You’ve heard the negatives a million times. Screen time causes latent aggression, obesity, social anxiety disorder, ADHD and poor sleep habits. Kids who stay in and play video games should be outside playing sports and enjoying the sunshine, right?
The hammer has come down so hard on screen time that every time my children ask for it, I feel like I’m causing them physical and emotional damage by saying “yes”. When did that happen? When did something that we used to enjoy as children become the new crack cocaine for the next generation? And is it true? Are there any positives at all to screen time? Turns out, there are quite a few:
1. Videogames Can Benefit The Brain
According to a pair of researchers at the University of Rochester in New York, people who play video games are better able to process visual information and are better attuned to their surroundings while performing certain tasks, like driving. And that’s not all. At the University of Iowa, a study of 681 healthy individuals ages 50 and older revealed that playing 10 hours of a specially designed video game was able to stall the natural decline of different cognitive skills by up to seven years. That’s a pretty impressive statistic and certainly enough to consider buying grandma and grandpa an XBOX 1 this Christmas. Even more impressive? A brand new study from Beth Israel Medical Center has just suggested that videogamers make better surgeons.
2. Parents Need A Break
The screen as babysitter. It’s talked about as a negative, and sure, if it’s a 4 hour babysitting gig where the supervisor is Siri, that could be a problem. But how about the 20 minute sanity-saver for a new mom juggling an 8 month old and a 3 year old? Are you going to call her out for putting on a show for a little bit so she can get her shit together? Even if you plop down and enjoy a show with them, screen time acts as an oasis of rest, saving the mental health of every single parent out there. If turning on a movie or show for a little bit can totally captivate them so you can recharge, it’s worth it.
3. You Had Plenty As A kid
Atari, Colecovision, Betamaxes. G.I. Joe, Transformers, Thundercats. Waking up early with siblings on a Saturday morning to watch Smurfs, Superfriends, hell, even the Snorks. You probably spent a ton of time on the couch as a kid. Isn’t it hypocritical to start railing against screen time now?
4. It’s A Bonding Experience For Kids And Their Friends
Nobody can deny this. When you see your children cozied up on the couch with their friends and neighbors, connections are being made. Minds are melding (and maybe melting). Relationships building. There may be other ways to bond, that’s true, but watching TV and movies together is one of the strongest.
I don’t get to play video games with my kids too often. But when I do, I have an incredible time. My son listens attentively and we engage in teamwork in ways that’s sometimes hard to replicate in a real life situation. How often do you get to team-up with your children and competitively drive towards a goal together? Sure, real-life offers those kind of moments here and there: maybe a school project, or a parent-kid challenge. But with videogames, any time you want, you have at your fingertips an opportunity to cooperate with your kids in a competitive situation. There’s nothing quite like trying to beat a boss level in Donkey Kong Frozen Country, your son dodging spike balls while you jump on the head of an evil, giant Owl. The high-five that comes from finally clearing a world may seem trite to some, but in your kid’s eyes, you’re a frickin’ God.
6. Screen Time Can Be Educational
Some of the programs on TV are awesome. My kids have watched every episode of Cosmos, even with Neil DeGrasse Tyson hosting. In fact, in a recent study, the Education Development Center and the Ready To Learn Initiative found that a curriculum that involved digital media such as video games helped improve early literacy skills when coupled with strong parental and teacher involvement. Kids between the ages of 4-5 who participated showed increases in letter recognition, sounds association with letters and understanding basic concepts about stories and print. The key for this study was having high-quality educational titles, along with parents and teachers who were equally invested in the subject matter.
7. We Can Sleep In!
This is a corollary to #2, but perhaps even more important. As parents, we made the biggest sacrifice any person in their 20’s can make when we chose to have children: we gave up sleeping in. And now we’re taking it back. When kids are old enough to wake up and turn on the TV on a Saturday morning, and let mommy and daddy sleep a little longer, it’s like God himself parted the heavens and shined his warmth back into our lives. Sleeping in on the weekends is life itself returning. You can thank screen time for that.
8. Going To The Movies Is Fun
The 20 foot screens, the smell of the popcorn, sitting in a room full of people and having a shared social experience. When you leave, hopefully, your load feels a little lighter. Who doesn’t love going to the movies? If you’re against screen time, that means your against this great American pastime that’s been part of our culture since Hollywoodland appeared on the map. For kids, their first movie at a real theater is practically a rite of passage. And for dating, dinner and a movie will always be the go-to King.
9. Screen Time Can Be Social
Skyping, Face-timing, Email, Facebook – Almost all modern forms of communication take place using a screen. Screen Time keeps us in touch with our loved ones. How can that be a bad thing?
10. The Phone Is A life-Saver in the Car
What would car trips be without some screen time? Sure, they might miss that spectacular mountain view, or the beautiful sunset (most kids will actually look up for the sunset); but they’re content, they’re quiet, and mommy and daddy can hold a conversation up front, maybe put the music on low, and everyone can enjoy some family chill time. Phones, tablets, and DVD players are the saving grace of the 3 hour car ride.
Sure, it can have mind-numbing effects. And another study out of Iowa discovered children sleep more, do better in school, behave better and have additional health benefits when parents limit the amount of time their children spend on the computer or in front of the TV. But what that really means is you just have to use it sparingly. If you’re smart about it, and regulate the content, screen time can have a ton of positives: It’s an awesome bonding experience between friends, parents and children. It saves car-rides and Saturday mornings; and if you pick the right shows, you can actually learn something. On top of all this, surgeons who play videogames make 37% fewer mistakes! 37 percent! So lose the guilt, break out the controllers, and treat your family to a little bit of (well-regulated, appropriately-themed) screen time tonight.