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The Heart of Screen Time

Helping our children navigate the digital world with healthy habits

My daughter eats a balanced diet and gets plenty of sleep. My hope is that her heart is protected not only physically, but also emotionally. Two years ago at her wellness checkup, the doctor recommended that our family purchase filtering software to protect our daughter from accidentally stumbling on inappropriate Internet sites. So this year when the doctor asked my husband and me if we had a filtering system and we shamefully hung our heads, he highly encouraged us to do so. Again. This time his request seemed more urgent, possibly because some studies have found that the average age at which children are exposed to pornography on the Internet is now 8 years old. My daughter is 8.


The evening following my daughter's doctor appointment, we subscribed to a filtering system that blocks access to inappropriate Internet content. Filtering systems can also be installed on mobile devices. Even with the safeguards in place, my husband and I still closely supervise my daughter's screen time. However, there is no way that we can possibly be by her side every time she's on the playground, sitting in the backseat of a carpool ride, or playing at a friend's home.

The risk is real. A few weeks ago, as I casually chatted with some folks in the lobby of a church, I noticed my daughter and two other children sitting on the floor, laughing as they viewed an iPod Touch. I excused myself and told my daughter that it was time to go.

"Aw, Mom, do we have to go?"

"What were ya' watching?" I asked casually.

"Just a video of a hamster swimming," my daughter replied, laughing.

Innocent? Yes. However, the children huddled together, essentially unmonitored, had access to a world that I don't want my curious child freely exploring. Plus, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children through the age of 14 be closely supervised when on the computer.

We need to teach our children about what's appropriate and what's not, before they are teenagers. The chances of a child coming across inappropriate content are high, especially when little ones don't know quite how to correctly spell words. People know how to trap innocent eyes. We need to invite our children to come to us when they encounter something that doesn't seem quite right. Sadly, when some children are innocently exposed to pornography, they feel shame and don't tell anyone. Talk to your children and protect them the best that you can, both physically and mentally.

Social Graces

"Yes, there will be a kiddo to play with," I answered my daughter, as my family was en route to a dinner party.

However, nothing remotely close to the definition of "play" occurred over the course of the evening. The newfound friend was fixated on a hand-held game for the duration of our visit, including dinnertime. When my daughter tried to engage with the child and got no response, she gave me a very confused look and whispered, "What's wrong?" I didn't know quite what to say.

Not long ago we were invited to a graduation party at a restaurant. My husband and I were at one end of a long table and our daughter was at the other end, sitting next to a friend. By the time our meals arrived, she was playing with someone's iPhone and didn't notice when the food arrived. When someone tried to pass her the bread, she looked up and our eyes locked. She very reluctantly returned the iPhone to the owner.

It's necessary to teach our children there's a time and a place for technology. Many times, young children miss sharing moments with others because they are too plugged in to technology.

Screen Time Defined

How much screen time is too much? The AAP recently reported that children spend an average of seven hours a day "plugged in" to media of some sort. However, AAP recommends that children older than two years old should get no more than two hours a day of quality screen time. Why? Children need a chance to simply unwind, play outside, read a book, and relate with others. Aside from any study, screen time that trumps meaningful connections is possibly too much screen time.

Consider establishing certain times when your home is screen-free. Understand your child's school schedule. If a child spent one hour in the computer lab at school, an extra hour on the computer at home, coupled with television and a few rounds of Angry Birds, the total would exceed what's considered healthy.

Instead of abandoning technology, we need to understand how technology works and how it impacts our families. Limiting screen time limits risks and helps keep hearts emotionally healthy.

• To find out more about Internet filtering systems, visit www.internetsafety.com.

• Report illegal or threatening Internet content to authorities and also to www.cybertipline.com.

Heather Villa is a wife, mother, and freelance writer who searches for untold stories. She cherishes the moments when she reads wonderful books with her family and facilitates a church small group with her husband.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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