I’ve tried to hold back from writing about screen time for kids. I’ve shied away from the topic because almost everyone I know allows their children to spend time on an iPad. I do not want people to feel guilty about their parenting choices. And I do not want to feel righteous about mine.

Recently, the all-knowing American Academy of Pediatrics said that children are spending 7 hours a day in front of a screen. Seven hours. That is more time than I spend in front of screen. And I write for a living. Worse than that, there is some discussion that their recommendations for screen time may “shift.” So instead of giving parents a number to work with, the American Academy of Pediatrics may move to simply telling us to be mindful that the apps kids play on are more educational. Also, and this is especially painful, they want to remind parents to spend time with their kids when they aren’t on devices.

This is despite the fact that the AAP also readily admits that too much time in front of a tablet can lead to social and developmental issues for children. One more thing in American culture gets swept into the category marked “Affirmation.” We do not want to tell people that they way they are functioning is not healthy, so let’s just tell them how to feel better about it.

With all of that in mind, it’s time to come clean about something I have long kept hidden in my writing: My children have never played a game, watched a video, or done anything but talk to the grandparents, on my iPhone, iPad, or even our home computer. They have had momentary exposure to the Internet at friends’ and relatives’ houses. Our kindergartener certainly uses technology at school. But in terms of their exposure in our household, it has not happened yet.

I know what you’re thinking: “I had no idea that there were Episcopal Mennonites in West Houston.”

Lest our household culture is making you feel anxiously judged, let me assuage your guilt. We still eat non-organic chicken nuggets. My kids don’t play outside nearly as much as they should. Both of their parents are clergy, so phrases like, “He died,” or “She’s about to die” are regular dinner table conversation. We are not psychologically healthier than your family.

Indeed, the last thing I want to suggest is a vision of our household as some kind of a screen-free bucolic landscape. After all, I am writing this essay on my laptop and will likely post it later with my iPhone. My husband and I both look at our prospective screens with alarming regularity. I am constantly taking photos for Instagram. And we all love television. Lately, we have football on for hours on Saturday afternoons so my husband can keep up with the SEC and so that I can take a NAP. Our daughter is baffled that the Catholic church hasn’t canonized Doc McStuffins because of all those toys she has resuscitated. Our son thinks that Curious George is the unsung comedian of his generation.


It may sound like a rationalization, but I feel like I can cope with a giant TV that I can turn on and off at random. The moment I hand them a tablet and headphones, something changes. They are given an individualized screen that no longer involves a shared experience.

Of course, this is only making my life harder. I know for a fact that if we handed our kids an iPad and some headphones there would be less yelling, less fighting, and less whining. I would get more done. The house would be cleaner. Road trips would be less miserable. Hell, my quality of life might actually go up. Which is precisely why I did not want to write about this topic at all. With all of the demands put on our lives, the Good Lord knows that letting your child spend some time on the ABC Mouse app feels like a necessary function of everyday life.

But I just can’t do it yet. It’s less about what they’re doing on that screen and more about what they’re not doing. They’re not singing made-up songs. Last week our son composed a little ditty about a friend’s dog named Max. Completely oblivious to what he was singing, the chorus line was, “Maaaaaaxi Pad!”

When we are all sitting in the living room, our kids will ask us to read like 486 books. Our son will mix his milk with water and proclaim it a “science experiment.” Our daughter will write on furniture with a glue stick. They will bicker constantly about the same stuffed animal. It is not clean or quiet or easy. But our lives are never simple when we are figuring out who we are. And I want to give them every opportunity to know who they are before yet another screen tells them who they should be.


With the continuous newsfeed of parental advice sharing that happens online these days, it becomes very difficult to be the parent that just says, “Nope.” And yet, precisely because of this culture, I have seen friends step out of the everyone-is-doing-it-stream in ways I could have never imagined. I used to think homeschooling was for mothers who wore calf-length denim skirts and attended churches where people spoke exclusively in tongues. Now, some of the most average, non-religious people I know homeschool their kids. I have met more than a few people who are practicing a kind of “voluntary simplicity” in their home: less stuff, less money, less problems.

I suppose there is a concern that our children will be weird and out of place if they are not doing the exact same thing that other children their age are doing. But I already know our kids will be weird. Tall weirdos raise short weirdos. Besides, we are raising them as Christians. Which, let’s be real, is very weird.

It probably helps that I was raised with odd rules myself. For years, I was only allowed to watch Pee Wee’s Playhouse or Green Acres on television. As I got older, Dragnet was moved into the rotation. I couldn’t get my ears pierced until high school. I didn’t go on a real date until I was 17. No one ever let me “try” a sip of beer. Before you picture the portrait of a moralistic upbringing, I should also tell you that I started reading Vanity Fair as soon as I could sneak my mother’s copies off of her nightstand, and my parents said the word “Dammit” like they were getting paid for it. One day I was complaining to my Dad that he and Mom didn’t parent the way my peers’ parents did. “Oh Sweetie,” he gently replied, “we aren’t raising you to fit in.”

A deep desire to fit in with the world is written all over our DNA. This will be just as true for our children as it is for anyone else’s. Lord knows it is just as true for their parents. The day is coming when I will have to hand our kids a technological device of some kind. They will have homework to do. They will have friends to text. I’ll want them to call me. The noise of the world will force its way in soon enough.

In the meantime, though, I want them to know that they are in the world and not of it. I want them to soothe themselves with something other than a screen. More than anything, I want them to know how profoundly beautiful the still small voice of God can be. The voice that gives them permission to enjoy creation, to figure out their fights with their sibling, and the voice that inspires them to write songs about dogs that make everyone laugh so hard they are unable to breathe. The voice that just lets them be them.