Monday, January 28, 2013

The Case For Unlimited Screen Time

Here is something you may or my not know about my family (though you may have guessed from the title.) We don't limit "screen time" or media usage.

We do limit some of the content our children watch, but we do not limit time.

Even when we limit content, it's not strict. For instance, we wouldn't limit a movie or game based solely on it's rating. We have limited content of games/media on an individual basis, on whether we think a particular child can "handle" particular content.

As with any activity, our children do have natural limits to their media usage. For instance, when we leave the house, decide to play a board game, eat dinner as a family, etc. Breaks from "screen time" are never really an issue for my kids, which I'll explain.

But why unlimited screen time? Isn't too much T.V. and video games bad for kids' brains? 

Let's explore that notion.

It'll Rot Their Brains!

We've all had it drilled into our brains by the 'experts' and the media. Too much T.V. and video games is bad for kids. Or is it? Is their really enough research (or common sense) to say that all that screen time is detrimental to kid's development and learning?

In reality, there is very little good research to support that screen time is bad for learning. In fact, there is quite a bit of research to suggest that television viewing and video games actually increase children's cognitive ability:
"According to research at the University of Rochester, people who played action-based games made decisions 25% faster than others,without sacrificing accuracy, and can pay attention to more things at once. The Office of Naval Research has found that games improve the fundamental ability to reason and problem solve in new contexts.

What may be surprising is that kids who play video games scored 23% higher in creative tests involving tasks such as drawing pictures and writing stories, according to Michigan State University."    ~ Suzanne Kantra, Yes, Video Games can be Good for Kids
 Need more convincing? Studies have also suggested that video games can:
  • Improve motor skills
  • Relieve pain
  • Improve eyesight
  • Improve decision making skills
  • Provide therapy for mental illness

Don't believe me? Read for yourself: 5 Reasons Video Games Are Actually Good For You

We've seen firsthand the benefits of allowing television and video games into our home and have embraced them as a valuable tool for learning.

Unlimited Learning

For us, learning happens all the time, even during "screen time". In fact, especially during screen time! Limiting my children's usage would mean I was limiting their learning from that resource.

Video games and media have an unlimited potential for learning. Even schools recognize the learning that happens when kids play video games or watch shows. 

Recently, a Swedish school even made Minecraft a requirement as part of the curriculum.

The Non-Hierarchy of Resources

I could never see myself saying to my kids "You've been reading too much today," or "You've been jumping on the trampoline too long, you should do something else for awhile."

Those statements send a message that one learning activity or resource is more important than another.

In our home, there is no hierarchy of resources. Books, music, board games, movies, computer games, google, skyping with friends, and video games are all resources that we can use. They are all at the same level.

I may prefer one resource over another. But for our kids, we wish to demonstrate to them that they can use whatever resource they feel is most useful to gain in their knowledge of the world around them.

Walking Away

Because our children no longer have limits imposed on them, it's much easier for them to walk away and begin another activity.

Back when we set limits for our kids, it was much harder to get them up and out the door, or moved on to something else once they had sat down in front of the screen. Why? Because they were afraid of when it would get taken away again.

Because their time in front of the screen was limited, they felt they had to use up that screen time, and do nothing else during that time, so that they could accomplish everything they wanted to get done. In their young minds, they had no idea when their next opportunity would come.

Now, my kids can take it or leave it. When they are with friends, they want to be with friends, because they trust that when they are done being with friends, they can choose to watch a show or play a game. When we are eating dinner together or playing a board game, they can focus on that, because they are not afraid that they are missing out on valuable screen time.

And when we get ready to leave the house, the T.V. and games shut off without a fuss. My kids know that it will be right there when we get back, and they won't get a "no" from me when we get home. In fact, they won't have to ask at all.


I used to worry when I thought my kids had been "watching too much T.V." or "Playing too many video games." It's then that I would step in and declare "No more for the day!" and the battle would begin.

Since I've changed my thinking about the value of media usage, I no longer think of it as something that is less valuable than other activities that involve learning. And I no longer feel that it has negative affects on their brain.

If I feel that we as a family need time away from electronics, I will come up with an activity or find a place we can go for the day and ask. More often than not, my family is happy to step away and do something else for awhile. In fact, my kids wish I did a lot more with them outside of the house and away from the electronics than I currently do, due to the toddler and baby at home.

How does your family handle screen time?


  1. Awesome! Thanks for sharing this. It definitely gives me new perspective. It's so ingrained in me that video games rot their brains, I would joke that I could see their brains oozing out their ears.
    Talking with an Air Force recruiter once, he said guys that grew up playing video games scored so much better on hand/eye coordination tests for pilots. He encouraged me to let the boys play.

    1. It's such a forefront message isn't it? That television and video games are so bad for us. That notion is being challenged though, across the board. Business training, leadership training, social skills training.. they are all looking at social gaming as a positive thing. And that's just the tip of the iceburg as far as "positives" go.

  2. great viewpoint! awesome!! besides Minecraft teaching MANY life skills :)

  3. Great post. This is something I'm really struggling with right now. My son is only four, and while I've been ok with the TV thing (he can take it or leave it most days, and I can see that he's learned plenty from it so it doesn't worry me), now we're having a bit of an iPad battle. I never really limited his iPad time before, because I can see that he learns from the games he plays. But now he's seriously ADDICTED to Plants Vs. Zombies! It's very cartoonish, so it's not frightening for him even at his age. But he would honestly play it every moment of the day if he could. I've printed out some coloring pages of the characters and sometimes he'll color those or draw the plants himself, and sometimes we just tell stories about the zombies. But he's obsessed! I try to get him to take breaks from it so his little eyes can rest! I just don't know if I should be limiting his time on it or just let it run its course. I keep thinking he'll get sick of it, but it's been about a month! Any advice?

    1. I think it will run its course. I think part of the appeal is the challenge it gives kids. My 3 year old son is currently on a Lego Batman kick - he asks for it as soon as he gets up in the morning.

      I just make sure to plan plenty of outside activities every few days - short walks or trips to the park. Usually he is happy to go with us (and sometimes he even plays out the games he has been playing at the park).

      I think the big thing to remember is to just trust your child and engage in what they are interested in. Sounds like you are already doing a great job of both! :-)

  4. i've been having a hard time with "screentime" lately with my kids, the 3 oldest that are 4, 6 and 7 found a game that they are all obsessed with and want to be on the computer ALL the time. For about 2 weeks now i feel like its been a fight everyday, almost all day, to try and limit their time and when their time is up they want to go on again an hour later and then it's a fight all over again because i feel like i have to say no. its brought so much stress into my life lately! so i'm glad i read this, it gives me something to think about, and maybe i don't have to worry so much about them only having a certain amount of screen time each day. is it worth all the stress and unhappiness it brings into the day everyday when i say no to them? thanks for writing this and showing me the other side to things and that its not as bad as they say :)

  5. i'm so glad i read this. i've been constantly fighting with 3 of my kids for the last 3 weeks over them wanting to be playing a game on the computer that they just found. they've never been this interested before so i've neverhad to deal with it but now i'm trying to set time limits and stuff, because thats what i feel like i'm supposed to be doing, and its a constant battle. is all this stress and unhappiness its causing in our home worth it? reading this has made me realize that its probably not and i'd rather have a happy home than fighting and kids crying about not being able to play their game :)