By: Cristina Moreno, Bilingual Outreach Specialist, Penfield Children’s Center
If we read any of the anti-screen hype these days, we can quickly come to think of screen time as the enemy, and feel immense guilt as we pull up an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on our phones and hand them to our kids so they will sit still long enough to wrestle them into their car seats for the fourth time that day. Or is that just me? After hearing about how screen time can cause delays in babies, how exposure to all of this technology is affecting our children’s attitudes towards communication, and reminiscing on my own childhood when some friends would rather spend a beautiful summer day watching cartoon marathons than playing outside, I naively declared that my son would have a screen free childhood. After all, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends zero screen time for children under the age of two, or at least it used to. I credit people’s social maturity for not having laughed in my face.
I disliked when family would let my son watch videos on their phones or turn on cartoons to entertain him, but I think what really bothered me was the fact that I could tell he enjoyed it, and that conflicted with my hopes that he would be happy to be screen free. I refused to let him watch any cartoons while he was with me, until I reached my breaking point and finally gave in after weeks of trying to maneuver a wiggling, screaming baby into his car seat. Every time I had to buckle him in was a struggle. Every single time. One day after working up a sweat spending nearly ten minutes doing something that should have taken 60 seconds, I had all but given up when I whipped out my phone and played the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse theme song, which I had been told was his favorite, and handed it to him. Suddenly, almost like magic, I had a baby buckled and ready to go in less time than it had taken me to find the video.
We get bombarded by screen time recommendations at schools, on parenting sites, at the doctor’s office, and by other parents, while at the same time facing odd looks from our own parents and older relatives about being so rigid about screen time rules. As I get close to the end of my first year as a mom, I think back and realize that while I want my son to eventually prefer to play outside or read a book than watch TV or play video games, a little screen time really is not THAT bad. It is not the end of the world if he likes a cartoon and I let him watch it from time to time. As a matter of fact, I love watching movies and am excited to introduce him to some of my old favorites. I feel screen time should not take the place of real world experiences and interactions, and limits should be set to encourage children to entertain themselves by using their imaginations. However, if letting my son watch a mouse sing and dance, even if it is to a tune that will be stuck in my head for hours, helps our morning run more smoothly or allows me to make dinner without having a 20 lb. baby strapped to my torso trying to grab everything in reach, then I do not think it is something to feel guilty about. The little bit of time it saves me during our daily scramble to get things done lets me give that time back to him later with my undivided attention.
There are many ways you can still engage your child even while allowing some screen time. Asking questions about what they see, such as, “Donald is wearing a blue shirt. What color shirt are you wearing?”, singing and dancing along to familiar songs, and asking your child to guess what he thinks will happen next can help him practice a variety of skills as he watches his favorite shows.
What do you think is a good limit of screen time for your child?