Monday, July 27, 2015

Parenthood: Week 111 – Screen Time

The first time Ollie had screen time was when he was six days old. We settled down to watch The Expendables.  He slept through the entire film but it was some high quality daddy-son screen time.

There’s a lot of concern about the amount of “screen time” our children are getting. The pervasiveness of smart phone has made access to screen time omnipresent. There’s articles linking screen time to all kinds of disorders and dysfunctions, which have made some parents illogically concerned about screen time while other parents don’t seem to notice at all that letting their kid stare at a screen for most of that kid’s waking hours is a bad idea.

I’m not a psychologist or a sociologist. Nothing I’m saying here is based on any research. Like most things on this blog, my thoughts on screen time and children are based on my experiences.

Screen time has been a very important way for my family to acquire cultural knowledge. Like I discussed in this blog post about Bill Cosby, television helped my parents learn and understand what it meant to be American. Television and film opened the world to me and helped me become a more empathetic and understanding human being while video games helped create some of my favorite memories with my brother.

I agree that we need monitor much screen time our children have, but cutting out screen time or setting time limits doesn’t really address this issue. First off, as we’ve seen in the realm of sex education, abstinence education doesn’t work. Teaching our children to abstain from sex, alcohol, fatty foods, video games, and television and internet creates narrow-minded individuals who don’t have the tools to control life’s pleasures and interact with society.

Yes, it’s easier to simply cut things out of your children’s lives but that doesn’t mean that it’s better. I hate it when Ollie has meltdowns when we turn off the television, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up helping him learn how to watch television in appropriate doses. It is essential that we help our children learn to moderate the pleasures in their lives.

Not all screen time is created equal. Watching Sesame Street with your child and encouraging your kid to answer the questions asked by the characters is very different than sitting you kid in front of a show, not meant for their age and leaving them alone. I would rather watch an hour of an appropriate show with Ollie than let him zone out for 15 minutes watching a show like South Park (I love South Park btw, I just don’t think it’s right for Ollie).

As a parent, I am so grateful for the pervasiveness of screen time. Have you ever had to go to the bathroom when you are alone with a child and needed to use a grocery store bathroom? If it wasn’t for Elmo on youtube, I have no idea how I would have got Ollie to stand in that bathroom while I did my business.  Plane rides without iPhones would make a difficult experience with Ollie, excruciating. Besides these more difficult situations, I’ve had a lot of joyous moments watching television with Ollie.

I can’t describe how wonderful it feels to watch reruns of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood and have him hear the same message of emotional acceptance and the importance of loving yourself that I did as a child. Hearing him giggle uncontrollably when watching monkeys on Planet Earth was adorable (they don’t want to get their paws wet, sooo cute).

Also, there's Peter, Paul and Mary concert footage with Ollie that I remember watching with my brother. There’s also seeing pictures of his family on the iPad and regular FaceTime conversations with his Popo (my mom), which are highlights of our day whenever they occur. Screen time has not only relieved stress as a parent but has helped Ollie connect with the world around him and his family.

Don’t get me wrong, Diana and I are very conscientious about the amount of screen time and we are not going to let Ollie become a zombie. However, it’s important that acknowledge screen time and all the technology that it includes for how it can enrich our children’s lives.

The screen time thing is really tough to manage.  Right now, Ollie is off of anything that has Elmo.  For some reason when Elmo gets turned off, he melts down worse than when he's watching something else.  I know I will battle Ollie with screen time, and I'm not looking forward to those fights but they are going to be worth it in the long run.

We as a society will continue to struggle manage the way screen time impacts our lives.  The negative consequences of our failure, allowing screen time to cut us off from each other is looming but the way technology can bring us together and make our face to face interactions more meaningful is a possibility that our children deserve.

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