The Problem Isn’t Screentime. It’s Parent Time

Don’t lecture parents. Invest in them

Graphic made from various free resources by Raw Pixel et al on Vecteezy

In the 90s, my mother took three children on a multiple layover, 48-hour flight with just a few cassette tapes. Any time I take a flight I thank God for screen time.

The fact is that for any modern parent, screentime is a godsend. Do you want to take a dump without someone screaming outside the door? Screentime. Do you just need 5 minutes ere you dropkick your child out a window? Screentime. Are they up at 5 AM and you just can’t? Screentime.

The only question is how much.

How Much Screentime?

The WHO recommendation for screentime is less than one hour per day, starting after one year of age. However, this only tells you what not to do.

The real issue is how to you fill the other 23 hours. Are you working two jobs? Can you afford daycare? Are you worried about a roof over your head? Screentime isn’t the problem. It’s parent time.

My family follows these recommendations, but that’s largely because we’re lucky rich, not because we’re better parents. We just have a lot more time and money to do other things.

My wife stays home, we have paid help, good daycare, family support, and I work regular hours near the house. We live in a culture where extended families care for children and we own a home and have savings.

It’s not that kids need less screentime, it’s that they need more parent time.

What About The Other Time?

In the media much of the focus is on how screens damage children and not on how our society damages families. There’s a lot of information about how screentime damages kids, which may be right, but that’s looking at a symptom and not the cause. The cause is that parents are struggling.

If you’re a single parent working two jobs, reducing screentime is not helpful advice. People aren’t putting their kids in front of screens because they’re bad parents, they’re just busy. I’m not a better parent than them, I’m just luckier. Our societies should redistribute the luck.

In practical terms, this means redistributing wealth. My wife can stay home because we have wealth. She can decide to work because we can afford daycare. Every parent deserves these options. Countries should have universal basic income, and parenting work should be paid like anything else. Daycare should be subsidized or free.

I honestly can’t think of a better government investment than our children. According to UNICEF, a dollar invested in early childhood easily gives around 10x returns. Instead of countries investing in tax breaks or buildings or jails, invest in people, and invest young, when it has the most impact.

If I ruled the world I would quickly invest everything in one healthy generation that could fix the world. I think it would work. It would certainly work better than moralizing about screentime.

Money is time and if parents just have more time then screentime naturally decreases. Hence, if you want to reduce screentime don’t lecture working parents, invest in them. Redistribute the wealth.