Screens and Kiddos

Hello Friends, 

This blog comes from a newsletter from back in October 2021 that I thought I would share again with you in case you missed it! The topic is screens and kiddos — one of the most popular topics parents and providers alike come to me with questions on how to tackle. I hope the information below helps!

First, there are tremendous resources and guidance out there. You can look to the American Academy of Pediatrics, Common Sense Media, and American Psychological Association for hard and fast data around recommendations for screens and social media use. My colleague Doreen Dodgen-Magee has fabulous information and support on her website and in her books. But what I’m going to lay out is my personal experiences and the choices I’ve made as a parent when it comes to screens and social media for my kids. Perhaps this information will feel like a helpful guide. Perhaps it will feel validating. Or, perhaps it will make you scream and feel frustrated with me because it seems unrelatable. Let me know and here we go!

Recently, I agreed to allow my 16-year-old daughter to have a one-month trial on Snapchat. Why? Because everyone has it. Because everyone communicates this way. Because I’m the only mom who’s held out this long. Really? Well, we’re two weeks into her one-month trial and she hasn’t even downloaded the app. So, I began to wonder why. And I truly believe that because of how we’ve handled screens and social media, it’s taken away some of the allure that makes it all so darn compelling. So, what follows is an outline of my general rules and practices when it comes to screens and social media. 

  • Under the age of 2 – nada. Nothing. I remember turning Sophia away from screens when she was little. My friends made fun of me but I was determined. That meant, no TV, computer, no playing with adults’ phones.
  • Toys that were old-school. With so many things that light up, twirl, and play music, we tried to stick with low-tech.
  • When my kids got a bit older, we began to dabble with some short shows. Again, I went old-school. I knew what the research said about kids’ attention span and how shows adapted to constantly change in order to keep kids’ attention. So, instead, we watched Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, old Sesame Street re-runs, and cartoons like Caillou.
  • Also, when they were little, screens were used for me! If I needed 20 minutes to take a shower or prepare dinner, out came Bernstein Bears. And we used them as something special vs. something given.
  • Days did not start with screens. I let their brains warm up. Days started with play, stuffed animals, breakfast and reading books.
  • Disney and Pixar – nope. Sorry. Not until my kids were 4 or 5 years old. I know it sounds nutty, but I realized that EVERY Disney movie had a child who’d lost a primary attachment figure in some form. Ugh!
  • When I allowed them to watch longer animated movies, it was very intentional. Usually, we watched them together so I could pause, ask them questions about what they understood, or fast forward through inappropriate parts.
  • As a general rule, adults didn’t have the TV on unless we were watching a movie or show. And when kids were around, it was not adult-content themes. This means that watching the news, Law & Order or Grey’s Anatomy waited until after bedtime. And you’re right, I was often so tired, it meant nothing at all.
  • Movies – Yes, I was that mom. I didn’t allow my kids to watch PG 13 or R movies until they were much older. At 14 & 16 they only recently began to watch some R movies.
  • Video games – my daughter was never quite interested. My son never had a video game system in our home until about 5th or 6th grade – and then it was a Wii, followed by an X-box.
  • Content – this is really important. As my son wanted to play video games, I said NO to explicit themes. I said Yes to sports games, Mario Cart, and fitness. If you have nothing, those are REALLY fun. He never played a “shooter” game until 7th going into 8th grade. And then, with lots of restrictions.
  • As my kids got older, neither had a cell phone until 7th grade. And the first cell phones were NOT smart phones. My son just got a smartphone in 8th grade, updated from his flip phone. (He says he still misses the simplicity of his flip phone!).
  • Restrictions – lots of them.
    • Time limits on all screens. I set them and I check them weekly.
    • No screens in bedrooms.
    • No explicit content.
    • Lots of talking about online predators, “friending” people, and an open policy where I could look at search history at any time.
    • They must earn the right to a smart phone by showing responsible flip-phone behavior.
    • All apps on smart phones are approved through me.
  • Social media – My daughter got IG in middle school because it felt the “safest” of all. She had to be a “friend” of mine. And we had a lot of discussions about online predators, friends, and post content. My son is a freshman and still has no social media. He had to make a choice to have his X-box and a new, more explicit game, or social media. He chose video games because it was still a way to be online with friends. 
  • Choices – while it might seem like I’m pretty strict, I give lots of choices. I say yes to a lot of creative apps, photos, and choosing between acceptable social media. IG – yes. Tik Tok – not yet. Snapchat – short trial. 

At the end of the day, we talk A LOT about screens, social media, and video games. When I’m doing the talking it’s about safety, respect, and the black hole that kids can fall into online with porn and bullying. And, I ask a lot of questions about their use, their friends’ use, and what other kids are doing. Then, I keep my mouth shut while they talk. I ask more questions. 

OK, that’s a lot more than I thought I was going to share. What questions are you left with? What else would be helpful to know? Leave me a comment and let me know how this is sitting with you. 

Until then, much compassion to you,

Dr. Amy

Licensed Psychologist