Arts

In defense of screen time

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It started when I ran to get a glass of water and, in that one minute, the “Minecraft” house I had spent all morning building had gone from a gorgeous two-story glass dream home to a mountain of ice. On fire. And somehow lava?

My three daughters, scattered around the living room on their own devices, were still diligently building their own houses — we had a contest going — and didn’t even look up. The oldest, 9 years old at the time, was installing a library in the massive hotel she’d been building for a couple of days.

“What happened to my house?” I said.

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The youngest, then 5, said, “We went in to fix your staircase because you’re not very good at that. Then we were doing lighting but accidentally set it on fire. We tried to put it out with ice but then it looked weird so we just covered it with lava.”

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The three continued building, furiously typing back and forth in the game even though they were a few feet apart.

And it hit me that I’m tired of screen time parenting guilt. I’m tired of reading about seemingly arbitrary time limits backed by a blanket assumption that all content viewed on a screen is bad, that reading or playing marbles or going to a friend’s house is unqualifyingly better time spent. I’m tired of hearing that screen time is bad because it’s just not true.

The day the girls ruined my awesome house, they were learning architecture, design, and math. They were reading and typing and making specific calculations about volume. They were managing their time to complete complicated tasks on schedule. They were consoling me for the loss of that house. We were all laughing.

It’s not just “Minecraft,” and it’s not just those times we are together or the content is interactive. They learn culture mores and endless science on YouTube. They learn money management, digital social skills, and online stranger safety on one of the many community-based role games such as “Roblox.”

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Even the youngest knows how to protect digital privacy, identify phishing schemes, and handle online bullying. The middle one has built a farming empire over the course of the last three years in which she experimented with a number of different pricing models until she settled on the most lucrative strategy. They have built their own games in Scratch, MIT’s free coding program for kids. We watch “Adventure Time” and “Teen Titans Go” and “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and laugh together and marvel at the endless limits of imagination.

Most importantly, they are digitally savvy in a way that prepares them not just for this generation of tech, but the next. And the next. They will be ready for jobs that we can’t even dream of. They can navigate a digital social world with their generational peers in a way I could not teach them.

My children spend hours a day looking at screens, and I refuse to feel guilty about it. I refuse to feel like I have to justify this by quantifying how much time they spend doing other activities. If the organizations that issue these dire warnings start parsing out specific kinds of content and recognizing the immense educational value screens offer, then we can talk. Until then, I have a dream house to build out of blocks.

And possibly lava.

Heather Hopp-Bruce can be reached at Heather.Hopp-Bruce@globe.com.