The Screen Time Debate (among parents)

I feel compelled to write this post after reading this blog post – Why I Don’t Feel Bad About Giving My Kids Unlimited Screen Time

When I first saw the title of the article, I was like”What utter RUBBISH?“. Read it and I was right. 

The author isn’t suggesting that parents plonk their kids in front of the screens and do mindless surfing, random swiping of fingers on the iPad or watching endless cartoons. Her child has actually used screen time to pick up film editing skills. Good for her but I have so many issues with what’s in the article.

1. “…books are becoming obsolete”

There are ebooks and the mighty Kindle that reads just like a book, BUT it’s still not a book, is it? I think the Kindle is a great devices as it can contain so many books and still weigh less than 250 grams. But as a mum with a 23 month old toddler who LOVES books, I can tell you books are NOT obsolete. How is my son going to learn to flip pages, feel different textures in books or press sound panels in novelty books if I didn’t give him a single physical book to read from day one? I love seeing his face light up with joy when he gets a book as a present.

 

I do not agree that our kids are an “up-and-down-scroll generation”. They will only become so if we LET them be. I’ll make sure my son isn’t a tech idiot, BUT I’ll also make sure he appreciates books. 

2. “They had to complete dedicated time for exercise, hands-on creativity, reading, and chores before they could dive into their screens.”

This is actually from Narrow Back Slacker.

Ermmm… Unlimited screen time is the big reward for accomplishing other tasks?     

  

Photo credit: Narrow Back Slacker 

Perhaps it’s easier for me to say “no” to screen time to a 23 month old than an older child who’s meant to be better at understanding “no” since the former can’t negotiate (just cries).

Before you think that I’m the control freak mum who doesn’t allow my son screen time, you’re wrong. On an average week, Theo gets maximum an hour of screen time. We don’t actually time him. It’s just the way it is based on the activities we plan for him.

Firstly, he’s at Kita all day and by the time he gets back we just end up playing and reading together. He’s been away all day and we prefer to do something interactive with him. Even when he’s not at Kita, I make sure we read lots, play together, get outdoors and be active. We don’t use the iPad to pacify him. If we were careless to leave it lying around and he asks for it (hardly ever now), all we need to tell him is a simple “No” and he’s off to play with his toys. No struggle whatsoever (for now at least). 

I’m all for learning mandarin from watching Peppa Pig, but after an episode or two, we back to playing together using words we’ve heard (I try) from Peppa Pig.

3. “Our mothers survived without microwaves…we are doing a pretty good job of surviving as grown-ups in spite of having all those things”

This is a false equivalency

I don’t think there was ever a question about whether or not to allow children unlimited microwave time.

The above quote is from my husband. Love his great sense of humour. 

Even if I did use a microwave daily because I’m addicted to it, it has a different effect to being addicted to our PCs, smartphones and tablets. It is true that people addicted to these technologies are capable of alienating themselves from real relationships. 

 Photos credit: Life without smartphones – in pictures (The Guardian)  
   4. Comparing games available today to the Atari, Nintendo and Commodore 64s
Thousands of games are free to download today. You don’t necessarily need to use the family TV to play games these days because of handheld devices. Gamers can play on the go. Even if the kid needs to use the family TV to play his/her game, chances are Mum and Dad have a million other devices to have a good thumb workout too. The fundamental nature of gaming has changed so many over the years. The market is saturated with “pay to win” games that promise to get you addicted.   

I don’t want my child addicted to a screen and not talk to me. I don’t want to have to be reminded to log in to play a game. Tried one of these games, hate it now. 

5. “Parents judge each other if they see kids using iPads in restaurants…”

I saw many kids with iPads in restaurants in Singapore last year. Can I blame them when their parents are also drowning themselves with their own iPads and smartphones? #judging

Since when did we start bringing iPads out for meals? Devices need to be charged with electricity, not fed actual food! So I beg everyone I know to NEVER EVER EVER EVER pacify my son with your iPads or smartphones even when he’s throwing an awful tantrum in public. He’s old enough to know that if he gets that favourable treatment once, he’ll play up the next time too. 

If you’re paying money for a nice meal out, how about spending some quality time chatting together instead of checking in on Facebook. 

Wondering why we limit screen time in our family?

We don’t just limit screen time for Theo. We also limit our own screen time during his awake hours.

It’s not for whatever science has said about screen time being bad for brain development of babies or that it causes bad eyesight. We have 2 simple reasons to limit screen time.

1. At around 18 months old (can’t remember exactly when), Theo would say things like “Papa/Mama, phone back!” When he couldn’t articulate, he would snatch it and throw it away and get upset. 

He was competing with technology for our attention. That’s when I realised that I can’t be reading messages that weren’t meant directly for me in some Whatsapp groups. I left those groups. It might have offended some people but I’m not sorry that my son’s wellbeing comes first. I even did an experiment to see how he would react if I took my phone up to look at it. Whenever I did that, he’ll try different ways to get my attention. 

2. At around 19/20 months old, we noticed for a week that he would throw a proper tantrum if we said he couldn’t watch something on the iPad or TV. I don’t believe it has anything to do with naughty twos. Even if it does, there’s no reason why a toddler should cry over an iPad when he has so many toys and activities to entertain him. 

The whole trying desperately to get our attention and throwing tantrums when he doesn’t get the iPad made us decide to make some drastic changes. We immediately stopped leaving devices around within his reach. We stopped using our devices in front of him unless we had a message from family. We stopped casual surfing. After a couple of days, he stopped asking. The funny thing is after a couple of months, he’s not enticed by our devices even when he sees them. The iPads are just objects Papa and Mama leave on the table or sofa and Theo knows he only gets to use them IF we let him. However, he has so much energy in him that I purposely organise activities that require him to be active and that fill our day that we don’t actually have much time left to do anything on our iPads with Theo. 

Am I worried that my son will be too afraid to use technology when he grows up? Not a single bit. I’m confident that he can swipe tablets and smartphones. I just think that at such a young tender age, there’s so much to explore (see, touch, smell, taste and hear) in the real world that he’s not going to miss out in life for not watching the latest cartoon episodes or playing a game on the tablet. 

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