• Screen Time Or Over Scheduling Our Kids: Which Is Worse?

    One dad explores what option is worse for kids, too much screen time or too many activities.

    By Rob Licopoli

    istock_87238855_xlargeI was recently out with neighborhood parents and enjoying some down time. There were several groups of us engaged in our own little pockets of banter. It didn’t take long for us to merge together when our conversations resonated into one rhythmic tone — screen time. Wait, what? Before the iPhone and iPad, our conversations were centered around our kid’s schedules. Now this. When did the paradigm take place, and is it better or worse?

    In today’s society, most generations agree that kids spend way too much time on their electronics. The perception this that screen time is having a negative effect on our children’s social lives and overall health. As with anything else, we never think it’s a problem for our own kids until it’s too late.

    As a dad blogger, it felt hypocritical to be writing about coaching and activities when my kids were sitting in their room playing video games. It’s impossible to be a perfect parent, but we try, and sometimes “trying” is to let them make their own choices.

    I felt alone on the subject but after hearing the same stories from other parents, it was refreshing to know that others struggled with it as well.

    The paradigm shift had to be after 2010 when the iPad was first introduced. Looking back on it, over scheduling took on many forms before technology became a big concern. We live on the Upper East Side where, on one end of the spectrum, there is an obsession with test prep and on the other end, the obsession is with travel sports.

    A few parents are obsessed with scheduling something for every minute of the day. Most others are simply providing their children with what they ask for.  To be fair to, there’s not a lot of outdoor space, so travel sports may be the only option. In either case, parents I spoke to seemed neurotic, but I believe the neurosis emanates from trying to keep each child’s scheduled in check.

    As with everything else I write about, I am looking at the paradigm shift from my perspective as a dad, coach, and athlete.

    Here is how a typical night in my house goes:

    Me: “Please do your homework after dinner.”
    My son: “No, I’ll do it at 8.”

    My other son is sitting at the dinner table with one earbud in and the other out as he tries to engage in an after-dinner conversation with his mother. He’s on his iPad watching a video game replay on YouTube.

    Is there a treatment center for screen time addicts?!  It is an addiction. It sneaks up on us as parents. What’s the first step to addiction recovery? Admitting you have a problem.  At least we recognize it and, yes, we address it daily.

    The balance between screen time and over scheduling seems to be in maintaining a daily routine. Now that the kids are in school, our focus as parents has been to make sure the kids simply go out and play after school, be home for family dinner, do their homework, and go to bed within a reasonable time.  That’s all we ask for. Our youngest son, who just started middle school, upped the ante. He chose to join the wrestling team at school. Never in my life have I been interested in wrestling or thought I’d have a child interested in it as well. He also ended up in a band class and has chosen to pick up the Tuba. As you can imagine, our neighbors are pleased…

    Like wrestling, band is something my wife and I had no interest in either. Not for any reason, we just weren’t. Regardless of what we think, we are happy he chose these activities and, because they are his choice, we don’t feel like the daily time commitments for either activity are too much. We also feel he deserves screen time. As long as he finishes his homework and does well in school, how can we argue?

    Our older son was doing well on the middle school track team but was hit with a bout of pneumonia and decided to stop playing sports for now. We are okay with his decision because he’s been in team sports since he was 4 years old. He gets near perfect grades (my wife’s genes) and is popular among his friends. He does enter digital utopia where he remains obsessed for days on end. He realizes on his own when it has a negative effect on his health. I’m risking sounding like a bad parent with the hope to help other parents know we share in their struggle.

    It’s a fact — there’s nothing we could do to get him off his electronics. I have hid the phone, computer, and iPad everywhere including in the microwave and freezer. He’s found them. I even slept on the iPad, and somehow he managed to pry it out from under me without waking me up.

    My wife and I feel there’s nothing we could do to balance either child’s screen time without inciting a modern-day rebellion. I have hidden their smart phones, computers, and tablets in what I thought were genius places, but in these moments, it feels like we have no control. I will give computer companies, phone providers, and cable companies credit. They recently have gotten better at offering their own version of time limits and access control, but our kids still seem to find a way to work around them. Their ingenuity is quite impressive!

    At the end of the day sticking to a routine that offers balance without over or under scheduling their time seems to be the best compromise for all of us. We chose to limit organized activities to one sport per season, welcoming participation in the arts and allowing for free time, which includes screen time. Managing their routines is still a fight, but I guess that is what being a parent is all about.

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