I am not a crunchy, hippy mom: I only breastfed my son for six months, the minimum recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. I put him in his crib on the very first night he came home. I could never figure out how to wrap him to my body in yards of stretchy jersey, and I have never been bothered about my son getting a little screen time. While other moms might bristle at the thought of giving a toddler a tablet, I am all for it — in moderation, of course.
At almost 2 years old, my son will get between an hour and two hours of screen time a day. This is only slightly more than the allowable amount, according to the aforementioned American Academy of Pediatrics. Although he loves playing with books, puzzles, and that colorful sliding toy that is in every doctor's office, he also enjoys a little technology in his day, and I don't think that's a bad thing.
Screen time in our house takes on many different shapes. For starters, there's the scheduled biweekly FaceTime meetings with his aunts. Due to the fact that our homes are in different cities and they lead very busy lives, we don't get to see each other that often, usually only a couple times a year. If I was overly concerned with how much screen time my son was getting, I might not have gotten to experience the joy of watching him blowing kisses to his aunts 800 miles away. He knows them because of those phone calls, which makes the time when we are all together even more special because we're not having to negotiate stranger danger.
There are thousands of apps designed for toddlers, and while I obviously cannot speak to all of them, the few that I have downloaded have been great. My personal favorite is a game of flashcards of various animals and the sounds they make. We play together, "flipping" the cards over to hear cat go "meow" or the pig go "oink" as I tell him the names of the animals. This is very similar to the old See 'n Say toy of our youth; it's just modernized for young digital minds, and a lot more portable.
Then of course there is the dreaded TV. I get why it makes a lot of parents uneasy. It's so easy to slip into the habit of letting your kid become a zombie who stares at the screen, mouth agape and eyes barely blinking. That's clearly not the kind of television I'm talking about, though I will admit that there have been moments like this as I scramble to make dinner.
Around my son's 12-month checkup, his doctor and I had a conversation about screens, and her reasoning as to why so many are against television is because while the children are watching TV they aren't doing something else which could be better for them. It's kind of like eating dessert: while I'm eating this doughnut, I'm clearly not going to shove a carrot in my mouth.
It's kind of like eating dessert: while I'm eating this doughnut, I'm clearly not going to shove a carrot in my mouth.
With this in mind, when our son watches his beloved Sesame Street, we encourage him to do other things at the same time. He'll stack blocks, color, and play with his stuffed Sesame Street characters. During this time, he is establishing connections between the television and real world. The characters on the screen and the ones he's holding are the connection. He also is beginning to develop a little personality, one who has favorite characters, who laughs at mostly appropriate moments, and has started to sing along with the songs.
I'd be lying if I said that we never used TV as a distraction. There are times that we just need to get stuff done. It's a lot easier to shower when you're not concerned that the silence in the other room is leading to something disastrous. I know that I can trust my son to stay in his playroom, build with blocks, and watch TV in the time that it takes me to get clean. Having kids can be hard at times, and anything within reason to give you momentary lapses of ease is fine by me.
Looking ahead to when he is in school, I don't think he's going to be behind the other kids because of his affection for technology. On the contrary, considering our love of STEM education and a real movement toward paperless classrooms, I think it will benefit him in the long run. A lot of STEM-based instruction is designed around giving children the opportunity to explore and learn through inquiry. Many apps and TV shows support this approach, thus further strengthening a child's STEM literacy later in life.
In talking with early childhood specialists, they were quick to point out that preschool readiness isn't just about playing with others and knowing your colors. Being prepared for school also requires that young students are able to stay on task independently. Books, toys, apps, and yes, even television are all tools that parents can use to instill autonomy in their children. I enjoy the times where my son and I interact and play together, but it's also important for him to have time to himself, doing something that he loves.
I love my son. I want him to be prepared for the world when he's ready for it, but I also want him to be happy. Right now one of the things that makes him ecstatic to the point of shaking is Sesame Street, and I'm OK with that. If you could see his smile, I think you would be too.
Product Credit: Left: Everlane sweatshirt / Right: Marigot PJ shirt