For the first year of my daughter’s life there was NO screen time. Zip, zero, zilch. We spent our mornings at story time or open play and our afternoons perusing the zoo or the museum. We read books together and sang songs… I had this parenting gig all figured out (or so I thought)!
When she was 18 months old I went into labor (with twins), I spent the day at home in pain, not knowing that I was about to give birth at just 30 weeks. That is the day that my daughter was introduced to Big Bird. And Elmo. And Cookie Monster… and so on. I remember turning on PBS Kids and just praying that she would be content to watch Sesame Street while I laid on (what felt like) my death bed. She obliged. She engaged with the characters and was mesmerized by what she was seeing. I was relieved! Who knew that I would feel SO relieved that my daughter actually liked television. I mean, isn’t tv the modern day enemy?!
And now I’m going to tell you that it’s NOT. In my opinion (and you can agree to disagree), screen time is okay. My daughter is now 2 ½ and blows my mind every single day with things that she has learned and absorbed. She has gained some of her knowledge from my husband and me, much of it from her preschool (The Seventeenth Radish in Verona is a God-send) and much more from PBS Kids. I am not ashamed to admit that she sings jingles from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood when she has to go potty (“if you have to go potty, STOP and go right away…”) or when she wants to try new food she proudly sings, (“you have to try new food because it might taste gooooood.”) and so on. I apologize to everyone who now has the Daniel Tiger theme song blasting through their brains. Not only this but she points to letters that I am quite certain she learned from Super Why and just the other day she quietly counted to 10 as she skipped up the stairs. My point is that she is learning and developing despite being exposed to the tv and iPad on a daily basis.
Parents are often inundated with information that cautions us from allowing any screen time for our children before a certain age. And I respect that, but I’m here to say that if screen time allows you to finish the laundry or cook dinner or make a quick phone call… it’s OKAY – your child is not going to be damaged. There are studies that indicate that screen time can foster anti-social behavior and impact children’s ability to learn. But I believe that it depends on the type of content they are being subjected to, along with the balance of human interaction and play time. So yes, if a child is sitting in front of a screen all day, every day as a substitute for interacting – that may be a hinderance to their development and is probably not good. And if they are watching shows designed for teenagers or adults, or are exposed to violence or vulgar language – that, too, is probably harmful. I strongly believe that type of content combined with being socialized in other ways is key.
It doesn’t have to be ALL or NOTHING. In my house we have found a balance. A balance that works well for us. In the morning when my toddler is eating breakfast I turn on PBS Kids (sometimes for an hour) so that I can get breakfast for my 1 year old twins and empty the dishwasher as we get things ready for the day. While my twins are napping (and since my toddler has gone on a nap strike much to my dismay), my toddler gets to watch a show or play a game on the iPad while I get some work done for 30-45 minutes. If we are going for a long ride in the car or if I need to distract her from melting down at the grocery store, she watches my iPhone. Aside from that we interact – we read books (she is enthralled by books), we do art & science projects, we do puzzles and play with the sensory bin, and when the weather permits we go to the park. The choice doesn’t have to be either/or and screen time doesn’t have to be the enemy. Here are six ways that we make it work at our house!
- Find a Balance: If there is a screen time, try to follow it up with books, art projects, puzzles or something educational.
- Watch it Together: Co-view and then talk about what you saw – it CAN turn into a learning experience.
- Keep Screen Time in Just One Room: I don’t allow my daughter to have a tv or the iPad in her room.
- Limit Your Own Screen Time: As someone who works from home, my kids see me at my computer (sometimes A LOT). I am now making an intentional effort to limit the amount of time I spend working while I am with my kids. It’s not always easy, but the minute they hit the hay at night I work my tail off.
- Content is Key: When my children are present, I make an effort to make sure that PBS Kids or other kid-friendly shows and programming are all that they are exposed to.
- Limit Background TV: When the show is over, I turn the television off.
I know that this goes against the grain, but I also feel that many parents put extraordinary amounts of unnecessary pressure on themselves day in and day out to be the ‘perfect’ parent. And while I am far from perfect, my children are showing positive signs of learning, they are nurtured and they feel loved… every single day. And that is all the validation I need for me to know that I am doing something right.