Parents these days get so much advice about what to do and what not to do. I believe the intention – to empower parents – is a noble one, but it can make parenting an overly complex and almost paralysing experience sometimes. It starts early – during pregnancy I was told not to eat so many things that I remember thinking all that was left was McDonald’s and carrot sticks! From when to cut the umbilical cord and what to do with the placenta to Vitamin K shots after birth and how long to breastfeed – there were so many options to consider and decisions to be made. I often thought ‘How am I supposed to know? I’ve never done this before!’
Miraculously I’ve muddled through and so far managed to keep my children alive until the ripe old ages of five and eight. These days the big parenting decisions centre around things like extra-curricular activities, low-sugar diets, technology use and – the classic – screen time.
Technology and screen time are big issues for this parenting generation, and they’re topics we need to think about earlier and earlier. They’re subjects we cover in the Baby and Toddler Toolbox – a Parenting Place course I facilitate for parents of infants and young children under five. Because even though their toddlers might not yet be able to read or write, most of them know how to navigate YouTube on their parents’ phones, operate an iPad and who Peppa Pig is by three years old.
Recently during one of the Toolbox sessions, a parent asked the question “Why is screen time so bad?” He and his wife had different perspectives about how harmful screen time actually is and they were trying to figure out what to do. As he pointed out, he was told as a kid that if he watched too much TV he would develop square eyes (that old scare tactic!), yet he had turned out fine. It led to a really interesting discussion within the group and one that I think was important. Generalisations like ‘screen time is bad’ and ‘technology needs to be avoided as long as possible’ seem to be all over child-raising. This parent was questioning; he didn’t want to blindly just follow the ‘this is bad, don’t do it’ crowd – he wanted to make an informed decision for his child based on facts and deep consideration. I applaud him for doing that because as we all know, it’s really hard to remain strong against a child who is continually asking to play games or watch TV. We spend a lot of time and effort resisting those requests, so I think our decisions should be well considered.
I always find it more helpful to be given ideas for what I can do rather than what I can’t. I don’t like being told ‘No’ (yes, I’m more similar to a two-year-old than I like to admit), so here are some of my thoughts, based on research I’ve done and from that Toolbox discussion we had, about whether screen time is the demon it’s made out to be and what we parents can do about it.