Prior to having my son, I was adamant we would follow the ‘no screen time’ rule.
I told my husband (at the time) about all the research done on the neurological impact of too much screen time on an infant’s brain. And I showed him the evidence of the harmful impact of screen time. We decided we would do whatever we could to prevent our son from being exposed to screens. Specifically, there would be no screen time whatsoever before 2 years old. This seemed totally easy. But a lot of things can sound good.
Following the ‘no screen time’ rule has been largely unrealistic for us from the beginning. I take full responsibility for some of that. On maternity leave, I indulged in TV watching. Usually, I did so while my son slept or nursed and therefore wasn’t looking at the screen, but I’m sure there were times that he woke up or stopped drinking and the show I was into was far too good to stop that moment and so I continued a little longer.
(Don’t worry he wasn’t being neglected or forgotten or placed in danger. Unless, of course, you want to argue that what I was watching was obviously not age appropriate and therefore he was being subjected to mature content which is irresponsible. I assure you nothing- I was watching was that kind of show. Read: I wasn’t watching 50 Shades of Grey, The Bold and the Beautiful, or My Husband’s a Sex Addict… I’m not even sure if this last one is an actual show; Google doesn’t seem to agree with that search term, so I’ll go with no.)
Now, I recognize that the TV screen isn’t the only screen that the ‘no screen time’ rule applies to.
There are cell phones and iPads, tablets, computers, and any number of other devices with screens, but in that first year or so of my son’s life, we used very few of these additional devices while at home. The TV was the culprit we were concerned with. And for the most part – the part where I was lapsing on my own rule during maternity leave – we did well to adhere to no screen time.
But between year 1 and year 2, this idea of no screen time disintegrated. Our son was being exposed to TV at daycare. These programs weren’t long and they were educational and age-appropriate but he was exposed to them nonetheless. If we went to family gatherings, likely the TV was on because there were other generations and family members to consider and if they were holding him while also watching the TV then there was that. If we had the rare occasion to need a babysitter, we couldn’t verify whether or not screen time had been employed as a valuable resource.
When my husband and I separated, and I moved in with my parents temporarily, the TV was on much of the time because that was what they were accustomed to. They did change the TV to kids’ channels and they were understanding when I made the call that, “That’s probably enough screen time for today,” and shut it down. Nevertheless, the screen was a presence.
I wanted to believe that when I moved into my own place, I could reinforce the ‘no screen time’ rule, but alas that didn’t happen either.
While living with my parents, we had established a routine of my son watching one or two (short) episodes of something in the morning while I got ready for work. It had been an easy and convenient way for my parents to assist in watching him while they also got ready for work and I was showering in another part of the house, unable to keep my eyes on him.
And so now, though in a much smaller residence and space for me to supervise and also get ready, the routine has already been established, for one; and two, it is an activity that kept his usually going-going-going body in one place for the half hour I need to shower, go to the bathroom, and blow dry my hair. (Read: it kept him out of trouble and away from harm.)
Additionally, in a smaller space with a more open layout, it’s challenging to hide any other screens that exist. My cell phone, even if in my back pocket or purse until I get home from work, does come out and when it’s time to Facetime with grandparents or call his dad. The Nook has become handy when he wants to wake at 5am on a Saturday and I’m having a hard time dragging myself out of bed after a work week. He can manage a few toddler-friendly games for a few minutes while I try to snap out of my exhaustion. My laptop sits in an office space that is a part of the open layout and he often wants to play the “snowman game” (as he calls it) that was a part of an electronic advent calendar a family friend sent us via email last Christmas. And while I watch the time spent on each of these things and usually don’t allow them all in the same day, there’s no denying screen time is a daily occurrence.
The promise I made to myself (and him) to follow the ‘no screen time’ rule has been broken, broken, broken.
Though I don’t think any of these devices should be replacements for conversation, engagement, activity, supervision, etc., they have been helpful and useful to me when employed for getting something done that must be done (i.e. showering before work); catching just a few more minutes to wake up (i.e. so I can actually parent effectively); engaging in play with him (i.e. that “snowman game”); or establishing strong and consistent communication and connection with family (i.e. calling his dad or grandparents).
The ‘no screen time’ rule seemed like a really good idea before I had my son. I mean, in principle it is, especially if you are using screens to replace any of the aforementioned interactions. And especially if you are using them in LARGE quantities during those first two developmentally rich years of children’s lives.
But I haven’t replaced what’s important by breaking my ‘no screen time’ rule.
I haven’t abused the technology I’m privileged to have. I’ve used it with purpose and intention. I’ve used it with awareness, consciousness. My screens and devices have been used as tools and resources for positive things. I’ve also still used time limits. I do say, “Okay, that’s enough for now.” I do put my phone up somewhere where he can’t reach when we aren’t using it to call someone. I am supervising his use if he’s playing on the Nook or when we are together on the laptop.
I can only hope that when he’s able to use any of these things on his own, not only will I have modeled appropriate and safe digital behavior and citizenship, but I will have also communicated and taught these things with the same purpose, intention, awareness, and consciousness from which we began to use them in the first place. I’m not perfect, but the ‘no screen time’ rule wasn’t really going to be perfect in practice either, regardless of its underlying principle and good intention.
Was there something you told yourself before having kids you were going to enforce that didn’t end up being practical once you began to employ it?