Yesterday afternoon the annual talent show was held at my daughter Hannah’s school. This year she sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. Other kids sang, danced, read poems, showed off hula hoop and pogo stick skills, played various instruments, and told jokes, among other things. It was a delightfully eclectic group, and as ever I found myself enjoying the talents of the elementary school students more than I anticipated.
While the students performed, their acts were recorded for posterity. Parents and grandparents kneeled in the aisles with their cameras, smart phones and even their tablets. And on the sidelines, some of the older students also held up smart phones and iPods to take photos of their friends. Seeing these kids with their devices actually surprised me. My daughter’s school only goes up to grade five, so the very oldest students are only 10 or 11 years old. Somehow it seems a little bit young for that kind of technology.
Hannah, who is eight, likes to tell me how outdated my views on these matters are. “All of my friends have iPods,” she says. “Everyone but me. I’m the only one without my own iPod or iPad or phone.” Now, I don’t believe that she was really the only kid in grade two last year without her own mobile device. However, I do know other kids her age who do have their own iPods or iPads. I also know that many kids spend more time playing video games or using the computer than my daughter.
I do allow both of my kids to use my iPhone or tablet periodically, and they also gets some computer time. Hannah, in particular, recently got her first email address, since she’s now getting old enough to read and type her own messages. It would be untrue to say that my kids don’t get to use these devices at all, ever. On the other hand, the truth is that I do put some pretty big limits on my kids’ screen time, especially on phones, tablets and computers.
It’s possible that I’m a little hypocritical with the limits I place on my kids. I have an iPhone and two tablets, and there are two computers sitting on my desk right now. I get a lot of screen time in my daily life. Often, I’m reading on my tablet, doing something on my phone or working on my computer at the same time as I’m declining my kids’ requests to use these devices themselves. I don’t place the same limits on myself that I place on my kids. I’m okay with that for the most part.
I’m an adult. I’m more or less fully-formed as a human being. My kids, on the other hand, are still developing. There are proven negative consequences of kids spending too much time in front of a screen, including obesity, behavioural problems and sleep disturbance. It’s true that I would probably be healthier if I spent less time in front of a screen myself, but I look at this in the same way as I look at alcohol consumption. I can make an informed choice for myself. Until my kids can do the same thing, I’m going to limit their exposure.
It’s also true that I have a job that requires me to use a computer and a smart phone. When I do let my kids watch TV, I try to do it judiciously, and use that time to be productive and get some work done. I’m not about to give up my computer or phone at that moment, so for practical reasons their time on the computer or on my smart phone is limited. I also don’t really want my kids to mess with my technology, which is another reason that I don’t let them use it all that much.
In a few years my daughter will likely be going out into the world unsupervised more often. She’ll be walking to and from school by herself, and maybe other places, too. I know that a lot of parents give their kids their own phones once they’re spending more time out in the world on their own. I understand that impulse. It very well may have been why the older kids at Hannah’s school had phones of their own. I like the idea that I could reach my daughter – and she could reach me – anytime that we’re apart. I’m not there yet, but I can see that when I get there I may be re-considering my technology limits.
For now, I still believe it’s in my children’s best interests to limit the amount of time they spend connected to technology. Maybe it makes me the mean mom, but I can accept that. As a child of hippies, I grew up with limits that my friends didn’t. While my friends were eating chocolate, I had carob. And while they carried fruit roll-ups to school every day, I had fruit leather or actual fruit. I turned out okay, and I’m sure my kids will, too. Plus, I have to give them something to tell their therapists later in life, right?
How much time do your kids get on your computer, phone or tablet? Do they have devices of their own? At what age will you (or did you) get them their own phones? I’d love to hear your thoughts!