Sometimes, I take the news personally. Like the other day, for example, when the New York Times apparently decided that parents weren’t stressed out enough in the pandemic, and ran a lovely piece entitled, “Children’s Screen Time Has Soared In The Pandemic, Alarming Parents And Researchers.”
The gist of the piece — and feel free to skip this paragraph if you’re not a glutton for punishment — is that us parents who are letting our kids spend more time than usual (euphemistically) on TV, computers, iPads, video game consoles, and the like are irretrievably screwing up our beloved children. Have a great day, people!
Thank you, New York Times. Because I haven’t already been screaming into a pillow 17 times a day, and I was looking for new ways to feel bad about myself as a parent and a human!
Here’s the thing, New York Times. Between the whole “pandemic with more than 400,000 Americans dead” and the “holy shit, is American democracy going to survive insurrection?” stuff… well, I don’t think I’m just speaking for myself when I say I’m feeling just a little bit stressed right now. In fact, I think if you’re not teetering on the edge of the abyss, as they say, “you’re not paying attention.”
As a parent, I’m basically the emotional watering hole for my kids. I’m the person they come to when they are stressed out about high school academic pressures (which, yes, continue even in a pandemic). I’m the one they come to when they are plagued with self-doubt about a friendship that seems to have hit the skids during quarantine. I’m who they come to when they are just so sick and tired of the Pandemic Lifestyle, of the walls of our home, of being with their siblings 24/7, and yes, possibly, even sick of wonderful me. (I know: inconceivable!)
At this moment, the kids are not all right. They, too, are experiencing high levels of stress. As we are all keenly aware, remote school sucks. They aren’t seeing their friends. They aren’t participating in school musicals and talent shows, nor are they going to the sleepovers and the birthday parties that were the cornerstones of their social lives.
Instead, families are all at home together almost all of the time. My family has been cooped up together for so long that I am pretty sure that, blindfolded, I could identify my kids solely based on the smell of his or her fart. Yes, that’s disgusting. But that is to illustrate the similarly off-putting fact that we are all continuously right up in each others’ faces and there’s no sign that’s ending anytime soon. I’m keenly aware of every single one of my kids’ foibles, from who’s a conscientious objector to flushing the toilet to who believes dirty socks are something to be shared on the coffee table rather than put in a fucking hamper.
Sorry, I digress.
As I was saying, these kids, whatever age they are, are going through a lot, too. And they don’t have the emotional vocabulary or experience to deal with it. Neither do I, of course, but I have to pretend like I do! (My 8-year-old did ask me, “What did YOU do when you were homeschooled because of a pandemic, Mommy?”) That’s part of the parenting job: Fake it till you make it. Because I’m the emotional gas station for everyone in this house. I’m where they come for refills of security, comfort, and love — and, of course, mac and cheese, the most important group on the food pyramid, right next to chicken nuggets.
So, as the parent, I’m dealing with all the adult stresses and the kid stresses. And now the New York Times is gonna tell me that I’m irretrievably screwing up my kids by letting them play on the iPad? Seriously?
First of all, you can definitely make the argument that not all screen time is garbage. And I’m not just talking about those kids who are coding or learning a new language (although, truly, good for you people!). Whether it’s FaceTiming friends or playing marathon sessions of Among Us, screens are kids’ windows to the outside world right now. I’m not really so interested in finding research backing up this point, because honestly, WE HAVE NEVER BEEN IN A PANDEMIC BEFORE, and I believe that point is a pretty salient one. We’ve never lived in a moment like this, so pre-pandemic research and studies are kinda irrelevant, in my humble opinion. The isolation we all feel is enormous and the screens can help us slightly bridge that divide.
Frankly, I’m not interested in discussing the merits of the Times’ argument right now. Because regardless of what the science does or does not say, I am pretty sure I speak for millions of parents when I say: We Are In No Mood For This.
Look, we are all doing the best we can under these circumstances, and this 2020-2021 thing is hard for everyone. And maybe if we’d had things like, I don’t know, a good familial support system at work, or universal healthcare, or a universal belief in science, or a sense of communal purpose and responsibility for one another, this wouldn’t have gotten as bad as it has. But here we are, and even though I’m grateful that we’re still alive, there’s definitely not a day that goes by when I don’t feel like crying at some point.
So, to the good folks at the New York Times: Give us a break.
This is so important that I’ll say it again to parents directly: Give yourselves a break! I genuinely believe that the most important thing we can do for our kids right now to replenish their senses of self-esteem by treating them with love and kindness. And if they’re playing Minecraft more than you’d let them under ordinary circumstances so that you have time to yourself and a second to breathe? Well, frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
This falls under the same parenting advice I try to live by: We need to put on our own oxygen masks before putting on our kids’ masks. And if that means your kid is memorizing Teen Titans cartoons because you have to work, or feed your family, or occasionally pee, or maybe even read a magazine article or talk to a friend, then that is OK. Really, in the grand scheme of things, this extra screen time is no big deal. I truly believe that what matters is making it out of this alive. (And by “alive,” I mean not only actually alive, but also not screaming all the time.) That’s it.
Especially in these turbulent times, if your home is the kind of place that’s chill enough so everyone can do things to recharge their batteries, that’s a win. Screen time can be relaxing for kids, whether it’s binge-watching a favorite show or playing a game that’s educational (or even stupid!) it gives your kid a break.
By the way, screens are also pretty relaxing for adults. Personally, I’m a big fan of my Bridgerton and Words With Friends combo — but you do you! So many of our usual coping and relaxation mechanisms are no longer available to us; we can’t hang out with friends in the normal way, or go about our normal activities. But screen time can be a way to take a step back from everything and decompress. And right now that’s a good thing.
Hang in there, fellow parents. You don’t “got this,” because none of us have “got this.” But by allowing some extra Roblox or Fortnite for your kids — and maybe even some mindless scrolling on Instagram or playing Candy Crush as emotional detox for yourself — at least you’ll know that the next 30 minutes are going to be OK. Or at least somewhat quiet. Let’s take what we can get.
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