I met up with a girlfriend who I hadn’t seen in a while for a playdate a few weeks ago. Right after our hello hugs I guiltily blurted out, “We watch TV now.”
When my son first came along I was adamant about no screen time. I knew the statistics and the American Association of Pediatric’s recommendations. Even when he was four months, I remember asking the pediatrician if everything was okay, as my son seemed to be mesmerized by the TV when it was on. The pediatrician said not to worry; he was just fascinated by the blur and play of colors.
My son is now a few months shy of two and loves most any kid-friendly show as well as any YouTube video featuring cars coming out of garages and driving into pools of color. How the mighty have fallen! My no screen time intentions have gone out the window. Every so often I see a “Bad Mom” sign with a blinking red light in my peripheral vision. And every so often I breathe a sigh of relief when I can have some down time to get things done.
How did screen time sneak its way around my best intentions to have none? It all started with Coco. One night we decided to watch a movie before bed. My husband and I were amazed that my son could watch it for about 20 minutes. What’s more, he loved the music! As he watched Miguel (the main character) perform his songs on stage, he would pick up his own guitar—his mop, broom, or duster—and sing and play along. He’d also get a guitar for each of us so that we could all sing and dance when the music came on.
Seeing how my son loved music and could be entertained without my undivided attention, I introduced him to Elsa and Anna (because we were getting sick of Coco every day). It seemed like out of nowhere that I could now get ready in the morning for work—shower, make breakfast, and get out the door at a reasonable time. I could also come home, have some play time together, and then use my screen friend to prep and make dinner. We’ve used screen time to pacify my son out of a particularly bad tantrum or to get him to eat.
I am aware of the consequences and also of the fact that I might be doing some no-nos. While one study suggests that current guidelines around screen time are too restrictive, another from the W.H.O. says that zero screen time is recommended for children ages 0–2. And then at 2 years of age no more than one hour a day, preferably with you co-viewing the program rather than leaving your child alone, according to the American Association of Pediatrics. If children are indulged beyond these limits it could lead to a life of prediabetes, obesity, the development of ADHD, and all hell breaking loose. What’s worse, it would be my fault!
I’m a big fan of moderation, but here’s where things bite the dust: My son now knows how to get to the YouTube icon. He points and chooses a movie he wants on the T.V. He is very possessive of the phone and can easily zone out while watching YouTube kid car videos. He asks to see Vroom Vroom upon waking up. All of this is giving me pause. So, this is what I’m doing to backtrack.
First, no more YouTube or phone in the mornings or before bed. Instead, if I need to occupy my son so I can get ready, he watches learning songs and nursery rhymes. We are circling back to doing books before bedtime and indulging in movie time before bed one or two times a week.
We co-view shows and try to put on ones where there’s some sort of learning going on—colors, shapes, how to brush teeth, etc. My husband and I repeat colors, shapes, and/or sing songs. If I decide I need a break and want to turn on the TV, I make sure I put something on where we can interact either through questions, comments, or just singing and dancing together.
Finally, I try to be more conscientious of my screen habits. I’m working on not being on my phone or on a screen when I get home from work or early in the morning. I also try to be more active in the evenings, like taking time to play together before and after dinner. I know I’m not perfect, yet if I can use screen time to take a shower, make dinner, or get a break, yes, I’ll take it! If I can use it to teach learning too, hand it over. If it messes with my son’s interactions and moods, take it away. Screen time, for our family, is unavoidable (despite my pre-toddler intentions), and I’m coming to realize it isn’t all bad.
What has surprised me through this journey is how easily my son has adapted to mobile devices and technology. I didn’t think streaming video could be so addicting early on—it’s much different than looking at my phone’s camera roll or Facetiming. I never imagined that I’d find myself setting limits at such an early age.
I also feel like talking about the use of screen time is like a dirty little secret. It’s part of my dirty laundry, but I also think there shouldn’t be judgment. I think if we all talked about it more, maybe we would feel less guilty about it. Each family does what works for them, and usually, it’s with the best intentions. How do you use screen time in your household?