By: Cristina Moreno, Bilingual Outreach Specialist, Penfield Children’s Center
I know, I just wrote about how some screen time for kids is not all that bad, but now I am going to share why I still think it is important to spend screen free time together. When we think of limiting screen time, we typically think of the cartoons and tablet games that our kids can sit and watch for hours on end if we let them, but how often do we, the adults, stop to consider how the time we spend on various devices can interfere with our family time?
As our son gets older, the list of small lifestyle changes we have to make grows. Whether that means being more judicious with our choice of words, no more “I hate doing dishes” or “I hate plain vanilla ice cream” or any of the other completely irrational things we say that we do not actually “hate” (except maybe dishes), or editing our choices of entertainment to fit the G-rated needs of our growing human sponge. We can add limiting our own screen time to that list. As a working parent, I do not often have time to sit and watch an entire movie or TV show, but I will watch pieces here and there, or catch myself scrolling through social media feeds. While these little snippets of time seem minimal and insignificant compared to the rest of our day, what is significant is the message our kids are receiving. I remember an article I read not too long ago about a mother who sat to observe her toddlers playing and tallied the number of times they turned to see if she was watching. She counted 28 times that her boys had looked to her for some reason or another while they played, and reflected on what it would have meant if she had spent that time on her phone instead. She imagined that her boys may have wondered if she felt that being connected to the web was more important than they were. Those 28 opportunities she had to reassure them she was present would have been lost if she had chosen to be on her phone while she knew her children were playing safely, an apparently harmless choice. This made me reflect on my own screen habits. While I do not think I am too attached to my phone, and I often lose track of where it is, there are times when I use it simply because I am bored or am looking for some mindless entertainment to wind down from my day.
As we try to pull our children away from the screen (sometimes literally), we should consider what kind of example we are giving. In our busy, multitasking lives, it feels almost necessary to constantly be checking in, be it our work emails, social media, or messaging with family. I sometimes give myself some slack and reason that I am only going to skim my emails, or my son is falling asleep anyway so he will not notice. But the days I set the phone aside or turn off the TV and give my son all of my attention, whether that is by being more mindfully present as we play on the floor or hugging him with both arms while he naps because I am not preoccupied with a phone or computer in one of them, I am setting us both up for the mindset that our time together is special and worthwhile, even if we are half asleep.
There are some days that seem made for cuddling while watching a movie, but overall, I think that as parents and role models, we can put the electronics away a little more often, lead by example, and show our kids why our family time is worth everyone’s time.
Have you ever tried limiting your own screen time? Did you notice any changes in you or your family’s mindset about the time you spend together?