Parenting in the Age of “The Screen”


Every generation of parents thinks they are raising their children in a very different time than those who have gone before. And to a certain extent, I think they are quite possibly right… especially this generation of parents.

In a way that no other generation has, we are living in The Age of “The Screen”… and so are our kids.

Parenting in the Age of "The Screen"

I realize that we are by no means the first generation of parents to be raising children alongside television, computers, and gaming devices; and yet it seems that The Screen has made its way into our homes and families to a degree like never before.

And I don’t think most of us even know yet whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

As I was driving through Ankeny the other day, I happened to glance over at the car next to me. Two teenage girls, one of them driving, were engrossed in conversation but not with each other. Both were intently focused on the text messages they were busy sending. They looked to be in two different worlds though they sat only inches apart.

What I saw shouldn’t have surprised me and yet it did… because even though that type of scene isn’t unusual these days, it looked altogether unnatural. What a strange thing to have a mechanism that brings the distant friend near while simultaneously distancing the one who sits at your side.

I’m not anti-electronic device—we have several of them in our home—but I have to wonder… what are they doing, either good or bad, to the basic nature of friendship?

Parenting in the Age of "The Screen"


Whatever the effect, even the youngest of children aren’t escaping it. My husband and I like to joke about the (strange?) ability of men to bond through sports and gaming and without much conversation; and apparently, the younger variety are a lot like their older counterparts. After spending a cumulative several hours’ worth of time gaming with the son of some friends of ours, Abel was talking about this kid like they were best friends; yet I came to find out that he knew far more about the kid’s Minecraft world than he did about the kid himself. All “male bonding” considerations aside (haha), I find that a little troubling.

Relationally, what are our kids missing while their gazes are fixed on The Screen?

The answers to that question are what initially caused Travis and I to say no to our children’s ownership of personal gaming devices. But last month we relented concerning 7-year-old Abel when he unexpectedly won an iPod Touch for his top-selling efforts in Ankeny Little League’s fundraiser. We were, of course, super excited for him; but we also recognized that this was a big deal in more ways than one. Not only was it a prize of significant value but it was also a prize requiring significant responsibility on his part and significant discretion on our part.

Parenting in the Age of "The Screen"

We had a pretty firm talk with Abel before giving him possession of his new device, and the rules we laid out for him are really quite simple: ASK before you use it, and ASK before you download something. If you know Abel, you’ll believe me when I say that he is great about following the rules—and he takes tremendously good care of his things, too—so his side of the “big deal” is satisfied pretty easily. It’s the part where I have to give him an answer—to exercise discretion on his behalf—that is sometimes hard.

What’s fair? What’s right? What’s healthy?… All in a flash following that question—“Mom, can I play on my iPod Touch?”—multiple mental considerations take place at a speed that only a mom can manage. What time is it? What has he done today? What else could he be doing? What is everyone else doing?

Parenting in the Age of "The Screen"

Overall, I think I do a good job of fairly assessing each situation and making the right decision. The decision-making gets a little more difficult, though, when Abel’s friends are around… because now I’m helping to direct not just my son’s personal time but his friendship-building time.

I desire for my children to have authentic, meaningful relationships. I want them to value conversation and eye contact. I want Abel to be as skilled at building real-life friendships as he is at building Minecraft worlds. In order for that to happen, “friend time” cannot equal merely “screen time.” There has to be more.

If we “left our children to their own devices,” they probably wouldn’t know when to QUIT with the devices. Kids don’t just naturally come by that type of self-control. That’s why it is imperative that we as parents be wisdom and self-control for our kids… and that we exercise those virtues in our own lives, too.

We are living in a strange time. The screens we carry at the ready put escape from reality right at our fingertips. The technology that keeps us constantly connected pulls us dangerously close to a serious disconnect, but we don’t even see it for our downcast eyes. We sit in waiting rooms, restaurants, living rooms, and cars, inches apart but worlds away. And when our children ask, “Can I play on the iPad?” we struggle to lift our eyes to theirs for long enough to reply.

That’s the (extreme but true) reality of the age we are living in—of the age we are parenting in. Good or bad, The Screen is a defining component of our time. I’m okay with that. I just want to make sure it’s not the defining component of my kids’ relationships.

This is a relatively new topic within parenting, but what considerations have you given it? Are the screens in our kids’ hands changing the basic nature of their friendships? What can we parents do to help our kids value people more than they value their electronic devices?


  1. Great post, Angela. I find that when we let our girls watch their computers or Kindles without limits, they become little zombies. Earning screen time and limits have helped, but oh, do they love their gadgets.

  2. I can so relate to this post! We don’t have any gaming devices at our house but do own an iPad and both my husband and I have iPhones that Drake likes to play on. I will admidt that I would rather that he play an educational game on the iPad then sit and stare at the TV. Right now I feel like we have a good balance of playtime, quiet time, family time, and screen time but I know it is only going to get harder as D gets bigger!

  3. Its been very interesting to me to see how different kids can be in this area (why that surpises me, I have no idea since kids are different in EVERY area!). I have a 6 year old who is pretty addicted to “screen time” (obviously my own fault) so we have to work VERY hard at limiting his screen time. We just initiated a rule that he can only be on the iPad 3 days a week (and just for a couple of hours). He still has some daily TV time in the morning too though, but its the iPad that causes the mood swings and behavioral issues.
    Then there’s my almost 4 year old who’s never had an issue! He’s just more active and will sit for a while but will jump up on his own to go play with something else. Its pretty wonderful to not have to worry about this area with him.
    This is my greatest battle as a parent! (at least with my oldest) and I sort of hate this era they’re being raised in. I want them to learn the art of discreetly passing notes in school, not discreetly texting! 🙂


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