Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Screen Time

My relationship with screens has evolved over time. At one point in my life, I watched TV all.the.time. I knew every episode of every show. But more recently, I hardly watch TV at all. Or at least I don't pay attention to it. I rarely watch specific shows and can hardly remember the days/times of the shows I mean to watch.  But yet we still had the TV on almost all the time. For example, right now, E and I are both paying close attention to our laptops while sitting on the couch, vaguely listening to the TV in the background. That's pretty much been our screen time recently, with the occasional swap of iPad for laptop.

Things evolved yet again when Seven came into our lives. I pretty much spent my entire maternity leave catching up on years of TV (thank you Hulu!). Seven insisted on being held all the time, often being fed, and so using the laptop (which required my hands) was not a great option. But TV was on all the time.

Until one day, when Seven suddenly appeared to take notice of it. It happened right at the end of my leave, so we turned off the TV for good. The plan was to not let him watch TV. Of course, we were on our various electronics all the time, but somehow TV seemed different.  We did not set any absolute rules or make a decision about how long the TV would be off, but we most definitely did not want to have it on as background to daily life. And since TV was not really a big deal for us, we didn't think anything was being lost.

The hard part was getting the rest of the family to recognize how the interact with TV. My ILs in particular. They have the TV on all the time. All the time. Sometimes they mute it, but even during dinner, the picture is on. My philosophy is "someone else's home, someone else's rules," so I never said anything about it before. But bringing Seven other to their house was a challenge. They did make an effort to use the TV less, but they are so used to having it on, that they don't always notice it.

We do have one funny story about the TV and Seven. The first exception we made about having the TV on when he was still awake was the day of the mass shooting in the Colorado movie theater. We wanted to watch the news to learn what was happening and so turned on the TV. After several minutes of reporting on what happened, they had a segment about the tragedy's impact on kids. A psychologist was interviewed to talk about how to help children through this. The first piece of advice? Don't let them watch the news about it! The sensational nature of news will do more harm than goods to young children. Seven had been playing on his playmat when we turned the TV on. We look over at him and he was absolutely enthralled with the news. Couldn't take his eyes away! Yeah, we pretty much felt like the worst parents ever.

As for other screens, I am less sure what to do. I do think there are ways kids can interact and learn from apps on the computer or iPad/iPhone. But too much of anything can be a bad thing. When I see iPhone covers designed for kids (shaped like monsters, with easy kid handles), I get worried that the benefits of these learning activities are overwhelmed by the use of them as babyminders. This may very well be something I totally do once Seven gets older. But as with the idea of the TV as a bad babysitter, the problem with screen time is not the screens themselves or the programs on them. It is the absence of a parent/adult paying attention to the child.

This post is part of the PAIL monthly theme.


  1. "But as with the idea of the TV as a bad babysitter, the problem with screen time is not the screens themselves or the programs on them. It is the absence of a parent/adult paying attention to the child."


  2. Funny how your ILs have the TV on all the time, but mine are the opposite. It is total silence in their house.

    We visited them for a long weekend and I couldn't take hearing nothing. Plus, they had eaten breakfast before me....and I sat and ate while they sat and watched me. Yes, we spoke some, but maybe this is more a sign that I am not totally comfortable with them in their noiseless house!

  3. I think it's really great that you guys decided that, since you get nothing out of watching TV, the best thing was just to turn it off. Sometimes that's all it takes, because turning it on is often out of habit (likely your IL's) more than out of desire to specifically watch something.

    I agree that sometimes the ipads, etc., can be used in a positive way, but the stuff marketed directly to kids just bothers me. Give me a doll and a set of blocks any day!

  4. I totally agree that 'screen time' can be used positively as a learning tool, but that this means that a parent must there with the child to make it interactive, not passive.

    My parents are the ones who always have the TV on. There are more TV sets than people in their house, and one is always BLARING. I can't take it. I wonder if I am so different than them in this regard, does that mean my kids will be TV blarers?!? I hope not!!!

  5. Ugh, my ILs have their TV on all the time too! It's hard when it is someone else's house though, for sure. I love your last sentence the best - so true!


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