Old Money and Screen Time

I recently came across and article in the New York Times that reveals a marked shift in attitude by affluent parents: they don’t want their children having too much computer or phone ‘screen time’ too early in life.

You can read the article HERE.

I’m a little flattered and a little irritated when things I’ve been articulating and advocating on this blog for a couple of years finally appear in the mainstream media as some sort of new revelation.

Smart parents don’t want their kids glued to a cell phone screen, a computer screen, or a television screen during their formative years. And I view ‘formative years’ as birth to age 18.

Yes, digital technology is a part of life for most everyone today, but parents still set the boundaries. In doing so, they also set the priorities and values, which include conversation with real people in real time, face to face; reading worthwhile books (the kind with paper pages that you hold in your hands); thinking critically without the undue influence of social media, and–shocker–doing nothing.

I remember an interview years ago with singer/songwriter James Taylor, an Old Money Guy who grew up on the east coast of the US. He waxed nostalgic about his childhood and how it differed from children’s experiences today. He believed much of his creativity was due to the fact that he spent summers doing…nothing.

He went to school, studying for nine months of the year. (And not exactly setting the world on fire at Milton Academy.) And for three months each summer, he loitered (without, apparently, any intent) in Martha’s Vineyard with his family.

Granted, this was a privileged existence, but it points to an important issue: children need time to daydream, to imagine, the let the dust settle on what they’ve learned in school the previous year, and to formulate questions about their world and the assumptions the world makes and accepts as truth.

I support a rigorous curriculum for children in school. I also support periodic gaps in structure, adult supervision, and exposure to media and (dis)information. Young people need time to wonder and wander. It fosters creativity and, I think, balance.

After you have a  chance to read the New York Times article, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.


  • BGT



32 thoughts on “Old Money and Screen Time

  1. It bothers me that ‘the arts’ music, drawing, sculpting, etc., are considered to be far down on the totem pole of learning. It also seems as if today’s children are kept unnecessarily busy. When dot hey have time to be kids? To explore and hang out in nature climbing trees, running, playing falling down, etc. Everything is so hyper structured. When do kids get a chance to learn anything for themselves?
    I think about the interview you posted where an OM Guy talked about his private education saying, ‘we are taught to rule’. Middle class children, and below middle class, are groomed to be employees. Employees need to know how to use the office equipment. Most people in management do not. I give you the example of Japan’s cyber security chief who has never used a computer- as an example. He has employees for that. Employees who are well educated in computers.
    I have been trying to get a local nature journaling class/club going for kids and adults. It has been difficult. People think of sports camps (Maybe Billy will get a scholarship for college!) S.T.E.M. classes, and camps all of which are geared toward future employment, but art, and most things creative, is still stranded in the weeds. I think critical thinking must involve some level of creative exploration. Unstructured creative exploration. Things tend to get a bit too formal and structured in America. Especially our ‘fun’.

    1. Right you are, Melissa. One grandmother I knew years ago snorted when her daughter complained about the little league schedule. “Just send ’em out on the back lawn with a red ball. They’ll make up games themselves!” – BGT

  2. Thank you for attaching the link to the article, I enjoyed it, but yes, this is something that parents (even millennial parents) have been trying to say for a while as well, that putting your child in front of a screen is not benefiting them, or the family unit. Our daughter (3 years old) has not had screen time on any substantial basis, instead we read (paper books), sing, paint, and run outside with the dog for hours. Family time and learning together within the family is number one. We expect a lot from our daughter even at this young age, but letting her look at her picture books, playing on her stick horse and turning every kitchen utensil we own into a wand in order to turn the dog into a toad, is equally important, and very entertaining to me! None of which would most likely happen if she instead was watching a cartoon. I hope to see more families talking about the importance of “less screen time.”

    1. We have raised our children similarly. What has surprised me now they are heading towards their teens and their use of tech is increasing for schoolwork and communication is how quickly the apps/games have become all consuming. I thought my children might have been less interested in and avoided these mindless (mindless!), time-sapping activities because they have always had other interests but we are having to be far more vigilant, purposeful and strict about modelling and communicating our expectations around use of tech to our children than ever before. And it has happened all of a sudden. It’s lucky I’m on my game. 😉

      1. Thank you for sharing, Phillippa. The price of liberty (and parenting) is eternal vigilance, I suppose. Hope all’s well with you down under. – BGT

  3. We have banned tablet/smart phone use for our 3 year old daughter after we too had to learn the lesson there is no moderation in use as these games are developed with maximum psychological addiction as their core quality. It quickly supersedes interest in books/crafts or even outdoors playing. After a week of cold turkey she forgot about tablet and phone use and stopped asking and all of a sudden her picture books, the building blocks or the clay are very interesting again.

    I recall reading that Bill Gates’ daughter got her first mobile phone at the age of 14. The children of the late Steve Jobs didn’t have any access to mobile devices in their household at all. I found that interesting because most people would probably assume IT CEOs would make electronic devices available to their toddlers 24/7 as soon as they can crawl. The opposite appears to be true

    1. Thank you, David. That’s a very enlightening experience you had. And it’s great to know about tech giants and how they parent with regards to electronic devices. Much appreciated. – BGT

  4. Screens are a symptom not the cause. Without a full-time parent at home, the care and upbringing of children is increasingly left to institutions. When they are at home, too many are ignored by parents busy climbing the corporate ladder. I witness this phenomenon regularly. We routinely have extra children at the dinner table. Just this week, one of the girls commented “this is the first home cooked meal I’ve had in two weeks.” I do not think it is a coincidence, that we have our children’s friends at our house after school, at meal time, and overnight. We do not have a “fun” house – no pool, no patio, no basketball hoop, no cable TV, no fancy gaming systems, and a rec room consisting of an odd assortment of ratty old furniture. What we do have is a parent at home, which means home cooked meals everyday, someone to talk to at any time, someone available to provide transport, someone who can supervise if they want to bake cookies or need a “judge” for a friendly dance-off among friends. No matter what kids say, deep down what they truly need and want is the time and attention of caring, loving adults.

  5. In our house, we view dumbphones in the same way that you might view a lit cigarette. If you’re addicted and you can’t help yourself, then fine; but go poison yourself out back where our baby daughter won’t see you, thank you very much!

  6. Okay, given the responses above I think I am going to hold an unpopular opinion. Computers and smartphones are tools just like a standmixer is a tool for a baker and a pipe wrench is a tool for a plumber. These ‘tools’ were available to my son from the time he started pre-school and through the years he was taught a healthy respect for them and how to use them. Now, he didn’t get his own laptop until he was 6, and he didn’t get a smartphone until he was 12 and he was supervised and time spent regulated, but I didn’t say no to him having them because I knew that he was going to need to learn to use them and self-regulate himself once he got older. Use of the television was a different story. We stopped cable when he was 8, and went over to a ‘video’ policy whereby he could borrow or request to purchase any video he wanted as long as it was approved by Mom and Dad, which resulted in a very extensive library of different videos in our house which he can watch at any time. That said, we also heavily regulated the amount of television time. As far as using technology in school goes, I don’t agree with the author because my son attends an independent county day school where there are plenty of affluent parents and the school itself has a laptop policy where all students in upper and middle school (5-12) must purchase and have a laptop in class. Students in the lower school (PreK-4) don’t have individual laptops, but laptops are available for use. Again, the students use them as tools, researching on the internet, typing papers, projects, making presentation, etc. My son recently used his convertible laptop to do a presentation with two students on the most recent election and how rank choice voting might affect the election (turns out their theory was spot on!) So I would actually love to see where the writer garnished all of his research information because I know that other independent schools follow the same model as my son’s.

    1. Thank you, Kellie. I know the inevitable back and forth with technology is the progress we make with it vs. the risks in changes in behavior it poses to users. Great to get a second opinion. – BGT

  7. This post is a timely one for my family. We are about to spend our summer holiday reorganizing the main living spaces in our house. The tv is moving to a smaller room further out of the way. I still enjoy tv for movies and there are a few good shows but it (literally) looms too large in the room/s where we spend most of our time. I’m hoping that a few changes to the furniture will support the way we want to spend our time (and are increasingly): with family, in conversation, drinking coffee with a comfortable place to sit, reading, playing games or completing puzzles, listening to music and staring out the window at birds in the garden. I need the peace.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone else’s comments.

  8. I’m a middle school teacher at a boarding school and our program is 1:1 (meaning all kids have school-issued laptops). In our advisory, one of the things I’ve been talking about with my advisees is healthy screentime versus unhealthy screentime.

    I’m quite guilty of the latter. Recently, I have been trying to curb how much I use my laptop outside of school (work) hours and I’ve found RescueTime to be quite useful. The truth of how much time I waste online hurts, but I believe in the modeling the kind of behavior I want to see in my own students. That change starts with me.

  9. Dear Mr. Tully,
    This is a fascinating read (including all the wonderful comments). I find myself going through periods of more screen time (I justify this with content…. “but I’m just watching Frontline documentaries, Shakespeare, and reading good blogs….” etc.). We are lucky to live in a time where one can download American Ballet Theatre performances on a whim, or find Janos Starker’s performances of Bach’s cello suites just to admire his precision, etc. etc. It is far too easy to get lost online and forgot to be present in one’s own life. Thank you for the reminder!
    I am especially worried for my son. The internet was not such a powerful force during my formative years. I am sincerely worried about the addictive properties of screen time, especially gaming. I want my son to be able to use technology as a tool, not be used by tech for some company’s enrichment. Great post.
    Best wishes,

    1. Thank you, Rachel. Yes, it is the content. And I’m sure many parents share your concern for your son. Hopefully we can hear some ‘coping’ strategies as comments come in. – BGT

  10. Ben Sasse’s new book, “Them”, has a wonderful, introspective chapter on this very subject. His views elsewhere in the book are surprisingly aligned with the perspectives in this blog (as were those in his previous book, “The Vanishing American Adult”). “Them” is worth a read for the technology chapter alone.

  11. I have commented here thrice previously on this topic. Thank you for raising it again Byron.

    The South Korean Government has commissioned studies which led to screen addiction being a classified disorder. They have mandatory residential rehabilitation institutions for 15 year old boys there. These organizations rehabilitate by – guess what – having the children play: ride bike, climb trees, make mud pies, jump puddles. In Britain, there has been a doubling of social media use by teenagers in the last 10 years during which time teenage suicide has also doubled. These statistics are correlated according to studies. Optometrists say eyes should be rested from screen use every 20 minutes. This is rarely done.

    Janet shows unusual insight as to the cause.

    With the rise of consumerism, birth control and second wave feminism, women have been encouraged to seek an independent career. This is wonderful for choice – a good thing – but coupled with the rise in cost of living, a second income is seen as a necessity for the middle class.

    When both parents work, the children suffer.

    Broadly, it goes something like this:

    Underclass – no income, government subsidy, parental supervision irrelevant
    Working Class – one income, government subsidy, parental supervision 24 hours a day
    Lower Middle Class – two incomes, government subsidy, parental supervision 5 hours a day
    Middle Class – two incomes, no investment, parental supervision 3 hours a day
    Upper Middle Class – two incomes, small investment, parental supervision 3 hours a day
    New Money – one income, medium investment, parental supervision 24 hours a day
    Old Money – no or one income, large investment, parental supervision 24 hours a day

    In the United States, 11% of households are single income male breadwinner. In Australia, the figure is 14%.

    When the children of the middle class have parental supervision as low as 3-5 hours a day, the parents are forced to use inexpensive proxies for baby sitters. You and I know that proxy is a screen.

    The truth is the middle class do not need two incomes. However, if they have one income, they need to change their lifestyle. Instead of 5 TVs and two cars, 0 TVs and public transport. Instead of eating out, fresh home-cooked fare. It’s the frugality advocated by this site which can not only lift the middle class to a better financial position, but also give the children a real shot at class mobility by being properly nurtured.

    Only talented one income families which show personal restraint – the old money – understand the dangers of the screen. It’s deep and I’ve just just scratched the surface here.

    1. Excellent scratching of the surface, Anglo. (Wink, nod.) The social impact is perhaps stronger than even I first thought. Your articulate and detailed comments are much appreciated. – BGT

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