Watching my kids raise their kids is interesting. I am a psychologist with some expertise in the area of adolescence, but I can’t say that my approach as a parent was that planned. I guess I would describe my approach as be supportive, be aware, and try help when problems develop. Perhaps my wife was more prescriptive, but I don’t think so. We wanted our kids to do well and be well rounded, but beyond sharing expectations we required few specific choices. Again, what I describe is my impression and not necessarily the impression of all involved.
Screen time is one of those issues that seems new to me. I do not think we had household rules regarding screen time. My kids missed out on several technologies we now take for granted. Internet activities were not part of their experience. We had two phone lines (no cell phones), but this abundance was allowed so we could use the “teen line” for a phone modem. Disputes were related to who had priority on the second line, but not how much time was allowed. What I don’t think we had were rules regarding how much television viewing time was allowed.
My own children as parents vary in their expectations but they do talk about screen time. Of course, we gave our grandchildren iPads so we have played a role in shaping the environment that must be addressed. Specific time limits do come up and I sometimes hear reference to a specific number – you can have 30 minutes of iPad time and then you need to do something else.
Our kids get these numbers from somewhere. All are well educated and with their spouses seek out information on parenting. One influential source of such information has been American Academy of Pediatrics. I must admit a bias here. As a psychologist, I am always surprised when folks from the medical profession weigh in on topics such as child rearing, bullying, etc. My major professor (a WWII military veteran) refused to refer to MDs as doctors. He always called them medics. The preparation of PhDs was different with far more time focused on doing and reading research without a biological connection. I admit to a certain ignorance regarding the preparation of medical professionals (our two daughters are in the field), but I do know how much course work and field experience goes into the preparation of clinical or developmental PhD psychologists.
Anyway, the AAP had a rather absolutist position on screen time – nothing before 2 and then up to two hours by adolescence. Simple rules are easy to follow so I understand the impact on parents seeking simple guidelines. Of course, the world is far more complicated and everyone should have considered that screen time can mean very different things. Unless there was specific evidence that focusing one’s attention on a light emitting surface did neurological damage, what is viewed and heard can now expose the viewer to such a wide range of experiences with varying consequences. Some can be interactive. Many can be educational. Some can be damaging.
AAP has released a new report (there is an executive summary if you do not want to read the entire document) with specific suggestions and a more nuanced position. The recommendations require judgment on the part of parents, but the ideas seem pretty much what I would regard as common sense. The real issue here may be getting parents to forget what they were told previously.
Perhaps if I explain screen time as similar to food consumption the medics may understand. Some is good and necessary. Different inputs have different consequences. It is possible that too much of anything can reach the point of causing problems, but how much this amount is will be determined by many factors.