Screen Time Is A Quick Fix That Causes Big Problems Later

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“In a world full of ‘let’s normalize everything,’ it’s time to stop normalizing how much screen time our kids are getting. Here’s why…

And before you continue, please know this might be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s time we talk about what is really happening. (Also know this is the current truth in my own house and I am just now ready to admit how big of a problem this is.) So, no judgment. Just some tough love.

All Screen Time Is Screen Time

Our kids wake up and immediately turn the TV on to watch morning cartoons. Then, those cartoons turn into lunchtime YouTube. And then afternoon movies. And then cartoons again. And then they are on tablets. Then, we end the night with some more cartoons. And while we are constantly told how ‘normal’ this is and that we shouldn’t feel guilt around screen time, we have to stop ignoring the fact it shouldn’t be normal. The truth we are all avoiding is that while it makes motherhood easier on us, it’s going to make adulthood harder on our kids.

You know how it goes… when the screens are on, their brains are off. They sit locked in and staring at the screen, passively soaking it all in, only pausing to ask for another snack or bicker with their sibling for sitting too close, or whining at you to change the show for the umpteenth time.

‘Yeah, but we watch a lot of educational or interactive shows.’

Uh-huh. That’s great. Really- it is. But it still counts as screen time and we have to stop pretending like it doesn’t or that it’s somehow more quality screen time than watching entire movies and being able to follow a story plot or playing games on a tablet.

All screen time is screen time and the average American child is spending 5-7 hours per day in front of a screen.

But this is normal, right?

Young toddler holds sippy cup while watching cartoons on a children's screen device.
Courtesy of Mary Smith (via Canva)

The Reason It Gets Ignored

Here’s where it gets sticky and confusing, and allowed far past what we know is too much…

For sake of not judging or shaming each other as mothers and leaving no room for the dreaded ‘mom guilt,’ we are actually justifying and ignoring something that, while common, should not be as normal as it is.

We joke about it. We embrace it. We accept and justify it as a normal part of this phase of life. We even reassure each other it’s okay to make ourselves feel better about how much screen time we are allowing in our own homes so we can avoid how big of a problem it actually is.

Here’s the problem, though. It’s not that our children aren’t smart or social or missing milestones, because most of them aren’t, and while that’s something worth celebrating, it’s another way we justify this as okay.

The REAL problem is most of our kids struggle to function without screens.

You turn the TV off and suddenly, everyone is whining and bored and heaven forbid they are asked to play outside – What kind of misery is this?!

They can’t wait patiently for food at a restaurant without a screen.

They can’t go on a car ride for any length of time without a screen.

They can’t sit in a cart in Target or socialize at family functions or fill their time if it means they can’t be glued to a screen.

Heck, some kids (and adults) can’t even be at DISNEYLAND – the Happiest Place on Earth – without being glued to a screen!

And I know it is a hard pill to swallow, but we have to swallow it.

Red headed girl wearing yellow and blue striped shirt sits on the couch wearing headphones and watching her device.
Courtesy of Grady Reese (via Canva)

Quick Fix Now, Big Problems Later

Here’s what I really want us all to think about… while screens certainly make our days easier as parents, we are setting our kids up for failure and unhappiness as adults.

And I know that sounds dramatic, but think about it… if they don’t learn now how to occupy their minds and time and do things that don’t involve screens, how are they going to have meaningful relationships as adults? How will they handle boredom? Where will they develop the skills they need to cope with things in life like not getting instant gratification or having to be patient at a restaurant or interact with living, breathing humans?

I don’t think our kids will grow up and think, ‘Wow, I had a great childhood because all I did was watch TV.’

And I CERTAINLY don’t want them looking back on their childhood and thinking ‘Wow, all we really did was watch TV.’

I want my kids to enjoy their childhood. I want them to play outside and get dirty and try things that scare them. I want them to make new friends and play silly little games and have wild imaginations.

But that won’t happen if they are glued to screens, and we all know it but we still avoid doing anything about it.

The magic solution?

Turn the TV off.

Let the tablets die.

Don’t bring devices in the car, to restaurants, or the store.

And before you freak out, I want you to know… your kids ARE capable of functioning without them.

The problem is we aren’t giving them enough practice. We are afraid of what might happen or how they will behave or the looks we might get from strangers if they don’t sit quietly at a restaurant.

Forget them.

We should not feel pressure to pacify our children and turn them into literal zombies for the sake of a stranger’s comfort. It’s not our responsibility to create a peaceful experience for strangers… It is our job to teach our children how to navigate this world, and that simply cannot be done if they are glued to a screen and never interact with the world around them.

Young toddler lies on stomach with a smart phone on the floor in front of his face.
Courtesy of electravk (via Canva)

Aim For Progress, Not Perfection

Now, I’m not saying you should unplug every device in your house and ban all screen time. That would surely lead to chaos and to be honest, it’s not a fair strategy to fix a problem we have created.

But turn the TV off more.

‘Make’ your kids play outside more.

Let your kids be bored.

Suggest other things for them to do.

Maybe even try your next public outing without screens and see how it goes.

Reducing your kids’ screen time little by little is better than normalizing it and pretending like it’s a healthy habit to support.

Will there be days when the screen time is unlimited out of a pure need to survive? Yeah. And to be honest, there might be a LOT of those days depending on the season of parenting you’re in.

Will there also be days when you do still take the tablet in public because you don’t have the mental capacity that day to deal with the meltdowns, but still have to get things done? Yes.

Aim for a better balance and give yourself some grace while you figure this out.

You got this, Mama! And if you’re still reading, I am so proud of you for being able to swallow this hard pill and admit that our kids deserve better than being raised by screens.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters  by Emmy Bennett from Oakdale, California. You can follow her journey on  Instagram and her website. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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