How Much Screen Time Is Screen Time?

When my daughter was little, she didn’t watch TV. We had no intentions of banning TV entirely, or even of greatly restricting it. My husband and I both grew up in households with restrictive TV policies, and we both felt it did more harm than good.

My husband was “socially awkward” as a child and teen (unlike now, where as you all know, he’s Mr. Smooth Talker). Not being able to connect on even the most basic things like what happened on TV the night before just added to his discomfort. For me, it meant that I GORGED on TV at every available moment. I’ve worked in Pop Culture for most of my career, I honestly love TV.

But, we knew that the American Academy of Pediatrics advised no TV before the age of 2, and that made sense to us. Babies do not need TV. There is absolutely nothing they can learn from TV, and it can keep them from doing important things like crawling and walking (not that my daughter was that into those things either).

When my daughter was about 2 and a half and no longer napping consistently, and I had a 6 month old baby who needed her out of the room in order to take his nap, we introduced TV. Thirty minutes a day, snuggled up on the couch together watching the ultra gentle Bear in the Big Blue House, it was heaven!

Our TV consumption has stayed pretty low. During the week, each kid is allowed to choose one “episode.” They like each others shows, so they wind up watching about an hour a day. The weekends are looser, because I do like to sleep past six occasionally. I would say on the weekends it probably balloons to two hours a day, three if it’s crappy out and I have stuff to do inside the house.

Last year for Hannukah we gave ourselves a Wii as a family present. So now, sometimes they choose to play Wii instead of an episode. Or, sometimes, they get extra Wii time if they’re doing something physical like “Just Dance,” or if we play something together as a family.

Because my husband and I both work off our laptops, their computer time is fairly minimal. But PBS kids seems determined to promote the hell out of their website, so the kids occasionally choose to play Electric Company or Wild Kratts online instead of watching it on TV. As a general rule, we’re still below the recommended maximum of two hours a day of screen time.

Now though, school is also promoting computer time. They have logins for their school reading programs. Should that count towards screen time?

My son can really work up a sweat and his heartbeat while playing certain Wii games. During the winter when we can’t go outside, should that count as exercise or against screen time?

Is screen time about time actually spent sitting in front of the TV or computer or is it about what you do there? If you read an article online, is that reading time, screen time or both? Is the idea of limiting screen time to limit the kind of quick jumps that TV and computer games make, or is it to limit damage to your eyes or to avoid too much sedentary behavior?

What about a Kindle? Does reading on a Kindle count as screen time? (Not that we Luddites have a Kindle, I’m just curious). If you read a book about a TV character, does that count as screen time?

What about if you play Leapster while watching TV, does that count as time and a half?


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2 Responses to How Much Screen Time Is Screen Time?

  1. sbatt says:

    I doubt there is good research on this and I suspect the screen time taboo is almost entirely related to a narrow range of issues: weight gain and issues of attention. I don’t think it’s about eye damage.

  2. Pingback: Battling the Screen Time Beast — Real Mom Nutrition

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