Book Review – The Art of Screen Time

The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media & Real Life, by Anya Kamenetz is part study, part research and part parenting guide. It cuts to the heart of the digital crisis that parents find themselves in, which is we simply don’t have scientific studies that can quantify good and bad amounts of screen time. There are no controlled studies, because as she points out, if the initial analysis is that screen time could be harmful to children, you can’t ethically give a group of children something that you think could harm them more just to push the boundaries of that conclusion. So we get a lot of hearsay and a lot of hysteria, often influenced by personal opinion. Just this year I saw headlines saying that video games were harming kids, and then studies saying that video games were helping kids. There is so much conflicting information out there but this book logically and rationally explores, debates and provides evidence to think about.

The book does deal with American statistics and by and large is very concerned upon the Art of Screen Time in America rather than British, but having lived in both countries and my son being a dual British and American citizen, I personally still found the statistics interesting and relevant. The core information I took away from this book was universal and could be applied anywhere in the world.

I’m an avid Netflix watcher, social media hound, blogger (as you can tell!) and gamer. I’m a geek AND a nerd and I embraced technology from a young age. Yet as a parent with a baby, I can immediately see the difference in him when he glances at a YouTube video or stares at images if we watch the TV when he’s in the room. I just had a look at YouTube and there are videos specifically targeting babies – newborn babies – and suggesting that you use these videos to calm your children. Is that okay? I have no idea! We’ve been sharing screen time with his grandparents since he was tiny – they live in the USA, and have an hourly video chat every week. Is that okay, or is that bad too? These are questions I have to ask myself and there simply isn’t an easy answer. As he gets older and actively seeks out video games, YouTube and social media, I know that we need to decide our boundaries for him.

Anya Kamenetz – who also wrote The Test – uses her personal study as well as many different well-qualified experts to explore why digital media is so attractive to children both younger and older and then explains the risks and what we need to look out for. Whilst this is quite a technical book, peppered with jargon and statistics, it is very readable, relateable and understandable, especially as she shares personal details about her upbringing, and how she has raised and used screen time with her own daughter.

Everything is put into perspective and Kamenetz provides a well reasoned discussion that I think will appeal to most modern families – one of moderation. There are risks to most things when done in excess, and everyone has a different level of tolerance. We need to be thinking about this, to be aware of what’s happening, to monitor the situation and adjust as needed. We need to be aware not just of how much time our children spend staring at screens – but what is is they’re engaging in as well, especially in this era of clickbait. There are some interesting explorations of addiction, violence, autism and gender stereotypes. I can’t say I agree with the reasoning at all times in the book, but it’s certainly a well thought out discussion with corroborating evidence for the hypotheses put forward.

Don’t worry – there’s a bright side too. The Art of Screen Time goes into the idea of positive parenting through media – which is a more relaxed read and easier to digest. The idea that yes, there are some negatives and we need to be careful, but also there are positive things that can be taken from digital media, video games and engaging with friends and family through screen time. As someone who enjoys playing video games, I loved the emphasis on the positive things that video games can help with, such as increased learning, reading speed, attention control, focus, ADHD and more. With half our family being thousands of miles away, I was relieved to read about the benefits of engaging with others digitally. I was a little worried at the start that it would all be negative, so as an advocate of integrating technology into the modern family, I really enjoyed seeing a reasoned response with no scaremongering – a balanced view of the entire situation.

We’re given a practical guide as parents for how to integrate these positive influences into our parenting. These are simple things that I can already put into place with my 9 month old son, even though his screen time right now is currently limited to in the car when absolutely necessary, and to interact with his overseas grandparents and aunt. I feel like I have a more structured idea of how to move forward over the next few years and I’m sure I’ll be re-reading this book again as he develops.

I came away from The Art of Screen Time on the whole, feeling positive. Although it was a bit of a gloomy start, I feel I have a better awareness now of what I can do to include technology and screen time in our family in a positive, interactive way, and a good idea of what risk-signs to watch out for. It made me have a think about the way I personally use technology and how I can be more positive and more present as well and not by criticizing me or making me feel guilty, but just encouraging me to think about it logically and evaluate. Lord knows we have enough mum guilt going around already – this book definitely doesn’t pile any more on, there’s no preaching to be found here. It really feels like it’s presenting the information so you can make your own decisions and feel more reassured.

Finally, I absolutely love the ending – a TL:DR (that’s Too Long, Didn’t Read if you’re not up on your acronyms!). A bit of an odd thing to find in a book you might be thinking, but it’s actually pretty useful to share with family members and friends. I’m not going to get my husband or mum to read this book, but a 5 minute synopsis I can read out to them and discuss with them is an absolutely fabulous idea and an easy reference tool for the future.

The Art of Screen Time is available from January 30th on Amazon, Kindle or Hardback. I’d like to thank the publisher, Public Affairs, for providing me with a digital review copy through NetGalley.

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20 thoughts on “Book Review – The Art of Screen Time

  1. Sarah Bailey says:

    This sounds like a really interesting book as I do seem to be reading a lot about screen time and how people should manage it, so the topic seems perfect and definitely something a lot of people want to know about.

  2. Bethany says:

    My aunts having trouble separating family time with her kids IPad, definitly going to suggest this book for her, sounds great and just what she needs.

  3. Charli says:

    Cutting screen time is so difficult (I say sat in a hotel room with a glass of wine and my laptop for company). At home, I have a ‘no screens in the bedroom’ rule and a least once a week hubby and I turn of the TV and play board games. It has done so much good for us both!

    C x

  4. Mellissa Williams says:

    This sounds like a fascinating book – my son has grown up now and didn’t have much screen time when he was younger as there wasn’t as much tech around. Now there is, I do think I would worry about screen time so this would be a good read.

  5. Linda Hobbis says:

    I think all parents need to read this. We struggle because both Mat and I work from home and it’s difficult to try and curb the kids’ screen time when they see us on our PCs for a significant proportion of time. It’s also tricky because when the kids go to comprehensive they will be given an iPad on which to do their homework! Sometimes it feels like we’re fighting a losing battle.

  6. Baby Isabella says:

    We think everything in moderation and it sounds like an interesting read. We hate this era of clickbait though and wish that would disappear x

  7. Fritha says:

    This is such an interesting post! In terms of what we do I guess I think of ‘everything in moderation’ too. It’s a hard thing to navigate and know whats best, the book sounds really interesting though!

  8. Jemma @ Celery and Cupcakes says:

    This sounds like a really good guide and very interesting. I think it is something most parents will battle with.

  9. kirsty says:

    I think this book would be a great guide for all parents. It’s such a struggle now with technology being the forefront to get them away from the screen. I think I could do with this book for my daughter (she’s 10 months) but it would be helpful to have.

  10. Laura Dove says:

    Oh this sounds like a great book and something I think a lot of us can relate to! There is way too much technology these days and limited screen time is always a good idea.

  11. Dannii says:

    It’s really hard to find that balance. I definitely think that screen time has a place in society now, but it’s hard to not be obsessed with them.

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