I know that Forest Gump gets credit for the line, “Life is like a box of chocolates…” but the line I’d like credit for is, “Screen time is like potato chips…” and here’s how that math works.
We’re a family of four, 2 adults and 2 teenagers, and we’re pretty normal. We like to do normal family type things. We like to eat, watch movies, exercise, text (well, at least the teens do) etc. But what I’ve come to realize is that time in front of a screen is to the mind what potato chips are to the body.
Don’t get me wrong, we love potato chips and eat them fairly regularly. But as much as we’d love to eat them all day, every day, we can’t. We can’t even eat them at every meal. Potato chips aren’t good for us and if eaten at every meal would result in me blowing up like a balloon and my husband’s cholesterol rocketing off the charts.
Screen Time Equals Potato Chips
It took me awhile to come around to this, but I’ve started to think of screen time (all screens – including TV, computer, cell phones, texting, internet, Facebook, etc.) the same as eating potato chips. It’s entertaining, it’s fun, it’s enjoyable, somewhat addicting, but, needs to be consumed in moderation. (Admittedly, I use a spoon and cut open the potato chip bag to get every last salty morsel at the bottom. I’m also not above licking the bag if no one is around. I don’t know how to equate these actions to screen time.)
Just because we can be in front of a screen, on a smart phone, or just checking in on Facebook all the time doesn’t mean that we should be. Just because we can eat potato chips all the time (as much as my husband would like to) doesn’t mean that we should.
So often screens become a distraction to what really needs doing. Settling into a good book can be hard when Pinterest is right there on a pretty screen. Paying attention in school is hard when your cell phone is in your pocket. Having fun hanging out with friends is harder when a friend is texting with someone else the entire time.
Screen time can be hard for me to moderate in myself. It’s certainly harder for me to explain to my kids why they should moderate their screen time, just like we moderate our consumption of potato chips. I suspect the difference must lie in the timing of the feedback. When we overdo on potato chips, the feedback comes pretty quickly. We gain weight or get stomach aches, and our bad cholesterol levels go up. Not so with screen time. The “overdoing it on screen time” negative effects (whatever they may be) don’t appear so quickly.
When my kids were younger, it was easier to remind them that too much TV (even if it was PBS) makes for a “mushy brain” and to go outside to play. They would listen and head out the door. Now that my kids are older, and I think about how best for them to learn the nuances of interacting with people (in person!), it’s harder. They need to practice making eye contact and learning to read body language. They need to hear different inflections in voices and learn to read different social situations but it’s difficult getting them to understand this.
Those missed opportunities for human interaction and relationship building skills can really nag at me, much they like they would if potato chips were all that had been eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But it seems to me that whether I can easily explain it to them or not (probably because I can’t really seem to put a finger on it myself), a little bit less time in front of the screen and a little more doing something else has got to be better for us, right?
What do you think? Could less screen time be better for all of us?
Go Gingham related links:
Technology free Sundays and more family rules that work for our family
Meet Internet Girl she likes shiny objects and is easily distracted!
Please don’t make me text – my fingers are too big to do it!
Do kids really need cell phones? I’m still not sure. Read more about it here
Social networking and parents behaving badly can be found here
For more reading on screen time and what it can do to our minds, check out these links:
The Chicago Tribune, October 3, 2012, “Kids, media and obesity: Too much ‘screen time’ can harm your child’s health,” by Sue Hubbard, M.D.
Forbes, July 30, 2012, “Why nothing is something: the problem of too much screen time,” by Todd Essig
Time, October 20, 2011, “Should Your 2-Year-Old Be Using an iPad?” by Sonia van Gilder Cooke
New Scientist, October 11, 2010, “Too much screen time is bad for active kids, too,” by Nic Fleming