I’ve been kinda silent lately…for a number of reasons. One, the semester has just started back up and I’m once again trying to figure out how to balance being a full time mama with being a full time PhD student – not to mention I’m still scraping the rust off the ole’ academic brain after taking a babymoon from school work! Two, we’ve been busy enjoying the last days of summer and trying to get the house back in order after a season of neglect (hmm…fodder for a future post perhaps…any good tips?). And three, I’ve been trying (albeit with limited success) to cut back on screen time – MY screen time.
When Callum was born, we agreed that we wanted to avoid screen time for him as much as possible. Until he turned two, we didn’t let him watch any TV or videos. In the last few months, we slowly started allowing him to watch select videos on YouTube; he was getting very much into trains so it seemed harmless enough to let him watch some train videos. We started with “real” trains – amazing the number of people who have posted videos of railroad crossings! And then of course one day he stumbled on a Thomas the Train clip…and that seemed harmless enough. And before you know it I did something I vowed never to do – I let him watch an entire episode of Thomas on Netflix, not as a fun cuddle time activity to share, but as a way for me to find some “me” time.
Now there’s certainly nothing wrong with letting your kids watch a bit of TV. And I’m pretty sure no one gets hurt when mama uses a cute talking train to buy a few minutes of freedom. But it’s what I noticed happening afterward that made me rethink our screen time and pull the plug back a bit. Well, two things actually. I found myself turning “iPad time” (Callum’s viewing medium of choice) from the occasional treat into an increasingly frequent event. And the more iPad time there was, the harder it was for him to go back to “just playing.” Tantrums ensued – major tantrums – and this from a kid who rarely has major tantrums. Something wasn’t right. As nice as it was to have that “free” time, I was beginning to wonder if it wasn’t really worth it after all.
I also realized that my behavior – specifically the amount of time I spent on the computer – is in large part to blame for the way this all plays out. I like the internet…a lot. I’m one of those obsessive facebook and email checkers. Having a smart phone and iPad are great – but they are also huge time sucks that make me even more dependent on “keeping track” of my online world. In many ways the internet is a positive part of my life. It’s a great resource for connecting with like minded parents (in fact, it’s how I met many of my “real life” mama friends) and an easy way for a busy mama to socialize. I read loads of interesting things while browsing – from just randomly good to know to academic things I actually need/use for my work.
The downside is, of course, that it’s easy to neglect “the real world” when the shiny sparkle of bits and bytes calls your name. Callum loves to do everything I do. So is it any wonder that if he sees me constantly logging on that he wants to do the same? His negative reaction to having video time end made me wonder if I wasn’t also giving myself the grumps by being too attached to my screen.
Obviously, I’m not planning to go off the grid any time soon. But I do think I need to be at least a bit more responsible about how I navigate the world of screens and information for my kids. If I felt that it was important to stop turning on the TV just to have the TV on during the day once Callum came along, I should find it equally important to limit the amount of time he sees me online. And in turn, to be more judicious about his screen time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not putting a ban on poor ole’ Thomas. But I have decided that for us, 30 minutes of video time once or twice a week is more than enough for now.
I don’t think there’s any magic amount of time that’s right for parents or kids to park in front of a screen. Nor do I think that all screen time is “bad” or that using Thomas to take a breather is lazy parenting. But I do know that my own overuse of the internet has cut into something I once spent loads of time doing – reading for fun. And as someone who makes a living off books and reading…that’s a priority problem. I’m more than a little ashamed it took Callum’s very blunt “two-ness” to bring that to my attention. Like so many things in parenting, this is one that requires attention to balance – finding the right way to integrate an activity into your life instead of letting it consume your life.
So we are cutting back. We’ve been on our slimmed down screen time regimen for about a week. Callum is doing better than I am I have to say. In fact, on several occasions when I might have given in to the iPad in the past, he’s found some other, more interesting way to occupy himself. He’s even started “reading” himself books…perhaps I should follow his example 🙂
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