Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Fostering a Healthy Relationship with Technology

Welcome to the October 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Technology
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about their families' policies on screen time.


Despite not owning a television, our children have developed a love of screen time. I however, have mixed feelings about this particular past time. On the one hand, what's not to love about a device that captivates my otherwise rambunctious children with animated color pictures, sound and music? On the other hand, I worry about the effects of too much screen time on my children's developing brains and I wish it didn't act so much like a habit forming drug.

We know families that approach technology from all ends of the spectrum, some offering unlimited access to their children and others limiting screen time to no more than a half hour every few days. Our approach is somewhere in the middle of the road and with a computer programmer and all-around tech guru for a husband, I've always known our kids would be tech savvy from an early age. You might recall that Riker scored his very own laptop when he was only two and a half years old!

As with any activity, I love to watch my children engage with technology. What shows do they gravitate toward? What iPad apps capture their interest? I'm tickled by how quickly they've learned to manipulate a touch pad and touch screen and I'm impressed at their ability to navigate various interfaces.

On the down side, once the kids start watching something, it's generally really difficult to get them to put down the screen and move on to another activity. And once they've had a taste of the iPad, it makes it all the more difficult to keep it in the closet the next day as they beg and plead with desperation to watch "just one show." Yeah, right. I'm also somewhat disturbed that one of my two year old's most favorite words is 'eye-puh.'

My husband would love to teach the kids some of his programming skills and he's already introduced Riker to a few apps that teach logic and basic concepts. He was introduced to computers at a young age and was part of the original Freenet group established in Cleveland that was one of the precursors to the internet as we know it. Those experiences were formative for him as he found an online community of people with similar interests and had many doors opened both personally and professionally.

Despite the fact that our family embraces computers, we've happily chosen to not have a TV in our house for the last eight years. As a couple we've always appreciated reading or spending time with each other more than mindlessly flipping through channels. That's not to say that we don't watch television shows at all - we're just selective and watch them on our laptop or get the series on DVD. We're happy to continue on this path with our children as we have more control over their viewing when it comes from a DVD or selected apps.

The question remains however, how much screen time is the right amount?

The overarching philosophy in our house is this: We control technology. Technology should not control us.

On a daily basis our general rules are as follows:

1. Screen time should account for a relatively small portion of any given day.

2. Each day should offer plenty of opportunities for interesting and engaging activities that a child would prefer over screen time.

3. Every week must have at least a couple screen free days.

These aren't so much hard and fast rules as general policies. And of course, there are exceptions to any rule and in our family these apply when we are flying or traveling or when one or more of us is sick.

I don't know what the right balance is and I try not to worry too much when I read headlines that say excessive screen time causes antisocial behaviors and will stunt little brains for life. I do know that like it or not, technology is part of our lives and its reach and impact will continue to expand. I want my children to be well equipped for the world that they are going to live in and I see it as my job to demonstrate what a healthy relationship with technology looks like. At the same time, we'll keep suggesting that the world is full of people, places and experiences that can only be fully appreciated after one powers off and heads out the door.

What are your family's policies surrounding screen time and technology?


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants (list will be updated throughout the day on October 8):

  • Has Technology Taken Away Childhood? — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama worries that technology is intruding on the basic premise of childhood - active play in all forms! Join her as she takes a brief look at how play has changed as technology becomes more integrated into the daily lives of our children.
  • Fostering a Healthy Relationship with Technology — Jenn at Adventures Down Under describes her children's love of screen time and how her family implements their philosophy and policies on technology.
  • Kids Chores for Tech PrivilegesCrunchy Con Mommy shares how tying chore completion to iPad privileges worked in her house to limit screen time and inspire voluntary room cleaning!
  • Screens — Without the benefit of her own experience, sustainablemum explains her family's use of technology in their home.
  • Screen Time - The Battle of Ideologies — Laura from Laura's Blog explains why she is a mom who prioritizes outdoor natural play for her kids but also lets them have ample screen time.
  • The Day My iPhone Died — Revolution Momma at Raising a Revolution questions the role technology plays in her life when she is devastated after losing her phone's picture collection from her daughter's first year.
  • Finding our Technological Balance — Meegs at A New Day talks about how she finds balance between wanting her daughter to enjoy all the amazing technology available to her, without it overwhelming the natural parenting she's striving for.
  • Raising kids who love TV — Lauren at Hobo Mama sometimes fears what children who love screentime will grow up to be … until she realizes they'll be just like her.
  • No Limits on Screen Time? Is that Natural? — Susan at Together Walking shares misconceptions and benefits of having no limits on technology and screen time in their home.
  • Screen Time — Jorje of Momma Jorje shares what is currently working (and what hasn't) regarding screen time in her household.
  • Positive Use of Technology with Kids — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells about her family's experiences with early technology, shares helpful resources from around the blogosphere, and speculates on what she'd do as a parent with young children today.
  • why i will never quit you, TV — How Emma of Your Fonder Heart came to terms with the fact that screen time is happening, and what balance looks like between real and virtual life for both her toddler AND herself.
  • Technology Speaks — Janet at Our Little Acorn finds many uses for technology - including giving her child a voice.
  • 5 Ways to Extend Children's Screen Time into Creative Learning Opportunities — Looking for a way to balance screen time with other fun learning experiences? Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares 5 fun ways to take your child's love of favorite shows or video games and turn them into creative educational activities.
  • What parents can learn about technology from teachers — Douglas Blane at Friendly Encounters discusses how technology in schools enhances children's learning, and where to find out more.
  • 5 Tips for a Peaceful Home — Megan of the Boho Mama and author at Natural Parents Network shares her favorite 5 tips for creating a peaceful home environment.
  • Technology and Natural Learning — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling writes about the importance of technology as a tool for natural, self-directed learning.
  • Babies and TechnologyJana Falls shares how her family has coped, changed their use of, relied on, and stopped using various forms of technology since their little man arrived on the scene
  • Kids and Technology — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis talks about the benefits of using technology with her preschooler, and includes a few of their favorite resources.
  • Using Technology to Your Advantage: Helping Children Find Balance — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy discusses how technology can be used or abused and gives a few tips to help children learn balance.


  1. "You have struck on something that resonated with me: ""Each day should offer plenty of opportunities for interesting and
    engaging activities that a child would prefer over screen time."" Yes! On those days when my son is whining for TV, often it's because he's tired of being cooped up with the same old things to do. (And often I'm stuck behind a computer doing work. On a screen.) I needed this reminder to continue to provide enriching activities that are as (or more) attractive than Jake and the Neverland Pirates ;)"

    1. Yes, it calls on us to be creative and engaging though I've yet to meet a parent who can do that all day long! And of course, sometimes the screen is a good wind down tool when they'd otherwise be climbing up the walls, especially when we have our own screen based tasks to attend to!

  2. I agree, that's a great point and a great thing for me to keep in mind-not just limiting technology, but offering real life experiences that are more interesting than TV! Maybe a nature walk is in order later today :)

    1. Yes and I might I suggest taking a magnifying glass on your nature walk for an extra dose of awesome!

  3. I like point number 2 as well. Thank you for sharing.

  4. This is a great post and I like how honest you are about how you use technology in your home. I think that you strike a good balance and I agree with the others...offering opportunities that children prefer over screen time is KEY! I also like that you insist on screen free days.

  5. That sounds like a really good balance! And as the others have said, offering other opportunities is the key to getting certain kids to default to something besides screens.

  6. I also agree that we should be the ones choosing mindfully - not letting what we choose "control" us. This is a useful skill that is honed and sharpened over our lifetimes - not a one-time, learned it, now done deal.

    For me it has been helpful to recognize how amazing technology is and not compare it to "other things". Other things are great! And I think this year I've finally realized how important moving and getting outside are to my own health (and I'm 35!)

    The thing about any limits is that they make the thing limited more valuable. Which makes us want it more. It's not that I disagree with you philosophically on wanting other things in our lives - is that I think that it can be achieved without limiting.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    1. I totally agree about limiting something making it all the more desirable (and that doesn't just apply to children of course!). I guess I haven't actually conveyed those explicit rules to my children - they act more as guidelines for myself on when I get out the iPad and when I consciously try to engage them in other things instead. So it probably doesn't seem like limits to the kids. They're only two and four so I'm sure it'll get trickier as they get older. Thanks for reading.

  7. I totally agree that if there is nothing else interesting for children to do they will gravitate to screens. I also think that they ask for it when they have been busy and active and use it as a way to chill, calm down, zone out whatever you want to call it, much as adults do after a busy day. It is also important for adults to demonstrate appropriate use too!

    1. Yes and I don't think there's anything wrong with chilling out with a good show after a long day either. Though I think that can get addictive too so I try to only offer the screen at the end of the day if I have something I really must accomplish. Otherwise it's too difficult to get on with teeth brushing and pajamas!

  8. My 10 year old nephew is a screen addict and his parents encourage him to spend as much time as possible playing games (many of which are MA rated and extremely violent). Unsurprisingly, Eban is hyperactive when he's not in front of a screen and most of that energy is spent trying to kick or harm his poor ole Uncle Teifi.

    I strongly recommend against the use of screen-time for simulating violent behaviour - there are so many positive and educational purposes for screen-time which I think kids should be encouraged to use.

    Lumosity.com is a good, rewarding, fun site which has games aimed at improving cognitive function. Highly recommend!!

    Best of luck with the screen-time regulation with the boys Jenn! :)

    1. The thing that makes me sad about scenarios like this is that it sounds like the parents just want to keep the kid out of their hair and that sort of message comes across loud and clear to a child. Sounds like good ole Uncle Teifi has a real opportunity to offer stimulating and engaging experiences of the real life variety!

      Thanks for the luminosity suggestion - I'll check it out.