  13. Dinner-planning tool I call, “Google Ingredients Roulette.” Often- too often- I am surprised by dinnertime: “What?? Dinner? Again??” I have saved myself many times by simply looking in my refrigerator and then plugging the two or three ingredients I find into Google and add “recipe” before I hit the search button. Try it. Your family may never get the same meal twice in a row, but they won’t get bored!

    BUT: If I thought the cosmic phenomenon of kids NEEDING me the second I get on the telephone is bad, it is nothingcompared to the derisive comments I suffer from my children when I’m using my phone for anything but a telephone. About the time this Boston.com article on parents and excessive screen time came out, my almost-nine-year-old threw down the gauntlet with this little gem, “I bet you couldn’t even go ONE DAY without your precious iPhone4!” (He’s very model-conscious.) I spluttered like a typical defensive addict in denial: “Wha-?? What are you talking about?? I’ll have you know I use this phone for many, MANY useful purposes.” I may even have said, “I could go without it anytime I want to.” (Denial Fail.)

Tasha Schlake Festel
I got an iPhone yesterday.

I love it.

I almost feel like I don’t have to say any more. I mean, hello? I just got an iPhone. There’s no turning back. What had been a “slight distraction” before is destined to become a “major issue” for me. Please send the names and numbers of any recommended local therapists to me so my children can start to work through their feelings of neglect and inadequacy.

I won’t lie. I like my screen time. A lot. Probably more than I should. I work, I email, I text, and I FaceBook. The exact mix depends on the day.

I work from home so I don’t get the level of human interaction and conversation that I need. Granted, I probably need a lot more than the average girl, but that’s neither here nor there. It is what it is. I don’t get enough, so I supplement electronically.

Generally, that’s not a problem. Until it is. I have found myself really annoyed with my kids for 1) wanting my attention when I am taking care of some important FaceBook business, 2) expecting me to listen to them retell the happenings of their days when I am trying to text, or 3) needing the computer for homework when I am busy checking my email for the 2,743rd time that day. I’ve had days where I look up at them and realize they’ve been talking to me and I haven’t heard a single thing they’ve said because I’ve been glued to a stupid screen. It is then that I realize I kind of suck.

Whether it’s the phone, the laptop, or the iPad, screens are a distraction and take away from my family time. The thing is, I know all that, yet I have a hard time disconnecting. There are times when those little screens are all I have to get me through the day. They are my lifeline. Being a work-at-home mom can be really isolating. I’m a lost soul: I don’t feel fully connected to the working world, but I don’t really fit into the SAHM world either. Sometimes I want to give up all of my flexibility just to work in an office and have real conversations with real people about something not involving my children. Sometimes my family makes me so nuts I want to run away. Sometimes I just can’t listen to another word from the mouth of a child because It.Will.Kill.Me. Sometimes I need to escape my day-to-day life and get distracted by something else, anything else. That’s when I turn to the screens for a mini vacation.

When my kids were little, playgroups saved my life and kept me sane. As the kids have grown, we’ve “aged out” of playgroups, leaving a void. The only thing I’ve found that provides me with the contact I need to fill the hole comes in electronic form.

It’s hard to be plugged in to your kids all the time. It’s exhausting and mind-numbing and challenging and intense. Sometimes it’s too much. The screen is a crutch. It helps me limp through the day and gives me the strength to get up and do it again tomorrow.

I hope I don’t have to tell you all that I love my children. I love them more than texting or FaceBook or email. I love them more than tequila or Yuengling or Guinness. I even love them more than salami or coffee or exercising. Trust me, that is saying something, because I really love all of those things. Like, a lot. My kids mean the world to me and there isn’t a thing I wouldn’t do for them.

But I love my screens too. I love the relationships I have created as a result of them. I love the things I have learned by using them. I love the person inside of me I have been able to salvage because of the freedom they give me.

It’s not the screens that are the problem. It’s the balance. And we all struggle to find that. Screens are just the latest thing to be added to the scale.

I could stand to cut back on my screen time and will try to do so. But first, I have to update my FB status that I’ve finally completed this article and need to play with my iPhone so I can more effectively text. BRB!

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