The debate rages everywhere—in parenting groups, online, in advice columns. And of course, very vocally at home. Kids beg for more, more, more screen time. Today more than half of US parents of teens limit their access to devices. At least somewhat. But there’s hardly a consensus on what is right and wrong. (For some guidance, see “A Food Pyramid for Kids‘ Media Consumption.”) Mostly, everyone’s finding their own way through, figuring out what works for their own brood. Like these three families.
LEVEL 1 Lockdown
Monitoring tech used: None, but the kids don’t have handheld devices, and the family doesn’t have cable or streaming TV. Their antenna brings in only one children‘s network: PBS Kids. Jon has a tablet, and under parental supervision the girls can occasionally play games on it. But no YouTube allowed.
Parent POV: “I grew up with TV everywhere, and it doesn’t seem to have adversely affected me. But we were looser before with both girls and saw that their behavior was terrible when they first started watching Netflix. They were screaming, ‘I need Sofia the First NOW!’ So we did full cleanses of nothing, and now they’re fine. They don’t even care that much about screens.” —Ia
Kid POV: “I wish I could watch more shows. But I like to play outside or color. I want to play videogames. I want to play Fortnite or Minecraft, and I’m not sure why I don’t.” —Esme [Narrator’s voice: It’s because her parents won’t let her.]
LEVEL 2 Under Watch
Monitoring tech used: OurPact app, iOS Screen Time, Find My iPhone. OurPact limits the kids‘ phones to just sending and receiving calls and texts during school hours and from 8 pm to 7 am. Screen Time limits Safari browsing, turns off gaming and Siri, and blocks explicit content. Find My iPhone lets Kira track the kids‘ locations in the event of an emergency. The kids can’t have social media until ninth grade. When Dante got Instagram, Kira shared the account with him and sometimes saw his DMs. When he began to be bullied, she intercepted the DMs and talked to him about them. Ultimately Dante chose to suspend his account. They have no TV, only a projector for movie night. Dante has a laptop, which he ne permission to use.
“I had social media in grade 9, but it was too addictive. And when I was on it, other teenagers were bullying me. I felt pretty good about my mom having joint access, and she was definitely helpful when things popped up. I just want to have real-life friendships.” —Dante
LEVEL 3 Free-for-All
Monitoring tech used: None. Acher and Noah watch YouTube Kids. Occasionally Corby will go through Acher’s search history. Both boys have their own iPads, and they can play online games and watch streaming shows.
Screen time limit: None.
Parent POV: “Originally, when Acher was a baby, I didn’t want him watching TV. I was worried that he would get sucked into it and he would become a zombie kid. Then he got an iPad for Christmas from a grandparent, and I was a little skeptical at first, but he seemed to be really interested in the world. I believe that technology is a good tool.”
“I agree. I like to give them opportunity and free rein to go out and explore.” —Matt
Parent POV: “We were recently called into a meeting with Acher’s teachers, who were concerned when he wrote in an assignment that he wanted to be an ethical hacker and ‘delete bad hacker [YouTube] videos’ when he grows up. That was fun explaining to them our philosophy on letting them explore and using technology as a force for learning.”
This article appears in the June issue. Subscribe now.
Let us know what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor at email@example.com.
More From Our Series on Kids and TechnologyInside the Hybrid Digital-Analog Lives of ChildrenHobbyKidsTV, YouTube, and the New World of Child StarsBuild a Raspberry Pi GoBot With Your KidsFacing the Ubiquity of Fortnite in Our Kids‘ LivesA Food Pyramid for Kids‘ Media ConsumptionWhat Online Chess Taught One Teen About Digital LifeIt’s the World Slime Convention! Let’s Goo!