I never thought I’d be the mom to tell you that I let my toddlers watch TV. In fact, a year or two ago, I was the farthest thing from a screen-loving parent, even going so far as to consider removing all technologies from my home, except maybe my phone.
But, like most things in parenting, I realized I needed to rethink my original assumptions and judgments after having two toddlers of my own. I can’t be the only mom who is not managing to keep up with the endless baking, crafting, and outdoor adventures I see strewn across my social media parenting feeds! Throw in a global pandemic and the loss of all childcare and I was just about at my wit’s end.
According to the 2020 National Health Interview Survey, “65.7% of boys and 64.6% of girls aged 2–17 years spent >2 hours of screen time per weekday.” That means that your neighbor, friend, and/or stranger with the white picket fence might all be turning on the telly at the end of the day.
But, despite this overwhelming strength in numbers, I still wanted my own reasons for allowing my children to watch TV or use digital devices. I wish it was enough for me to know that Susie down the block lets her kids indulge in some “Paw Patrol”, so I should too, but one statistic alone couldn’t budge me. I mean, I was the original poster Mom for saying that my babies would never own an iPad or know how to use the remote.
Luckily, some lived experiences, grace from my fellow parents, and further research has helped me to see a different side of things.
When choosing TV, I recommend programs that are created to educate and spark curiosity, like Baby Einstein's Ocean Explorers. The catchy songs encourage interaction and engagement (for the whole family).
Here are my five reasons I now allow my children to indulge in some screen time:
It’s really easy to believe life is a strict binary of right and wrong, bad and good, binge-watch or screen-free. To be honest, before becoming a parent of two toddlers, I believed a lot of these dichotomies to be the only options. Little did I know that committing to my no screen time declaration was a lot harder to accomplish once I had little ones demanding all of my attention throughout the day.
Now, it’s much easier to see how life doesn’t always need to be one or the other. It’s full of exceptions and gray areas that afford me the ability to see how introducing some tv usage doesn’t have to mean my child’s brain will rot or that I’m a bad parent.
Rather than adhering to these nearly impossible absolutes, I’ve come to adopt new practices and boundaries around our family usage. So, do we watch about an hour of tv a day while I manage to get some work done? Sure! What about a movie night on Fridays? Absolutely! And how about that iPad on the long car or plane ride? You betcha! These modifications are a lot easier to adhere to, knowing I’ve given myself some grace and wiggle room to do what works best for my family!
It’s safe to say that television and other technologies aren’t going anywhere. As an educator, I’ve witnessed how technology is mindfully incorporated into elementary schools and how students as young as 4 are now taught coding. It’s a reality I may never have imagined as a young child. But, the fact is, most of us rely on some form of technology or screen time to help us live our lives and run our businesses.
Rather than shield my children from these valuable resources, I believe it’s better to incorporate them skillfully into their day-to-day lives. For instance, my three-year-old son has recently started attending some Outschool classes. These allow him to socialize with other students his age and learn about a topic that is interesting to him. He also has learned how to use a touch-screen laptop in the process, managing to “unmute” himself when called upon. As he grows up, I imagine him utilizing TV to learn about other areas of interests, perhaps math or drawing! With these options, the possibilities appear endless.
TV is a vital tool for helping teach my children about diversity. Through movies, tv shows, and YouTube videos, they are able to witness how people in different towns, states, and countries live their lives, communicate, and react when faced with challenges. The media exposes my children to necessary conversations around race, ethnicity, and gender, and hear from those with lived experiences directly. In fact, we utilize TV weekly in our house to help us learn “American Sign Language.” It’s been a great way for our family to watch and rewatch how skilled instructors teach us the proper ways to sign certain words! Thanks, YouTube!
I’d love to tell you that every minute of my child’s day is filled with activities and toys to keep them engaged, calm, excited, and/or out of my hair. But that’s just not the case. There are definitely times in my day, week, and year, when I utilize TV or other digital devices to help give me the break I deserve. It’s also a really necessary tool to help me balance my work schedule. As a work-from-home parent, I sometimes need to rely on the TV to help me take that last minute work call or respond to an urgent email.
Turns out, that some screen time may actually be good for kids! According to research from Oxford, Cambridge, and Cardiff Universities, the use of television and other technologies, such as tablets, have been seen to have a positive effect on children. As explained, “researchers found that children who spend one to two hours daily watching television or using digital devices had higher levels of social and emotional well-being versus those who reported no screen time.” It goes on to explain that rather than having parents focus on TV itself, parents should be more inclined to focus on setting healthy boundaries around their children’s usage.
Now, I do my best to set healthy boundaries around family screen time. That means that not only are my children given some guidelines around how many episodes they can watch in a day, but I also need to put away my phone or close my computer screen to model healthy boundaries. It’s been a change that’s worked really well for all of us and I’m looking forward to seeing how we can continue to incorporate technology and screens into their future education and growth.
It takes a village!
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