Don’t Limit Your Teen’s Screen Time

Today we have a post from ChoreMonster CEO Chris Bergman. Chris is married with two children and takes on the controversial topic of screen time. This story was previously featured online at NyTimes.com.

Some children grow up wanting to play baseball all day, but I wanted to play Castlevania and Super Mario Brothers. Sadly, my parents believed I’d fry my brain for the love of videogames, so I was limited to an hour of screen time before dinner.

But that only fueled covert binging. Every time I was at a friend’s house, we’d spend the whole time glued to the Nintendo system. When I was at family reunions, my cousins and I would fight over who got to play next, and when my parents went out of town, it was a no-sleep videogame free-for-all.

I look back on those years and wonder why my parents thought that videogames were hurtful to my youth. They taught me how to tell stories, create worlds and even how to save and spend money. Videogames were my first real exposure to programming, and they helped me realize my career in technology.

Regardless, we are in a different era. Today, technology is so prevalent, it’s hard to keep it away from children and teenagers. But I don’t think we should even try. If we restrict our kids’ access, while we’re emailing from an Apple Watch, they won’t respect the rules when they have a chance to get around them.

As an experiment, I stopped restricting my children’s screen time in my house, and immediately saw results at a recent family reunion. My nephew lives in a strict, screen-regulated home. So, a trip to Grandma’s — where there are no restrictions or parental controls — means unlimited SpongeBob. While my kids were out playing with their cousins in the backyard, my nephew was locked on the TV for the entire evening. This wasn’t an opportunity for my kids to binge on tech because they couldn’t otherwise — they were more excited to spend time with cousins they never see.

Of course, kids will still binge. Adults binge. Netflix has built an entire viewing model around binging. But allowing children and teens to regulate their behavior like adults gives them room to naturally modify their own habits.

Plus, many kids do learn social and technical skills through screen time, even more so now then when I was growing up. For example, the vast majority of digital gaming today is a social event: Our kids are growing relationships online that often blossom into lifelong friendships. (Anecdotally, I met many of my friends through online games and even saw two — a couple who met through a World of Warcraft raid — end up happily married.)

Technology is not going away or becoming less popular. We should let our teenagers build on MineCraft, mess around in Photoshop, and make music in GarageBand. Eliminating screen time is a thing of the past, and if we want to stay technically savvy through our 60s, our kids will be the ones to teach us all the new tricks.

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