I don’t enjoy all the books my kids ask me to read, but I love Polly and the Screen Time Overload by Betsy Childs Howard.
The Screen Struggle
Every year Polly spends her birthday week with Gamps and Gammy on their farm, her favorite place. This year she gets a tablet as a present and does what we all do when we get a new screen. She downloads apps and starts playing games, and watches funny videos. Right away, she ignores her cousins and doesn’t do any fun farm activities she planned.
Honestly, I struggle with my screens. The day before reading Polly and the Screen Time Overload as a family, I sat in the kitchen watching pop song parodies on my phone while my kids played in the living room. When my oldest son walks in to ask what I’m doing, I ignore him. Until he yanks my arm and knocks my phone over, I’m glued to my screen. Kids learn as much from what their parents do as from what their parents say. My sons watch their mom and dad do their jobs, listen to music, plan meals, get directions, talk to friends, watch movies, buy toys, and even relax, all on a screen. I appreciate this book because I can be a bad example.
When her tablet runs out of battery, Polly goes outside. At the stable, she has a chat with Gamps about her tablet. He doesn’t yell, and he doesn’t crush her. He shows gentleness and wisdom with his granddaughter. Gamps tells her, “God has given us many good gifts, but he says we can only truly enjoy them when they don’t take over our lives.” He doesn’t despise the tablet. He is concerned Polly is missing out because she is stapled to the screen, like when she played a castle building game by herself instead of building a hay fort with her cousins. Polly strolls to the barn and finds her cousins bouncing in her head with this lesson. Away from her tablet, she enjoys all the fun on the farm; building forts, riding Mustard the horse, picking fresh blueberries, and much more.
Starting a Better Conversation
I had a sense of what to write in this review before reading the book. I thought it would be fun to talk about Polly from the perspective of my sons (three and five years old). Then we read the book, and my plan vaporized. Both boys enjoyed the story, but both boys resonated with different parts. One loved everything about the farm- the animals, the hay forts, and the wild berries. The other loved everything about the tablet. Now he wants his own.
If the story’s point was that screens are evil, then I have one son who is a saint and one who needs discipline. But that’s not the point. A tablet is not evil. The problem is when the tablet controls us. Paul says, “Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Co 6:12 CSB). The quickest parenting reflex is taking something away, but snatching away screens wouldn’t help my kids. In a screen saturated world, they need the wisdom to submit their screen time to God rather than submit themselves to their screens. Polly and The Screentime Overload is a great starting point for my sons to build categories to enjoy without being mastered by screens and for their parents to have deeper conversations and begin being better examples of using screens wisely.