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Teach your children: Screens are good

Lisa Schmeiser | Aug. 11, 2015
When I first brought my daughter home from the hospital, I was so paranoid about how any sort of screen time would crack her fragile eggshell mind, I only permitted the television to be on when the baby was asleep. Even then, I insisted that we keep the television on mute; we relied on closed caption to try and keep up with what was going on. (Our success was mixed: Sons Of Anarchy had perfect transcriptions of biker mayhem, while a PBS series on the Big Apple Circus was basically rendered as gibberish.)

Yet for all the alarms ringing about our feral children's brains running out of their ears the minute they look at an are looking at screens early and often. According to Common Sense Media, 39 percent of all 2- to 4-year-olds are using some sort of touchscreen mobile device at home, while the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communication and Media found that 90 percent of children under age 2 are viewing electronic media.

These kids aren't exactly breaking out of the crib to get their fix: a Nielsen survey found that 80 percent of parents are handing off their tablets to their kids, while 75 percent of survey respondents at admitted to handing off their smartphones to their small children.

I'm no exception. My daughter was manhandling (or toddlerhandling) my iPhone before she was 1: We were stuck at an event one afternoon, and three playground explorations, two walks, and three circuits of a tech show floor had failed to keep her amused. I pulled out my phone and played a series of music videos on the Signing Time app, and for 20 minutes, there was peace in the kingdom. The whole time I was doing it, I knew there was probably a member of the AAP who was feeling a disturbance in the Force.

And yet... Given a choice between singing along with the videos while I snuggled my daughter or strapping a cranky baby into the stroller for another walk neither one of us would enjoy, I went with the experience that gave us both pleasure.

And I began to pull together my own guidelines for screen time. I still held up the AAP recommendations as the best-case scenario, but I basically developed a reduced-guilt screen policy based on a series of questions:

Is this a regular event or something out of the routine? If it's a once-in-a-very-long-while event, I'll allow more screen time for our mutual comfort. (This is how I justified bringing a DVD player on a cross-country airplane trip when my kiddo was 19 months old. Naturally, she ignored it the entire flight.)

What time of the day is it? I noticed early on that giving the kiddo screen time on weekend mornings made her impatient and demanding until naptime. We joked about "screen poisoning." Now, my daughter doesn't get screen time unless it's mid-afternoon or early evening and we can work the toxicity out of her system with a mother-daughter coloring session or some reading together. I avoid any screen time for an hour before bed.

Are we at the table together? We do have a no-smartphones policy at all family meals, and "family meal" is defined as any snack or meal where the kiddo is with at least one other parent. Learning how to read people is an important skill; she can choose to be the boor who spends an entire meal staring at her smartphone screen once she's grown up and moved out of my house.


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