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Why Are We So Defensive About Screen Time?

“This is the smartest change I’ve ever made.”

“You are out of your mind. This is impossible.”

And the most popular, “I’m not convinced it’s necessary.”

Those were email responses to my suggesting we stop checking our email first thing in the morning. Most of those emailing were also parents.

Why are we so defensive about screen time? When is it time to drop the phone?I made the recommendation at a conference at which I was speaking about focus. My goal for attendees of my session was increased productivity in their writing. I didn’t dip my toe into the benefits of warding off screen time for them as parents, but I wanted to.

The theme was that uninterrupted thought is integral to the creative process. Really, the under-underlying theme was, “Turn off your screens more often.” But who would attend a session harping, “Turn Off Your Damn Phones Already”?

When I reached the part of the session that addressed reducing screen time (not eliminating, I’m talking reducing) and the negative effects multitasking has on our cognitive skills (it’s significant), I braced myself for blowback. I tensed in anticipation of resistance. People love their screens. iPads, video games, TVs, computers.

Their phones are their babies.

The blowback didn’t happen. There was a distinct shift in the atmosphere and I could sense the audience was uncomfortable, but we were talking about the stress caused by excessive connectivity, the resulting effects on our psyches, and it felt good.

Notice that this post isn’t a list or a slideshow? There’s a reason for that.

As the post-conference weeks went by, the email responses began to trickle in. People were trying my suggestions. It wasn’t easy. It was work to turn away from distractions previously disguised as work. (Checking Facebook 5 times an hour isn’t necessary to being a good blogger. Seriously. I swear.) Some feedback admitted throwing in the towel and some celebrated turning over a new leaf.

But I cheated. I played it safe. I talked to parents as writers and only focused on what adults do to ourselves through excessive connectivity.

I didn’t dare talk about what too much screen time does to our kids. What we let it do. What we swear we’re not letting happen but what seems to be happening.

I’m pretty sure people would have thrown rocks at me. They would have considered it self-defense.

Writers at the Huffington Post must wear armor because one recently came straight out and stated “Screens are ruining your family’s life.” And then counted the ways you are letting screens screw everything up. Boom.

Some of the commenters are already crying foul. If you haven’t read it yet, go and then come back so we can talk. Because, shhh, come here … no, closer … (whispers) I agree.

Huffington Post spoke with Catherine Steiner-Adair EdD, a clinical instructor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard and a school consultant, who “interviewed more than one thousand children between the ages of 4 and 18 to find out how technology was impacting their relationships and their social and emotional lives.” What she found was that slowly but surely parents are allowing technology (screens) to “co-parent” their children and to ill effect.

Crap. I’ve been doing that. I know I have. Not deliberately but … well, look, my 3 year old was watching a kiddie show as I wrote this. Sure, she was freshly home from a day at Montessori school where I am placing my bet she is growing her brain to brilliant folds, but still.

Totally doing it.

But I don’t always do it. Okay, I am playing Devil’s Advocate here a little because I am actually fairly aware of the effects of excessive screen time on my family. Particularly the effects of my indulging in too much screen time. But learning that awareness has taken time.

Check out #4 and #5 in HuffPo’s list. I am mindful of letting my phone come between me and the people around me. I don’t bring my phone to the dinner table, I try not to use it when I’m around people I am actively engaging with, and I’ll willfully let a Kodak moment pass in favor of seeing it through my own eyes versus the lens of my iPhone.

I’ve spoken openly about the challenges of managing employers’ and clients’ expectations regarding my connectivity. Read: I don’t check email every hour or after 8pm. My cell phone is for my convenience, not everyone else in the world’s.

I’ll do my best for you and that means I will maintain my boundaries.

But man, people get seriously defensive about their connections to technology.

It’s important to note that I’m not judging kids in front of screens. I don’t glare at parents letting their kids play on an iPad. I’m not judgmental of other parents because who knows what their day was like. Who knows what their struggles are. Who knows? Not me.

What I do know is what works and what doesn’t work for my family. Too much time playing Minecraft makes my boys jumpy and irritable. Too much time on the iPad makes my daughter whiney. Checking my phone too many times makes me distracted and agitated which makes me impatient.

The one thing I consistently pray for is more patience. Lord, don’t let me waste what dregs of it I have left on Facebook.

Why do you think parents are so defensive about screen time? Both their own and their kids’. Do you think there is such a thing as excessive time spent in front of a screen?

Or do you think this is just one more rage against the TV? Just how many studies stating that excessive screen time is damaging to developing minds will it take before the resistance fades from fierce to nominal?

• • •

Read more of Megan’s writing at VelveteenMind.com
Follow her boundary issues on twitter and Facebook

More of Megan on Threadbare Theory:

How I Found My Goofy Voice as a Mom
Disney Hangover: How to Cure Post-Vacation Blues
Homework Helpers: 14 Steps to A+ Habits

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