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screen time

Actually, Screen Time is Kind of Awesome

screen-time

I’ll admit it: I’ve had it with this “no screen time under 2” thing. I have always suspected that this “no television” thing is bogus—and at last, someone is saying so.

A guide released last month by the nonprofit group Zero to Three called “Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight” notes that “children should have lots of time for play in the real, 3-D world,” and parents should, “make screen use a shared experience.”

In other words, the new group posits that maybe, just maybe, the whole “no screen time under 2” thing isn’t getting to the essence of the problem, which is the fear that parents will substitute television for themselves on the regular. In other words, you do not need to fear weirdo rays emanating from screens morphing your child’s brain—instead, you need to fear your own inadequacy as a parent.

What’s actually important is that parents should take an active role in their kids’ screen time—whether it’s TV or a touchscreen—making it an interactive experience, the guide says. And yes, I’ll go with that. Interacting with your kid under any circumstances is generally positive and preferable to the alternative.

But I’m going to go a step further and say “generally.”

Look, I’ve been doing this parenting gig for 11 years now. I currently have three kids under the age of 3. And on occasion, I’m not afraid to admit, I have used the television as my electronic au pair. I turn it on when it is 6 a.m. and I am trying to keep the noise to a dull roar as my older boys are asleep. I turn it on as a diversion when I am trying to change the baby but am distracted by the fact that my 3-year-old is telling my 2-year-old, “You’re the dog,” and is trying to drag the 2-year-old across the room by the collar of her shirt. And yes, dear readers, I turn it on when I go to the bathroom in the as-yet unfulfilled hope that for once, I will be able to defecate alone.

In other words, I do occasionally (read: once a day) turn on the TV, and often, the reason is because the qualitative interaction my children would have with me at that given moment is somewhat sub-par—because I’m exhausted, overextended, or attending to another child. Do I feel shame in that? Contrary to what all these screen studies tell me I should feel, no. No, I do not. I don’t think there is shame in admitting that as a parent, the days are long. Really long. They are wonderful blessings, but they are long, and we are human.

No, I do not “substitute screen-watching for the warm real-world interactions children need.” I mean, honestly. Even that sentence makes me pretty mad. There are 24 hours in the day, and I am awake and actively parenting for a vast majority of them. So does Mommy get 10 seconds—or maybe even, heaven forfend, 24 minutes!—to do something prosaic, real-world, and non-educational like take a dump, or scan the front page of the paper, or make the children breakfast? Yes, she does.

And why does she—i.e. me—get to do that? Because it gives me a few seconds to catch my breath. Because it is better than yelling. Because it is a little time out and breather that gives me a moment in which I can re-collect myself and come back to my children stronger and possibly without a full bladder. Because my kids watching “Sesame Street,” or “SuperWhy,” or even “Frozen,” is fun, relaxing, and sometimes a needed break in a very full day.

And that is nothing to be ashamed of.


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