99 Problems

Published on May 17th, 2016 | by Katie Tastrom


I Refuse to Talk to Other Parents About Screen Time—Says KATIE TASTROM

Parents have a reputation for being nosy know-it-alls when it comes to raising kids. As a parent I hate to admit how often this is true. Too frequently I meet parents who know what is best for not only their kids, but everyone else’s kids too. And also some currently childless people who have a lot of opinions they want to share with me about the mistakes I am making. I don’t need you to tell me all the ways I am fucking up (believe me, no one is harder on my parenting skills than I am!) Instead, do what my husband and I do and talk privately behind people’s backs about how their kids will grow up into monsters! Kidding! (Mostly.) At least that way they don’t have to hear about it

One of the biggest modern parenting dilemmas centers around “screen time.” “Screen time” is how much time you allow your kids to look at electronic “screens,” obviously. Computers, TV, videogames, etc. If you would like far too many articles detailing the ideal amount to provide children at different ages, welcome to Google. The term itself sets my teeth on edge. Parents will engage in casual conversation sizing each other up about “screen time” and how much their kid should get and I just stay out of it. I walk away if I can. (To be honest, I walk away from a lot of conversations about the “right” ways of parenting).


by duncan c / Flickr Creative Commons License

Screen time is a really silly concept to begin though with because not all the time kinds spend interacting with screens is the same. My older kids read on their Kindle, play math facts games on the computer, watch fluffy Disney Channel shows, watch shows like Project Runway and RuPaul’s Drag Race with me, play Minecraft and other video games, etc. You get the idea. I’m not going to treat their math facts games (some of which are more math facts than games) the same way I am going to treat their shows about skinny-singing-superhero girls with lots of hair. But in a sense I guess I do because (when they aren’t grounded), they generally don’t have any specific limits on “screen time.” Though some shows do spur more discussions about the sexism, racism, sizeism, consumerism, etc. portrayed than others.

However, we have recently limited video games to a couple hours a day on weekends because they don’t seem to have the developmental capacity yet to self-moderate those and end up neglecting other responsibilities. Instead of specific TV or computer time limits, they have things that they have to accomplish and once they accomplish those (including playing outside in decent weather), they can watch TV or do whatever. (The funny thing is,they often choose to read or hang out with their baby brother.) I believe that their free time is theirs to do what they want with. As long as they are not neglecting their responsibilities and they get enough active and imaginative play time, they can control the rest. There is so little that kids have control of in their lives, especially how they spend their time, that I don’t want to impose unnecessary limits on it.

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“Elmo” by Alessandro Valli / Flickr Creative Commons

I also have a toddler. You know how much TV he watches? A lot. Most people would say too much. And pediatricians recommend that he doesn’t get any TV at this age, but fuck that. But he also does a lot of other things too and gets a ton of developmental and physical exercise. He’s fine. And you know what makes him even better? The fact that I am relaxed at home with him all day because I know that if I need a break I can put on Elmo and rot his brain by teaching him how to count and what letters look like. But you know what? I won’t tell people this (usually). At least not people with kids or strong opinions about how to raise kids.

Do I sound like I am trying to convince folks that my way is the best way? I’m not. I don’t really care at all how much “screen time” your kids get. Two hours a week? Great! 5 hours a day? Fine! They will never see a screen until they are an adult? Seems kind of hard to manage, but whatever, sure! Just like everything else, as long as everyone is safe and relatively happy, whatever works for you and your family is what works. If anything I feel the need to justify my own position because of (generally well-meaning) busybodies who make judgments about every parenting decision ever made.

hugo tv

I will admit I usually find the “I grew up like that and I turned out fine” excuse pretty unpersuasive, especially since it is usually used in a context that tells you that the person did not turn out fine at all. But, let’s get real, most of us who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s watched a whole hell of a lot of television as kids. Screen time is not like spanking or hitting your kids where it is the kind of thing where other people may need to get involved. Sure screen time can be indicative of a larger problem, for example a kid whose parents have addiction issues and are not in a state of mind where they can connect with the kid so instead just put them in front of the TV, but in scenarios like that screen time is the symptom, not the problem. If the worst thing you are doing as a parent is that your kids watch too much TV you are doing extremely well. If there are a lot of other things going on in your family that end up with a lot of TV being watched then I hope you are able to access resources to help with those.

I think that for a lot of people, including professionals, screen time is often used as a proxy for other things. The presence of screen time is thought as also a measure of the absence of other things (reading, imaginative play, parental bonding, etc.) In reality, this isn’t always the case. I understand that public health professionals need to give general guidelines to families, and I don’t quibble with that as long as they are seen as general guidelines. Like clothing, one size fits all doesn’t actually fit all.


If I sound defensive it is because I am. So much of screen time involves saving my own sanity. It is a way for me to get a break when I get too worn out by the parenting grind, so like, every half an hour or so. (Just kidding, that is an exaggeration, I can usually go at least an hour without almost losing it.)

I believe that there is no single thing better for kids than happy and relaxed parents. And if that means calling in Dora and Thomas the Train as reinforcements, that’s totally fine with me. And I don’t want to hear what you think.

emma tv

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About the Author

Katie Tastrom-Fenton is a queer disabled fat femme mama who lives in upstate NY with her four kids, perfect dog, and almost perfect partner. She spends her time as a freelance writer-lawyer-crisis line worker-consultant-hyphenate enthusiast. You should read her mostly book review blog at askkatie.tumblr.com and feel free to ask her for advice because she is great at giving it. Contact her at katie.tastrom@gmail.com.

5 Responses to I Refuse to Talk to Other Parents About Screen Time—Says KATIE TASTROM

  1. JodyL says:

    I think saying, “I LOVE THIS!” is probably putting it mildly.

  2. Rhea Wolf says:

    I love you for writing this. So much. I just relaxed myself around screen time, considering it’s one of the main delights a daughter of mine enjoys. Every single child is different and deserves unique treatment based on who they are. Thank you for sharing this with the world!

  3. Beck says:

    I’m so sick of other parents putting their dogma and hangups on me. Thanks for giving me the feeling of solidarity here.

  4. Wry says:

    I so needed to see this today. Yes. Exactly. I grew up with a mom we affectionately called the The TV Nazi as teenagers. Screen time was heavily restricted and monitored. Which is fine, I understand her reasoning and concerns in retrospect. What’s not cool is that she now concern trolls at me about the Screen Time my kid gets. Which is more or less as much as she wants and I’m comfortable letting her see content my mother would not be (so….like….super hero cartoons and pg 13 movies). She can’t seem to grasp I’m raising this kid in a different technological era and under very different circumstances than she was raising her kids, and that I have some values that are different than hers (like I think it’s important she know her peers pop culture references more than it’s important she’s protected from some of the problematic aspects of pop culture, I’d rather let her see and talk about it with her). And we just had a round of that this morning so it’s validating to see some similar views expressed.

  5. Hi Katie! I have often thought this same thing, especially as a person with disabilities and who is Deaf. I also have Chronic Illness which comes and goes. It was very bad for the last two years and has been an on again, off again thing for most of my life. Anyway, if I were to have or raise children, screen time would be absolutely essential for my health. I have babysat children and also worked as a nanny for three years, helping to care for a little boy from when he was 6 months to three years old. This was a while ago, and there were less screens available. He was an easy child to care for. However, other children I have babysat were absolute terrors, even though they were my cousins and I love them. But it is true! Children, especially at ages 2-4, can be so difficult. The only thing that really got the more rowdy children I watched to behave and give me a break, which is much needed for my health, was the TV. And they were interacting with it, singing songs and dancing. It was not like I sat them down to watch Maury Povich, we watched Shrek. I am now in my mid-thirties and many of my friends have small children. They watch and interact with ipads. That is a way for their parents to take them places like social events and the child behaves and is entertained. I do not see an issue with it. Years have gone by and these children are fine. They were doing things on the ipad that, as you said, were about learning. It keeps their brains active and is challenging. It is like solving puzzles. I think more adults should put their brains to work solving some puzzles so they can perhaps at some point learn to think more critically about this issue. Just because something is on a screen, does not mean that it automatically rots your brain. That is not even an evidence-based statement, it is just conjecture. What does that even mean? Yes, if you watched something mindless all day every day, it would cause issues, I am sure. But that is not the case in your situation or in many situations where children are watching a screen. It is not just watching, either, it is interacting. That is how many screens work now.

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