Five Questions to Ask as You Create Your Family’s Approach to Screens

by Kim Allsup 

Growing Children  October, 2018

brunette woman in red with girl in yellow on lap before laptop

Photo by Pixabay on

I have a scar on my lower lip because I was a child before cars had seat belts and forgiving interiors. The driver braked hard and I flew into the sharp edge of a metal strip. Many new technologies are not inherently safe and the automobile is still in the not-quite-fully-safe category. After driving me to the hospital for painful stitches, my parents didn’t quit transporting their kids in cars. But they were among the first to install seatbelts. 

Similarly, screens and the many forms of engagement they engender are in the not-quite-fully-safe category. But, while an automobile injury features blood, loud crying and a hospital visit, screen injury can easily go undetected. It is not always clear that a child has been harmed by too much or the wrong type of screen time. We can’t see or hear the neural pathways, the natural habits and normal development that have been damaged.     

Parents are waking up to the potential dangers associated with too much screen time. Yet there is little agreement about how much is too much and how young is too young. This article in the New York Times quotes Silicon Valley parents from the entire spectrum of parenting approaches to screen management, from the most liberal to the most conservative. here

In general, your parenting style may be based on how your parents taught you. This makes sense when it comes to teaching how to light a candle, cross a street or get to bed at a reasonable hour. But your parents did not teach you how to avoid addiction to social media. You’ve got to come up with parental wisdom about screens on your own.

Most parents will develop a family screen culture somewhere in the wide middle ground, between telling their child “the iPhone is the Devil” and “whatever you want to do is fine by me.”  

Here are five questions to ask as you create your family’s approach to screens: 

1. How does screen time affect children’s physical, mental, emotional health and development at each age? read more here

and here

and here

 and here

2. Does my child need extra protection from screen time or certain types of screen time because he or she is especially sensitive?  read more here

and here

3. What are the screen time recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics? read these here

 4. Is my parental instinct enough to go by when setting a course for for my child’s screen use?  Since we can’t see the neurological affects of screen time, our instincts may not be sound. Further, if you were damaged by screen addiction as a child, you may not be aware that your own child is spending too much time online.   

5. What can I learn from other parents and from my child’s teachers about screen time? Read about what other parents do, especially parents who are experts. Ask your child’s teachers whether they think your child would benefit from less screen time. (A teacher told me about a parent who weaned a first grader from all screens and his school behavior improved dramatically.) more here  

You are in the position of developing your family’s approach to screen engagement in an era when we don’t fully understand the promise or the potential damage to the human psyche from this wide range of technologies and programs. As you determine your family approach and discuss it with others, you help to build the next phase of our culture’s relationship with these powerful tools. You are part of the generation that will establish the screen equivalent of everything we use to make cars safer. Your generation will discover the screen time version of the seat belt, the air bag, drivers ed, safer car interiors, stronger frames. This is a big responsibility both as a parent and as a member of a generation creating the culture of  the future.


Kim Allsup was a grade school teacher for 25 years. She writes about motivation in childhood which is a key topic in her teaching memoir, A Gift of Wonder, A True Story Showing School as it Should Be. 

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