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I grew up without television. Now, as a mom, I'm generous with the screen time I give my kids.

Olivia Christensen's kids watching their iPads
Olivia Christensen

  • Growing up, things like television, computers, and video games were strictly prohibited.
  • Instead, I entertained myself by talking to animals, hanging out with my siblings, and reading.
  • As a mom, I don't limit my kids' screen time.

As we enter the final weeks of summer break, who isn't feeling guilty over their kids' screen time? Me, that's who. And my kids have had plenty of it.

My generous attitude toward screen time was shaped by my own screen-free childhood in which television, Game Boys, computers, and video games were all strictly forbidden.

Because of this and the sizable farm where I grew up, I spent my time reading in trees, making friends with livestock, and creating unshakable bonds with my siblings. In other words, all of the things we want our kids to be doing.

Yet, I decided that I wouldn't deny my children screen time in an effort to re-create a magical childhood like mine. Here's why. 

There are enough hours in the day for play and TV

My first reason: There are plenty of hours in a day. There's time for my kids to catch tadpoles and watch "Gravity Falls."

And while there are days my kids seem happy to watch TV until their brains turn to mush, what I've noticed is that given a consistently generous allowance of screen time, eventually, they get bored. Once bored, they're off to chase lizards, read each other stories, and build dioramas out of the junk they find on their bedroom floors.

Meanwhile, they're learning self-governance. There are still days when I have to shout, "Screen time is over, time to get a hobby," and watch them scatter like houseflies. But most of the time, they view screen time as consolation for when the neighbor kids aren't home, and it's too hot to bake in the kitchen. 

My childhood wasn't all magical

My second reason for being openhanded with screen time: The ways my screen-free childhood failed me. Because despite how magical such a childhood may sound, it left quite a few gaps in my education. Gaps that included the trivial but otherizing — such as '90s cultural moments — and the more serious, like how to operate computers.

If you haven't pieced it together yet, I grew up in one of those homeschooling families you see on TLC. We did needlework while other kids played with Game Boys; my mom read us poetry while other kids watched "Arthur" — and everyone thought we were weird.

But everything trends at some point, and these days I feel like my entire generation idealizes a return to simpler times, and yet with the technological revolution we've been experiencing over the past few decades, we've never been further from that "simple" reality.

If I feel uncomfortable in a society where everyone understands the same pop-culture references and seems confident working with technology while I'm still pretending to understand Mr. Feeny jokes and listing Word as a skill on my résumé, I can only imagine how out of touch my kids might feel if they weren't allowed screens. Because someday their friends will discuss "Minecraft" in the same nostalgic way my generation discusses "The Legend of Zelda." Not to mention that in the technological reality we live in, it would be irresponsible for me not to prepare them for a future where coding is a basic job requirement.

Obviously, as the American Academy of Pediatrics says, there are limits. And televisions and tablets will never be a substitute for supervision and human interaction. Screen time, like everything else, should be handled with common sense.

That said, I'm living proof that screen-free children don't grow into superior adults, but I'll always wonder if I'm an untapped tech genius in a way my kids never will. Instead, they'll face their mediocrity with a sense of humor shaped by Netflix Kids and pink-haired YouTube gamers. Meanwhile, I'll be over here enjoying my summer guilt-free.

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