A few months ago, I dusted off my shelf in eager anticipation of receiving my Mom of the Year award. Okay, I got carried away there for a second. It was a small space on the shelf that I dusted, not the whole shelf. But, get this... I successfully kept my kids off screens on weekdays for three whole weeks!
For those of you who are not parents, you may not know that there is an invisible parenting gauge of success that coincides directly with how much screen time you give your children. The gauge ranges from no screen time to horrified to hear a six hour marathon of Peppa Pig end on YouTube when you're pregnant and cannot muster enough energy to entertain a toddler. It's a big deal to most parents who are inundated with articles about how iPads equal toddler cocaine and video games cause *ADHD (they don't.)
And, just to warn you, the pediatrician will ask.
Pediatrician: "How many hours per day do your children spend on screens?"
Parent: "Well, you're a bit forward, aren't you? Um... I think like thr-,no fo-... uh, the recommended amount."
Pediatrician: "So, no more than 1 hour per day and no screen time for children 2 and under?"
Parent: "Uh-huh. Yep. Definitely."
2 Year old: "Mommy, Can I 'ave you phone?"
Managing screen time is a daily parenting annoyance wrapped in layers of guilt. So, when I managed to maintain a house rule of no screens on school days for three whole weeks, I thought for sure some kind of trophy would be involved, thus, the dusting. But, the rewards proved more metaphorical. With screens off, my children played outside, made up games, read books, played with their toys, and, miraculously, stopped asking when they'd get screens next.
I know that it sounds like a utopia of childhood innocence and imagination and, in some ways, it was, but it was also a difficult transition for me. Screens have their place in parenting. They are easy leverage in discipline and they allow you to complete tasks without interruption. As such, when my screens rule took effect, I found myself wondering...
"Why are the kids so loud and pester-y lately? Oh, yeah. No screens."
"Why does it feel like they are asking me a billion questions? Oh, yeah. No screens."
"Why do I feel like there are toys EVERYWHERE! Oh, yeah. No screens."
"What time does my husband get home? Am I dreaming? Did I shower today? Didn't we just eat? What were my goals in life before I turned 30? What did I do today? Why am I so tired? Oh, yeah. No screens."
Admittedly, we abandoned our screen restrictions when Coronavirus happened because I needed some toddler cocaine to get me through distance learning.
The guilt surrounding screen use is constant and parents have no pattern from their own childhood to fall back on. Sure, we watched TV and played video games, but iPads didn't exist and cell phones? Come on. I lived before the Internet was even invented. We did have pagers, though. I'm sure my sister loved getting paged by me repeatedly with 867-5309 as the callback number. Classic.
We're in uncharted territory here. To give you an idea, my three-year-old son and I just read a book in the doctor's office waiting room called When the TV Broke and my son offered unsympathetically that the main character could, "just use a phone."
Like any parent, I am genuinely concerned about my children's well-being, so I have done a lot of research concerning screen time. According to experts, oh, hold on a second. My lives just regenerated in Candy Crush. BRB.
According to experts, screen time is fine in moderation. As time goes on, articles demonizing screen use continue to be tempered by studies showing it's probably not that bad after all. Even the website that offered the frightening iPad cocaine article (linked above) published a different article claiming that science cannot find any proof that screens affect teens' mental health negatively.
Several articles I've read feverishly in an effort to assuage my guilt for liberally allowing screen time, offered reasonable advice. So, I gave the advice a try and took notes:
Get involved in your children's screen time to show you care about their interests.
Notes: I participated in a Try Not to Laugh Challenge on YouTube with Liam, which was fun. Then, we solved some thirty second riddles and watched a wilderness guy get bitten by a bullet ant ON PURPOSE! We followed it up with some ninjas cutting fruit and fleeing from "hackers", a sketch about a family whose creepy doll keeps reappearing, a group of teens demonstrating hacks for sneaking food into class, and a rapper dad playing video games. We ended with some kids whose parents bought them whatever item they could draw, kids whose parents could only say yes to them for 24 hours, and then these brothers who yelled "Yeet" while throwing things and that's about the time I blacked out.
It's all just so loud.
So impossibly obnoxious.
But, at least I know why the kids hide our dolls in the closet.
Teach them rules of appropriate use.
Notes: Portia loves Roblox. She especially loves the game called Adopt Me, which I'm trying not to take personally. I told her she is not allowed to use the chat feature, even if it's just for potty words. I also warned her to avoid the violent Roblox games after finding her playing Survive the Killer (she won, by the way. Not bragging, but, she did.) and eventually redirected her entirely to non-violent Minecraft where she immediately took down a cow with several karate chops then ate it in order to have enough energy to flee from an exploding zombie called a "Creeper".
Ensure screens do not intrude upon other important daily activities like exercise, chores, homework, and sleep.
Notes: I didn't know kids actually did those things. Do kids actually do those things?
All in all, screens are an inescapable facet of modern culture and the best thing parents can do for their kids is teach them principles of safety and moderation. The best thing parents can do for themselves is let go of the screen time guilt and slip into a coma at the first sign of YouTube. Don't worry. It'll just happen.
Bonus if you can name any of the YouTuber's I mentioned in my notes under Get Involved in the comments!
*Interesting side note: Many studies scare parents by pointing out that kids who have more screen time are also more likely to have ADHD type symptoms. ADHD, though, is a genetic disorder in which the brain is usually dopamine deficient, so it makes sense that kids with ADHD would seek out dopamine-supplying screens to self-medicate.