In Defense of “Screen-Time”

This topic can be quite a doozy, and in the 6 and a half years I have managed an Attachment Parenting forum, I tell you, this comes up as a heated topic, every single winter.

First off, these are simply my thoughts and do not reflect a position by Attachment Parenting International. I love that with API, the 8 principals are philosophies and not a strict set of specific rules.

Secondly, this has been a journey for me and we are all on our journeys, all at a chapter that is perfect for us at the moment. I’m not sure what our next chapter looks like or how my opinion may change.

I once wrote a blog about my “break up with TV” and I felt strongly at a time that it was a time waster (the average Canadian watches 22 hrs a week of TV), and that it infiltrated the creation of “real moments”. But I don’t feel that way anymore. When I wrote that blog post, I had stopped watching TV in response to following my sons cues. He is extremely sensitive to connection and even as an infant, if I tried to watch a bit of “How I Met Your Mother” while bouncing him during his witching hours, he would get even fussier. I learned I needed to be more inward and meditative and that music helped me get to the state energetically that I needed in order to help soothe my son. It felt disrespectful to have it on, for a long time, and for around 16 months it felt this way.

Now I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to have TV on, or to have some Netflix and nursing time. What I am saying is to read your child. If they aren’t affected then I don’t see harm in it. When Beau was a baby, I have such fond memories of getting through those trying bedtimes with two little ones with the assistance of Justin Bieber and Katy Perry music videos!

There are however plenty of articles stating the myriad of reasons a parent should avoid “screen-time” at all costs. This topic tends to be divisive and I get the more flack with this one than I do with my stance of infant sleep and bed-sharing. As with all things parenting, I say:

Trust your Gut, Also Question your Fear

Just like your mom gut knows when there is a food sensitivity… My mom gut knew there was an initial sensitivity to media, but as my eldest matured, TV and tablets became wonderful tools in our home. We snuggle and connect, and use it as just another story-telling tool, a vehicle to travel down pathways of interest, fun rabbit holes and so much more. The common fear is “addiction” or the stymying of intellect, but I feel it is very easy to build a bridge and connect with you child with technology. Just sit beside them. Comment on what you are watching or playing together. You will see that they will often pick “you” over the device, and transition over to life’s other offerings.

Are Screens Addictive?

Addictions are horrible things- they tear apart families and destroy careers. So let’s look at the issue of screens with your friend or partner. Let’s say, an adult is watching a ton of TV or playing video games, and a person in a budding relationship with that adult began trying to involve herself with this activity. She learned how to play, she tried to watch the shows together, chatted about it, cuddled… treating the person with genuine interest and actively finding out what they love about it and use as a springboard to more connection VS separation? Just a thought. At this point with my family, we are really loving our “family pile” time on the coach with snacks and cuddles, and then acting out the show with play, or changing the plot in satisfying ways.

Don’t Screens Stymie Creativity?

Waldorf has compelling arguments on this. That if a child is fed images of Disney princesses for example, that he or she wouldn’t be able to imagine a character, they would always need it fed to them. I was worried about that one for a time. But then I realized my husband… who never had limits on TV… is an artist! He is a sculptor for film and television. He has a wild imagination and the most creative problem solver I’ve ever met. He makes up stories all the time, is an awesome art photographer as well. His father is a retired artist and art teacher as well. I didn’t have tv limits either! And I can think up a princess. My children haven’t stopped being creative since having their favorite shows and even created their own YouTube channel.

Can screens cause ADHD? Sedentary lifestyles?

There are those who say the use of TV and videogames could equate hyperactive or violent behaviour, or the opposite extreme with obesity. I’m just looking around my home and my husband, myself and my children, and I don’t see that. Far more indicative of how my day will go with my kids, is if I’m actively connected with them and respectful. That is when they relax and can be their wonderful selves. I have to ask myself constantly “How is this actually a problem?” and “Am I making a decision out of love or irrational fear?” and put myself in their shoes to help guide me to the best (for us) decision.

Limits:

This is the most complex issue. Due to my first sons’ sensitivities, I began looking into to Waldorf as a lifestyle option as many aspects appealed to me. I still think it’s wonderful. If I could have chosen my own personal education, I would had LOOOOOVED to attend a Waldorf school! Reading my son, versus trying to stick to a doctrine as if it’s a religion, Waldorf began to not fit my son and what he is about. I love Dr. Shefali’s quote, “When you Parent it’s crucial you realize you aren’t raising a “mini me” but a spirit throbbing with its own signature”.

At first I was concerned about my first born’s apparent obsession with character play (at 3 years old he was rarely “Julien”– preferring to be addressed as Peter Rabbit instead. Other times made up characters like “Juice the dog” or “Robot Slug”). Learning from Waldorf about the art of story telling was a gift, and it brought so much joy to put on puppet shows with classes tales such as The Magic Porridge Pot! But to limit it there felt arbitrary. To add layers and dimensions through books and TV and computer felt as though we were helping Julien sink his teeth into a passion. Limiting the choices of books or shows that piqued his interest felt like judging him, or sending a message of disapproval.

When I feared TV and put limits on it, it felt like we went backwards with trust. I was initially worried about cutting out screen-time because wouldn’t it be mean to take away something he derives so much joy from? And who’s to say he isn’t learning? What about character development, plots, choreography etc? I was told by a parenting expert that it was totally fine to limit, I’m the mom etc etc. But my gut was saying it would be a trust breaker. And my gut was right.

When we reintroduced television, he of course latched on to it out of fear it would be taking away again or limited (seemingly arbitrary to him). After that hump I saw him become much more relaxed. We had to prove we wouldn’t snatch it away at a moments notice before he began turning it off himself, trusting that it wouldn’t be gone forever.

The other piece I question with regards to limits, is, how do you keep consistent with those limits? I’ve heard about using tokens (the kid gets a certain amount that they can cash in per day or week) but what about visiting friends? Or when the parent wants to have it on more? Or when it’s super cold out or a sick day, or like now as we approach winter?

I had a phone counseling session with Jan Hunt from The Natural Child Project five years ago, and asked her about the issue of screen time. What she said was “My answer may surprise you. I actually think it’s fine, if it is a time of connection and not used as a tool of disconnection or in the context of rewards and punishments” She wrote this article that I thoroughly enjoyed: Is I Love Lucy Educational? 
I felt so much more in touch with my instincts after our conversation.

I don’t want those parents who limit smartphone/video game/tablet/computer use or who don’t have a TV to feel judged, just as I don’t want to feel judged for watching TV and playing video games with my kids. I don’t want a parent who puts Peppa Pig on for a moment of peace to feel inadequate. We are all conscientious parents truly doing our best to keep educated and connected and raise our children peacefully, and provide enriching lives in whatever ways we can.

One Last Thing

I actually really dislike the word “screen-time”.

If an adult is using a television set, or a laptop computer, or a smartphone, and somebody asks them what they are doing they will say “watching the game” or “reading on Wikipedia” or “texting my friend”. They will never say “having screen-time”. —Virginia Warren

Sandra Dodd has a wonderful index of explorations of the freedom of technology as a tool here: http://sandradodd.com/screentime/

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