How do you set limits on screen time with your kids? This is a question I ask my friends increasingly these days as my son gets older and his devices — and the rules that accompany them — seem to proliferate on their own. If I’m going to be honest, I think I’m a little too lenient with screens, but it’s not easy with a two-income household and a kid whose primary interests (and homework) require his computer.
So I’m asking parents how they do it. How do they determine how much screen time is enough (and how much is too much)? How do they set limits in a world where devices feel increasingly ubiquitous?
It’s a complicated question, it turns out, because their answers differ wildly not just by parenting styles, but also by location and lifestyle. A suburban kid in a small school may not require daily use of a cellphone, for instance, whereas a city kid who's taking public transportation by themselves probably will. It's complicated, in other words, like all things parenting-related.
My first subject: Karen Walrond. She’s an accomplished photographer and author who lives in Houston, Texas. Her daughter is Alexis, 13.
Where she hails from: Trinidad. And as Walrond will tell you, “Trini moms don’t play.” In other words, she is one tough mother — at least in my estimation. “I actually think I’m too permissive,” she tells me. (She is not too permissive.)
The bottom line: During the week there is no screen time allowed at all. No television, no computer, no iPad, no phone. Nothing. If it’s a school day, there are zero screens involved. Her phone is confiscated until the weekend. Alexis lives an almost unbearably quaint existence, where she probably churns butter or something. (I’m making this part up.)
What about the weekend, though? On Friday afternoon Alexis gets her electronics back. “We watch television together Friday nights — we’re on a marathon of The Office. On Saturday she’s supposed to do her homework, so she doesn’t get screen time until her homework’s done.”
But after that? It’s all screens, all the time (or as much as she wants, anyway) until bedtime on Sunday. “I mean, she’s not supposed to be online until she’s done what she’s supposed to do during the day. But once she’s gotten her chores and everything done, she’s good to go. Oh — and I take the phone at night. If I didn’t she’d be on it all night long.”
How does her daughter feel about it? “She doesn’t complain about it at all, which is good. She’s so busy during the week that she doesn’t have time to think about it. She doesn’t get home until 5 and then she has homework and dinner and an hour of guitar practice every day. There’s no time to grumble.”
Doesn’t she have homework on her computer? “Not at her school, no.” (Most of my son’s homework involves a computer. I am sick with envy.)
Aren’t her friends on their phones? “I don’t know. Maybe? I get the impression that other parents let their kids use their phones during the week, but honestly, I haven’t checked.” (Because she’s mentally healthy, I think.)
Regarding the weekend activity — do you check what she’s up to? “Yes, and she knows that I do. I don’t do it surreptitiously,. This equipment is ours, so we have the right to check it. Her email is all forwarded to me, and if anything she appreciates it because she doesn’t check her email all that much so I’m her assistant. She also has an Instagram account that I follow.”
Have there been any social media incidents? Any times where she's gotten into trouble? “Really, no. She’s pretty good. A couple of times I’ve said, 'You know, you might want to rephrase this; I think someone might misunderstand.'” (Adorable. Also, Alexis just turned 13. So there's still time for some serious teenage shit to go down. Not that I'm wishing for such a thing. I swear I'm not a terrible person.)
My son is on his phone and his computer throughout the week. Oh, and his Xbox. Are you judging me? Be honest. “No way! I think you think I’m crazy.”
(For the record, I do not think she’s crazy.)