We’ve all thought it; sometimes it’s just hard to find the balance of where to land. (It’s something I’ve blogged about before–5 Principles Parents Should Remember When Setting the Bar).
I constantly come across articles and studies on each polar extreme. “Exert control over your children’s media choices.” No… “you might not be helping your kid when you try to control everything your kid sees, plays, and listens to.”
Who are we to believe?
Is there a balance?
A few days ago Psychology Today posted an article by Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College, encouraging parents to think twice before limiting your kids’ screen time and video game play. Gray is pretty confident in kids’ abilities to make good choices about how to use their free time, especially when they’re given the freedom to play and explore in lots of different ways. Gray contends:
It is always a mistake, I think, to tell kids what they must or must not do, except in those cases where you are telling them that they must do their share of the chores around the house or must not do things that hurt you or other people. Whenever we prevent our kids from playing or exploring in the ways they prefer, we place another brick in a barrier between them and us. We are saying, in essence, “I don’t trust you to control your own life.” Children are suffering today not from too much computer play or too much screen time. They are suffering from too much adult control over their lives and not enough freedom.
Gray’s article isn’t just talking about computer time, he includes TV watching in his list of activities that parents should consider not limiting, despite what some experts say. He provides a personal example:
I know well a kid who, for years, spent hours per day watching television shows that I thought were really disgustingly dumb; but, over time, I discovered that she was getting a lot out of them. They were making her think in new ways. She understood all the ways in which the shows were dumb, at least as well as I did; but she also saw ways in which they were smart, and she analyzed them and learned from them
He goes on to argue that parents shouldn’t limit reading, computer time, video game time and other activities. (I encourage you to read the entire article, even if you don’t agree with it)
Is Gray right? Or is this kind of thinking like the report I shared in Chapter 3 of my parenting book about the lenient parenting styles in the Netherlands, where parents often allow their teenage girls to have boyfriends spend the night in their bedrooms. Seem crazy? Then why are U.S. teen birthrates 8 times higher than the Netherlands?
Let me quickly insert, I don’t agree with these lenient parenting styles, but I include this kind of research in my reading frequently to see if there are any nuggets of truth we can learn from them. For example, in that Netherlands report that I noted in my book, the channels of communication seemed to be extremely open between parents and teenagers.
The question is, can we have good relationships with our kids without turning into a “yes” man? (“Yes, you can play video games as long as you want.” “Yes, you can go to bed when you want.“ “Yes, you can have your boyfriend spend the night.”)
At what point does leniency become advocacy of harmful activities?
So what do you think?
Is Gray right?
Should we be concerned about these “bricks” we place as a barrier between our kids and us when we prevent them from playing the way they prefer? (At what point are we trying too hard to be friend, instead of parent?)
Where do we draw the line? (What if my kid wants to play the new Zelda game on Wii for 9 hours on a Saturday? What if they want to play Grand Theft Auto? At what point do we know if we meet Gray’s definition of “things that hurt you or other people”?)
Should there be a limit to screen time? (in other words, do you agree with Gray- who says “no limit,” or the American Academy of Pediatrics who says, “yes- set limits.”)