I'm a Better Parent Because I Have an iPad Kid — Here's Why
Like many people before they have kids, I thought I knew exactly how I would parent. And for the first year of my daughter's life, I was pretty strict. No added sugar, no screens, lots of outdoor activities, music classes, and library visits. I was trying to be the "perfect mom" I saw on Instagram, but it was exhausting.
Just as her first birthday came in March 2020, so did a global pandemic. Being home 24/7 meant more cleaning, more cooking, and a lot less to do outside of the house.
As she got older, I loosened my restrictions because, frankly, I was tired and needed a break. I think the early days of COVID-19 were hard on everyone, and the uncertainty of the world filled me with anxiety. She also was learning less from outside sources, so I used educational programming on an iPad to fill that gap.
At age 2, we only watched "Sesame Street." But as she got older, more shows started being added to the devices, and screen time increased well past the recommended one-hour-per-day limit. Her day is now filled with a mix of watching educational programs like "Emily's Wonder Lab" on Netflix, learning a new language on Duolingo, playing games on an app like Noggin, and video chatting with long-distance family.
Now I know what you're thinking, and yes, having a child spend too much time in front of a screen is never the move. But fortunately, experts say being an iPad kid isn't entirely unhealthy.
"Screen time can be a valuable tool for parents, offering kids a focused activity during travel, allowing for smoother meal preparations, and providing parents with much-needed downtime," says Joel "Gator" Warsh, MD, a pediatrician in Studio City, CA. "It's a practical aspect of modern parenting that, when used judiciously, can support parents' mental health and daily logistics."
Plus, her screen time is in combination with her attending school full-time, learning a second language, participating in three sports, exploring New York City, and playing with the many toys in our home — something that experts say is key.
"Parents can feel less guilty by ensuring that screen time is balanced with other activities," Dr. Warsh says. "It's about the quality and context of screen use, not just the quantity. Using screens as a part of a varied and balanced schedule can alleviate guilt."
Most importantly, though, her screen time makes me a better parent.
Just as much as she likes watching TV or playing games on an iPad, I, too, sometimes need that time to do something or to take a moment for myself and protect my mental health.
I allow her to watch shows to relax and unwind so that I can also relax and unwind. On the weekends, when I want to watch a show with my husband, she is allowed to watch her iPad. When I'm making dinner and don't want her around knives and a hot stove, she is allowed to watch her iPad. When we're flying together and I'm feeling sick from motion sickness, she's allowed to watch her iPad.
Just as much as she likes watching TV or playing games on an iPad, I, too, sometimes need that time to do something or to take a moment for myself and protect my mental health. If I'm able to complete a task faster while she is distracted with an iPad for a few minutes, it means I can then offer my undivided attention to her. Likewise, if I'm able to rest and recharge while she watches a 30-minute show, I'm less likely to be anxious or short with her for the rest of the day.
In a very unscientific poll I did with my friends around the country, all of them, even those whose kids don't have their own personal iPads, told me they rely on screens at least sometimes — on planes, in cars, at restaurants — when they need a moment of peace. And what I gather from this is that even though screen time is looked down upon and demonized, it seems like everyone is doing it, to varying degrees. Maybe if parents were more honest about their screen-time habits, for both themselves and their children, it wouldn't feel so shameful.
At the end of the day, we are still parents with rules, and screen time cannot be a free-for-all. Just like with food or anything else, I try to find the healthier option as often as I can. But if having an iPad kid is the worst thing to worry about, maybe we shouldn't be worried at all? Maybe we should consider ourselves lucky to have the option to make parenting just a bit easier when we really need it.