Are we better parents for having screen-free children?

By Natasha Sim, Parents Avenue’s Writer

Unlike our parents or grandparents before us, modern parents are now confronted with the ever pervasive question of—how much screen time is too much? More specifically, should I even let my newly weaned 10-month-old watch Peppa Pig on the iPad while I attempt to spoon feed him porridge at the dinner table? 

First, let’s face the facts. For years, pediatricians have recommended less than 2 hours of screen time per day for children. In fact, it is highly recommended that children up to 2 years ought to have no screen time at all

 

Although that changed as technology quickly played a more ubiquitous role in our lives. Now, your pediatrician will likely tell you that how much screen time is up to you, there simply is no “one size fits all” screentime recommendation for all families.

However, screen time has been increasingly linked to an increase show of ADD/ADHD symptoms in children, as teachers complain more about inattentive children in classrooms. In toddlers and babies, a study has found that screen time can impede speech and language development. Also, it doesn’t help our anxiety as parents when we read headlines proclaiming screen time as “digital heroin” for kids

Need I even mention teenagers who can’t seem to hear us everytime we call them as they’re glued to their video games? Devices just seem to take away from children time spent interacting with real life.

 

Now that’s out of the way. Let’s discuss the realities of parenting outside of theory. We have to admit that whether it’s the television or iPad, a screen in front of our difficult crying child is the easiest choice in our arsenal of parenting tools. A screen can soothe; it distracts, engages and can give us the downtime we so desperately need. 

Please Lords of the Idiot Box, save me from another toddler tantrum. We have to give screens some credit, at least, for entertaining our children while we actually get sh*t done around the house. 

No matter. I can’t help feeling guilty when my now 2-year-old spends too much time watching The Wiggles. And it’s completely understandable when I see someone hand their child a phone at a restaurant, just so dinner can be smooth sailing. 

We as parents should cut ourselves some slack. Sure, going screen-free fits the ideal life I want for my child. He’ll have more time to explore the world. To run around and be free. Without screens, I believe he’ll actually spend more time with his creativity and imagination; and develop his own perspective without the filtered lens of a screen. 

But the truth is, parenting within rules and guidelines is hard. I don’t need other parents judging my choices, so why am I judging myself?

Natasha working from home while attending her son.
It’s all a balancing act

 

I stay at home with my toddler for the most part, being a work-from-home freelancer. And frankly, I don’t have the energy to set up picture perfect sensory play activities all day, every day like Pinterest and Instagram suggest I do. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the TV is turned on for three hours consecutively. 

 

I like to think of myself as screen-lite. I turn on the TV only when I absolutely need to, and for now, my toddler’s sticky hands are banned from touching mobile screens. A screen is a tool. What that means is, I get to decide when and how it is being watched. If it’s dinner time and you’re asking for the TV? Too bad kiddo, dining on TV is not on the menu. 

And what I really mean to say is, as parents it’ll do good for us to look at our circumstances and repeat this affirmation: I am doing the best I can for what is best for my family. This way, screens don’t become another one of those things we have to vehemently avoid. 

Otherwise, not using the TV will just be another item filed under the “101 ways you should parent your child”. With all the well-intentioned advice given to me, solicited or not, I actually forget that having a baby did not come with an instruction manual. 

Instead. How about we parent ourselves first? Raise our awareness surrounding our choices. Spend time in introspection. Make parenting a conscious act, daily.  Maybe if we spent time reflecting on our day-to-day actions then there wouldn’t be so much guilt and judgment for ourselves and others. Maybe then parenting becomes less of something we do out of fear. Maybe then I can talk about my choices freely without shame.

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