I am mostly against unlimited screen time. However, some of my favorite play based experts have noted that children need to be in control of how, what and the length of time they play with something, even if it screens. Gray says:
“Whenever we prevent our kids from playing or exploring in the ways they prefer, we place another brick in a barrier between them and us. We are saying, in essence, "I don't trust you to control your own life." Children are suffering today not from too much computer play or too much screen time. They are suffering from too much adult control over their lives and not enough freedom (see his article about the benefits of kids playing video games).
I agree that us adults do try to control their lives to an unreasonable degree but I don't think all children should be allowed endless screen time. I think it depends on the child. I have one child that if you give too much screen time they become irritable, angry, can not control the obsession and endlessly want more and more, they are less capable of finding their interests and complain more that they are bored when not playing. I have another child who after some time will simply turn it off because she needs to “move a lot”.
I have tried giving them endless screen time which we tried for over a month and it was horrible. We tried limiting time, limiting days, limiting time and days, limiting content till we found the right amount for our children. They got to be part of the decision and advocate for their opinion on what should be allowed and we discussed and came to an agreement (3 X a week for one hour whenever he chooses). It has worked out well for us over an extended time (over a year now). We are even able to change it up between school year and summer vacation and then go back again.
Now, I am confused again. I am grateful that screens exist because this is the only way we can socialize, see family and friends. What is considered socializing? When the kids want to talk to their friends they talk or message for a bit and then they inevitably ask if it's possible to play a game simultaneously on a server (Minecraft, Roblox or other options). They do play together and they do converse while playing. But, If it was a play date in person, I would limit the amount they play together in front of a screen to about an hour making sure they play outside and elsewhere as well. But now playing through the screen is the only option. So how much is too much? Are they getting the social interaction they need by playing in this manner? Should they get more screen time later? Mostly, I'm concerned with the quality of the social time, but I can not change it now.
The way we have worked it out is still a process as we are learning through isolation:
If it's with a friend it is not considered screen time it is considered social time. This is usually limited to an hour or so.
They are allowed after playing outside a couple of hours and reading for at least 30 minutes, additional screen time. (If you value something other than playing outside or reading you can insert those instead). Tom also has to finish his homework first.
Their afternoon screen time consists of the time it would take one to watch a movie. Normally 1.5 hours.
In the evening when I switch my partner, that is up to him. They normally clean up dinner and tidy up their play area. He normally plays something with them. Among their favorites are wrestling, Olympics, made up board games and more. Depending on the time, they get additional screens with him. (normally not more than an hour).
I found that splitting it up like this gives them the opportunity to do all the things that we value as parents as well as suffice time for them to “screen it up”.