Screen time, breaks, and everything in between


I’m poking my head in here to say that I’m still around. Its been a little quiet here in the past few weeks because…well, I kind of needed to be after talking about death.  Such a deep subject that I had no experience in talking to children about but personal experience with–well, that requires a short sabbatical in my book. (And also, because I felt a little bit of a writer’s block).

However, in the past few weeks, I got published (oh, yes!) in the New York Times. Yippeee!!! You can check it out here – I’m the third one down. I talked about my decision about going back to work after having kids. It’s kind of a big deal, in my opinion. A stroke of luck that they plucked my response out of however many people submitted their thoughts. It’s not a full article, but I consider it checked off my bucket list.

The only reason why I submitted my response in the first place is because I subscribe to the New York Times Parenting newsletter, which comes to my inbox roughly twice(?) a month. Last week’s newsletter was particularly interesting because it talked about screen time–one of the hottest topics in the parenting world today. Should you allow screen time? If so, how much?

The editor’s experience with it pretty much mirrors my own. In it, she talked about how sometimes you just need to plop a child in front of the TV so you can get some stuff done around the house. I know. I’ve been there.


On an almost daily basis, while my kids stared at the TV, my husband and I usually do laundry, wash the dishes (and there are always mountains of them, as well as laundry), take out the trash, clean up stuff, sweep, wipe surfaces, put away bedding, get dressed, make breakfast and/or dinner, and do whatever else needs to get done around the house. Then, if they’re still engrossed in the TV, we’d proceed to have an adult conversation (which is fantastic when you’re not being interrupted every five seconds), or sit down on the computer and work on personal stuff. As the editor of NYT Parenting, Jessica Grose said, “Sometimes you just need to cook dinner without your 2-year-old up in your grill.”

If you’ve been there, then you know what I mean.

That said, my experience with TV and technology in general is dramatically different than the children of today. I’m not ashamed to say that I was an avid TV consumer. As a child, I did not have access to television–or quality television, that is. We probably had a black & white TV, I don’t remember specifically, and it didn’t always work. So I didn’t watch a lot of TV growing up in Vietnam. It wasn’t until we came to America that I gained access to a full-sized color TV (even if it was one of those ginormous Sharp ones) in my room that I began to devour it like a vampire who hasn’t had a feed in years. I watched everything mainly because I was trying to learn English and because I was bored. If the parents weren’t around…well, I figured it was better to stay home and watch TV than to go out and cause trouble.

steve urkel
Gotta love this guy!

Today’s generation, though, is unfortunately bombarded with so many choices, not just television but iPads, cell phones, games, internet, Hulu, Spotify, Snapchat and a hoard of other social media apps. It’s too much I think, and that’s where the “consume” part gets out of hand. It’s hard to stop our children from doing what we are already doing ourselves.

Still, I’m an advocate for using technology to your advantage. And that advantage is learning. I learned a heck of a lot of new words by watching TV shows like Power Rangers, Little House on the Prairie, Full House, Family Matters, Seinfeld, and The Simpsons. It taught me about popular culture and to appreciate the world that I live in.

the simpsons
Oh yes – one of my all-time favorite shows still, even to this day.

Somehow, the subject came back to me today serendipitously through the discovery of a new podcast called NPR’s Life Kit Parenting, this episode called The Brighter Side of Screen Time. It was such a phenomenal episode because they took away the ambiguity and ambivalence that some parents may have regarding screen time with children–by putting a positive spin on it.

I don’t know where I got the idea from, but when I became a parent, I was certain that I would NOT allow my children too much screen time (although I didn’t know exactly what constitutes “too much”). Perhaps I heard it through the American Academy of Pediatrics, or from the pediatrician’s office, or through some mommy blogs or newsletters, but I was convinced that limiting screen time would be the way to go.

For awhile, we were pretty good with letting my daughter watch only educational TV – shows on PBS Kids only (Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood was on constant rotation, with its cutesy introductory songs and life lessons about sharing and anger and sadness was truly a sack of sappiness, which drove me crazy). Then I had a toddler and I was a mom working late at night while also pregnant with my second child…and thus, the iPad was introduced. Many mornings, after being woken up at 6:30 a.m. by my daughter (why oh why didn’t she wake up at 7:00 a.m.?), I’d stumble throughout my day, and by 1:00 p.m. I was so exhausted that I desperately wanted to take a nap, or at least lay down. Toddlers can drive you crazy with their constant energy, so I gave her the iPad to allow me some much-needed quiet time.


I don’t know why I felt so guilty about it, but I did. In retrospect, I don’t think it was a bad thing anymore. The games my daughter played was educational in value (I didn’t download anything else); thus, she learned the ABCs, numbers, shapes, and many new things. She learned that she can fail but that she can try again. That it was mentioned in the Life Kit Parenting episode made me feel like I didn’t completely fail my child. Teaching resilience and certain skills such as the alphabet, numbers, and shapes are essential for development. Today, she’s one of the smartest six-year-old readers I know, and although I can’t credit all of that to the iPad, I can say that she did learn a lot of new things while playing those games.

But of course, there’s the other side of it too. Having a balance with screen time is more than just time, says the episode’s hosts. It’s also about social connection. As the hosts said,

“It’s not the games or the media that is inherently problematic; it’s the fact that parents don’t even try to relate to their kids’ interests.” – NPR’s Life Kit Parenting

This statement was like a light bulb for me because I’ve never really thought of consuming media as much of a social thing as it is a personal thing. You can certainly play games with other people, sure, but you mainly do it on your own. What’s really interesting is the idea that we, as parents, can play games with our children and/or talk about it.

I agree with the editor NYT Parenting newsletter that a lot of stuff that are supposedly designed for children is just terrible (think, YouTube Kids videos), which is why as a parent, we have to be smart about the content that we’re letting our kids consume. Just as we wouldn’t watch anything that we consider vulgar, we shouldn’t let them watch anything that we consider low quality either.

If you haven’t listened to the episode, I highly recommend it. In the meantime, we’ll be busy watching Spongebob Squarepants over here.


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