Carolyn Hax: Advice

Limiting kids’ screen time, with flexibility

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

DEAR CAROLYN: My husband and I have an ongoing disagreement about how much technology we allow in the kids’ lives. They’re exposed to so much of it during the week that I think the weekends should serve as “nature retreats” (so to speak). I worry that we’re depriving the kids when we let their world be dictated by screens. What do you suggest?

World View

DEAR WORLD VIEW: Unless he wants them on screens for the majority of their days, your kids will be better served by your compromising with your husband than they will by your winning the battle for tech-free weekends.

I say this as a deep skeptic of the value of screens in kids’ lives, and a witness to what can go wrong with internet overexposure to kids way too young to handle it. You-I-we are the first wave of parents raising kids in a world where most of them have access to everything, on an easily concealed device, often starting at ages under 10. So, you shield your kid, then your kid is in a classroom/playground/locker room with a 10-year-old talking porn. It’s horrifying.

But your best chance against the encroachment of values you deplore isn’t a weekend lockdown that your own partner is reluctant to help you enforce; your staunchest ally is actually the strength of your marriage and the warmth of your home environment.

Yes, do build outdoor time into your weekends — make it your family time. Make sure their world is dictated by a balance of things, like your interests and theirs, and necessities, and charity, and etc.

And flexibility belongs there, too. If your husband were all in, then I’d say, great, go for it (though I’d urge you to be mindful of the level of buy-in you get from your kids, especially over time, since rigidity is a great way to lose them).

But since you and your husband disagree, the emphasis is better placed on finding ways to balance your needs with the needs of people you love — and finding ways to have technology available without its owning you. There are a lot of good examples to set in there.

If he can agree with you on this goal, then chances are he’ll work with you on reaching it.

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