Don’t Let The Summer Sun Make You Feel Guilty About Screen Time

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Boy in front of TVThe end of the school year has sent plenty of moms into a panic, arranging childcare and planning ways to entertain their little ones. And every summer, moms start out the season with the best of intentions when it comes to that ever-dangerous 42-inch screen sitting in the living room. Then, as the months drag on and the temperature soars, we feel serious guilt when we realize that our kids just spent three hours parked in front of the TV.

Screen time is horrible. It’s terrible. It’s killing you. It’s fattening up your kids. It’s rotting everyone’s brain. The television screen is the bane of our existence and the root of all our evil.

We all hear these things over and over again. In fact, we say them over and over again when we’re discussing parenting with other moms. We talk about how sad it is for these kids that they are just wasting away in front of a flat screen. (I guess “wasting away” isn’t really the correct terminology given the childhood obesity epidemic.) And then we go home and let our kids watch TV.

You want to know how I know that I’m not the only mom who succumbs to screen time? Because the average 8-10 year old spends six hours a day with either a television, computer or video game. That’s the average. Sure, it means that there are kids who get less than that. But it also means that there are kids who get more. And it’s just not possible that all the people espousing the dangers of too much television are really keeping their kids away from screens all the time.

I think it’s possible that anti-screen time is a lot like breastfeeding advocacy. It suffers from too much sanctimony and not enough reality. Huffington Post just reported on the incredible statistics showing how many moms really want to breastfeed but fall short when it comes to realistically meeting the demands. We set out with the best of intentions after hearing from everyone how important nursing is, then we admit defeat and suffer from extreme guilt when it doesn’t work out as planned. There’s this huge gulf between what we talk about and the ideals we champion and what actually happens in people’s homes.

It seems to be the same problem with screen time. There’s all this public-shaming and damning of letting your children watch television, so it’s something we pretend isn’t happening. We ignore the fact that our children have 20 hours saved on the DVR and continue to talk about all that pesky screen time.

This summer, instead of talking about how we’re never going to let our kids veg out with potato chips and Nickelodeon, how about we admit that some screen time will happen? Maybe if we stop feeling guilty for every minute of mindless entertainment, we’ll be better equipped to set reasonable limits. Sure, six hours of television is probably too much. But what is the harm in letting a kid have two hours of TV to use as they see fit? If we make television or video games or computers a part of the plan, won’t be it be easier to actually regulate the amount of time it takes up?

Of course I want my daughter to get outside this summer. I want her to continue on with lessons she learned in pre-school and be prepared to enter a full-time pre-kindergarten next year. I hope that she has a lot of great memories of this summer that don’t involve superhero cartoons or a pineapple under the sea. But maybe, just maybe, if we can all admit that our kids will spend at least a small portion of their time hanging out on the couch and catching up with the Disney channel, we’ll all feel a little less guilty and be more comfortable honestly discussing what parents can do to make sure that our kids aren’t going overboard.

Sure, it’s easy to say that kids shouldn’t be watching television. But it’s also not realistic. There is an obesity epidemic and we’ve known about it for a while now. Obviously spouting off about the dangers of screen time haven’t helped solve the problem. Let’s be logical and maybe we’ll come up with realistic solutions that parents can actually put into practice.

(Photo: wavebreakmedia ltd/Shutterstock)