Technology, T.V. and Kids

Our son "pretending" to be Daddy. 2 years old. 
Dear Family Volley,

My niece and nephew visited the other day and had their heads buried in their DS games the entire visit.  Seemingly gone are the days of "go out and play" or engaging in polite conversation while visiting an aunt's house.  Do you think it is possible in this day and age to raise children who aren't hooked into cell phones, iPods, hand-held video games, TV, internet. . . . etc. etc.?  My baby's only 5 months old and I'm worried about the cumulative effect of all this as he grows up in this maxed out digital age.  We already limit the amount the TV is on.  In the grand scheme of "raising kids" where is there room for compromise and what guidelines do current research/you suggest following?

Thank you,


Thanks for the question. This is a hot topic.

Funny thing, in March I had a parent teacher conference for our daughter. I was in the hall, waiting my turn, with 2, two year old twins. Their parents were in a conference and they were waiting. They were both playing video games on iPhones. I could not believe it. They ran them just like if an adult were at the controls. Playing games, watching Sesame Street on YouTube, the little boy even called his grandma. It was obvious that they played with them a lot. Given what I teach about TV and technology, this was very hard to watch.

In class, I spend a number of lectures teaching students about TV, technology, children and families. Mostly we talk about how there are better ways for families and individuals to spend their time. I always have a few students that really struggle with what the research teaches. That's okay, I appreciate the opinions. 

So... What do we know about screen time and kids. 
The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend television for children age 2 or younger. For older children, the Academy recommends no more than 1-2 hours per day of educational, nonviolent programs. This includes any screen time. Video games, Computers etc. 

Children, regardless of age, are always learning new things. The first two years of life are especially important in the growth and development of a child's brain. During these impressionable years, children need to have positive interaction with children and adults. 

Too much TV can negatively affect brain development, especially when children are learning to talk and play.  

Although there are good things on TV, playing, reading, and spending time with family and friends are much healthier than sitting in front of a TV or computer screen. 

Children who watch excessive amounts of TV tend to be more aggressive. 

As a result of too much time spent with video games, TV, and technology, children are not spending time outside any more. It has become so bad that children are now being diagnosed with Nature Deficit Disorder. 

There are direct correlations between obesity and excessive involvement with TV and video games.

Counselors are spending a lot of time dealing with adults, especially men in their 20's who are addicted to video games. These addictions are tearing families apart. 

Research has shown that children who watch excessive amounts of TV only have an attention span that lasts as long as a show before a commercial. Let me explain. Most shows play for about 7 minutes and then there are commercials for 2 minutes. Children are only able to focus, pay attention and engage for 7 minutes, then they need a break before they are able to concentrate again. You can understand how this is not good.

Children who have excessive screen time have a smaller vocabulary, can struggle more with reading, have trouble being creative and imagining. (Why you ask? Television viewing requires little creative thought, or imagination and usually inhibits communication between viewers.)

As far as research, This is just scratching the surface.

What to do then? Does that mean that we hide everything technology and throw out the TV's? Are there zero benefits from technology? Do I have to become some sort of super mom so that I have perfect activities planned for my children every hour of every day so that they never watch TV? 

Technology is the way of the future. It is necessary. It is not going any where. We have to teach our children how to use technology. The Key: Moderation

Technology offers our families and children great things. We need it, we rely on it, we fall behind when we don't understand it.  We can't keep children from it, but we can monitor, moderate and limit. 

Too much technology in the home is one of the biggest drains on the lives of American Families. To combat this drain I offer two suggestions.
1. Make better use of your time. 
There are things that members of your family all do. Eat for example. Find ways to do these things together. Hold family dinner. Get ready for bed together. Establish a routine and stick to it. Include reading in your bedtime routine. It is one of the best things you can do for your children.
2. Carve time out from other activities. Tame Technology.
Although we need technology, we can need it a little less. Even if you turn the TV off for 15 minutes a day, that is 15 minutes that can be spent in more productive pursuits. 

Other suggestions:
  • Hold a family media fast (no media for a day/week/month). You will see your family transform. We do this a few times a year. We also have a rule that there is no TV before school. It has been one of the best rules we have ever made. 
  • Record the shows your family wants to watch. Fast forward through commercials and pause to hold discussions. 
  • Plan your TV watching a week ahead of time. Only watch those shows you planned to watch.
  • If the movie your kids want to watch is also a book, read the book to them instead of watching the movie. 
  • Keep all "screens'" in common areas in your home so that they can be monitored. 
  • Turn the TV off during family meals.
  • Establish tech time. Our kids can spend 30 minutes a day with technology. They have to decide if that will be a TV show, computer games, the Wii, or a little of each. When 30 minutes is up, that is it. 
  • Make other options readily available. We have a list of activities on our fridge. Our family sat down and made the list together. Everything from playing Candy Land to making cookies, riding bikes to reading or playing with side walk chalk. We have a list for inside activities and outside activities. When the kids think technology is the only option or they say they are bored, we go to the fridge, pour a glass of milk and sit down to look at the list. There is always something that sounds more fun than TV. 
  • Interact with your kids. Laugh, be silly, be spontaneous. Be willing to put aside the chores to play. 
Keeping our children from technology is doing them a disservice. Letting them drown in technology is also a disservice.
We have to teach them moderation so that our children can hold a conversation, build a tree fort, and work an iPad.

I love the quote by Max Frische. He said "Technology is a way of organizing the Universe so that man doesn't have to experience it". Kids watch sports instead of playing them. Kids play video games so they don't have to go outside and be creative.  Living through technology is not really living. 

We could go on and on. It comes down to moderation. There is such a thing as too much and too little. 

Family Volley

What do you think, technology, friend or foe?


  1. Personally, I'd be ok without tv, movies, or video games. I don't have time for it. But I agree moderation is best. Thanks for the info and numbers. We have a no tv after dinner rule (except for our Friday movie)and that's been good. I would like to set up more rules, so thanks for the encouragement.
    Any ideas on how to moderate the x-box for the dh? :)

  2. Thanks so much for answering my question so thoroughly! "moderation in all things" might just be my new parenting motto. I really appreciated the ideas you provided for making moderation possible when we may be tempted to think it's not.

    oh, and thank for taking my oath :) ... I'm still a work in progress too (in more ways than 1).

  3. p.s. i've included you in one of my "mother's week" posts. look for it on Friday!

  4. When we moved into our house two years ago, we didn't hook up our Tv to any kind of stations. We have hooked it up to the dvd player so that we can watch Disney movies or Blue's Clues. There was hardly anything that we really wanted to watch on regular tv, and nothing that we wanted our kids (2 1/2, 1) to watch. Plus, when they go to three different grandma's houses in one week, sometimes one day, and watch tv... it's above and beyond too much. I am so glad that the weather is finally getting warmer so that we can go outside all of the time.

  5. It takes additional effort on the parents part to direct children toward other activities. It's so easy to turn on a movie, or let our children play on the computer. It keeps them entertained for hours on end. It's not just that the children are addicted to technology, but that it's an easy pacifier, and parents often turn to it for such. As parents, we are also guilty of being constantly connected - with smart phones, blogging, the iPad, etc. We need to set a good example for our children, and take the time to "disconnect" ourselves and interact with them. I'm as guilty as anyone, and constantly need to work on this! Thanks for sharing your ideas on how to keep it in moderation.

  6. Nature Defecit Disorder made me laugh. I'm sure I must be developing it too being stuck in my cube all day!

  7. I agree with all you said. We also have a 30 minute rule. We have a timer in the family room so that we don't have to badger the kids to turn off the tv/computer/video games. When they hear the timer, they know it's time to find a different activity.

  8. Thank you, thank you! What a great post. I've started letting my daughter color pictures, do Hidden Pictures (Highlights), or play PBSkids.org games online and wow, I'm amazed how quickly she's gotten "addicted" to it. I've realized I need to limit her time and actually SET a timer for her. But also, it's made me realize how much I'm on the computer myself. If my kids see the back of my head all day long, what is that telling them?? I don't want them to think my email inbox or blog is more important than them. Moderation of technology definitely has to start with us as their parents! Thanks for the wonderful ideas - we'll have to create an "idea" jar as well. I can't believe I'm hearing "I'm bored" from my child who's not even 5 yet!

  9. Hi, great to see your website. I like the content and the research done behind every aspect of your blog. It looks great and very knowledgeable. Keep it up the good work. 500-230 exam dumps


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