Here’s another post in the Things I’m Trying Not to Sound Sanctimonious About series I have accidentally started…
Among the many things I decided were important to me as a parent was the hope that electronics, and specifically devices with screens, would not become staples in my child-rearing arsenal. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents of children under two should avoid exposing them television and “other entertainment media,” with the reasoning that children this young learn best when they’re interacting with people, not screens.
While the AAP and I differ on some topics, I think it makes good sense to try our best to delay as long as possible The Baby’s inevitable obsession with screens. I want him to be able to use his imagination, to be able to engage face-to-face with people and to not need a screen as a crutch when he is bored, frustrated or lonely. As much as screens can connect us to each other, I find the very exercise of trying to get away from them more myself has proven to me that life feels more meaningful when you’re not staring into the glow.
I know as he gets more mobile and grabby and demanding, the temptation to stick a phone in his face so I can have two minutes to use the bathroom will grow stronger and stronger, but I’m really going to try to resist as long as I can, and even after he hits two, I hope we will be able to introduce screens in a way that keeps our values intact.
Here’s what I’ve learned in the first six months of this experience, though.
It’s really hard.
As someone who grew up watching 37 hours of TV a day, who had physical fights with my brother over whose turn it was on the computer, who makes money and nurtures a career on a computer and who is absolutely addicted to my mobile device, I have had to make some big life changes to accommodate this aspiration.
The Husband and I binge-watched Netflix the first three weeks home with The Baby (who certainly was not watching any of it), but as soon as he went back to work, I committed to only watching the morning news and keeping the TV off until TH came home from work to wean myself from the habit of keeping it on all the time. When we moved, we didn’t have the TV set up for over a month.
As soon as The Baby took an interest in glowing screens around two months or so (I think?) we began to try to make sure they’re off when he’s around. It’s hard to even quickly check my email with The Baby around, because the second the screen lights up, he’s whipping his head toward in wonder.
I’ve started listening to the radio and playing music for him when we play. I listen to podcasts when I need to hear adults talking as I do the dishes. I’ve tried to keep battery-powered, lights-and-sounds toys to a minimum because I want him to be able to use his imagination (and honestly, because battery-powered lights-and-sounds toys are annoying as hell on top of being horrible for the environment. Sanctimony achieved. Let’s go back to me describing my weaknesses and flaws, shall we?)
I try my best to look him in the eye and save my idle screen scrolling for when he’s asleep, but those flashing notification lights are like a siren’s song, luring me to check out of whatever I’m doing with The Baby. I know he doesn’t need perpetual direct attention from me, but I also know that even though he’s very small, I’m setting an example, and it’s not always a good one. It makes my heart explode with guilt when I look up from my phone to see that my baby has been smiling at me and trying to get my attention. I know The Husband struggles with this too. We are equally guilty of this frustrating habit and I so wish we could do better.
I hired a mother’s helper last week to come entertain The Baby for a few hours a few days a week so I can get work done. I’ve started putting him down for his first stretch of the night in his own crib so The Husband and I can spend some time watching a little TV together after dinner. There are plenty of other things I’d like to be doing: online classes and tutorials to hone my graphic design skills, being a more attentive blogger (and blog reader), and keeping in touch with friends, but for now, it’s more important for me to be present for my baby.
That’s the crazy dilemma and the irony that technology brings, especially for parents and probably most especially for stay-at-home parents. It’s easier than ever before to continue to make money, to stay connected and avoid isolation as you stay at home with your kids, but it’s also easier than ever to check out and miss out on meaningful time with your kids.
Fellow SAHMs, fellow mommy bloggers, fellow phone addicts, tell me: Do you share these challenges? Are you keeping your kids away from screens until two, or did you give in? How do you help yourself and your family manage media consumption and stay present for each other?