Like many parents, I started off motherhood swearing I would rarely (if ever) allow my son to watch TV or use my phone for a significant amount of time. I figured infants and toddlers have no reason to ever invest in screen time. I even believed that this would work for someone like me, an avid TV watcher and media fan. I tried to refrain, but as it turns out, everyone in my home is a bit of a screen junkie. So, I decided that maybe giving my toddler screen time doesn’t make me a terrible mother.
It wasn’t long before my son was counting numbers with Bob the Train, or before he could recognize all of the Thomas and Friends characters, or sing along with Hattie the Hamster. I allow my son to watch cartoons, though I try to make sure they’re appropriate and that he’s learning something, too. He doesn’t have an iPad yet, but I do let him watch YouTube Kids on my phone when we're at a restaurant and he's having a melt down. Usually, he just looks on passively while playing with his toy cars. It works for us, especially in stressful moments, so I make no apologies for the amount of screen time I've decided my kid can have.
Perhaps that makes me a lazy mom, but when I'm working-from-home and need to take the occasional pause, screen time helps. Like, a lot. While I don’t give my kid unlimited screen time, I certainly don’t judge parents on how they use or limit screens for their kids, and here's why:
I have to say that I have educational YouTube videos to thank (mainly) for my son’s knowledge of letters, numbers, shapes, and colors, among other things. There are so many ways to use screens for educational purposes. From sign language instruction to basic mathematics, screen time can help.
Sometimes mama needs to sweep the house. Sometimes she needs to fix a leak or hang a picture. Sometimes mom is feeling under the weather. Sometimes, she just needs a quick time out because being a mom is tough. You’re not a bad mom or a mom that's failing, you're just human, and if an iPad gives you the break you need (and deserve) I say freakin' go for it.
Watching videos or playing games with your child can also be used as bonding time. You can talk about what you’re watching or pair the lessons you learn with other outside sources, like books and toys and outings. So long as you actively watch together, screen time can be an enriching moment that brings you and your kid closer together. You'll have "your shows" and recite "your songs" and, I mean, that's just adorable.
If you watch a video on, say, potty training, you can totally discuss using the potty afterward. Sure, they’re only in their toddler years, but that doesn’t mean they won’t benefit from a more in depth conversation. Screen time can be a great way to raise important issues you might not normally think to mention, therefore teaching your child important life skills for later on.
Screen time doesn’t have to be a passive activity. In fact, it’s been suggested that interactive screen time can help kids with motor skills. Kids can be heavily involved by playing games that pop bubbles or balloons, or by reading along with the screen, or even moving their entire bodies (usually wildly) with certain Wii games.
Considering the frequently-changing landscape of technology, it’s important for children to learn exactly how to best utilize devices sooner rather than later. In this Fast Company piece about smarter ways for kids to use tech, the author makes the point that, “the challenge is less about how many minutes of screen time kids should have, and more about proactively building necessary tech skills.” Showing our kids how to use tech, sooner rather than later and while utilizing certain methods, will certainly give them an "edge" in the future.
Technology is a beautiful thing when it comes to allowing us to connect with distant relatives. Once upon a time, a letter that took weeks or months to arrive had to suffice. These days, our kids can FaceTime or SnapChat their grandparents in another country immediately.
It may sound far-fetched, but some studies have shown that screen time, in the guise of video games, can sometimes aid in improving memory. Boosting memory is such a bonus, in that it will help your little one with exams and presentations and even performances in the future. On top of helping memory, some game play can improve problem solving and critical thinking.
Allowing kids to handle screen time (when they hit an appropriate age) can grant them positive feelings of independence and self control. It sends the message that you trust their decisions, and unless their behavior becomes problematic, is actually a very positive parenting move. With toddlers, simply trusting them to be able to hold (or watch, but not touch) the screen for a few minutes at a time can be instrumental in teaching them self-reliance.
Setting boundaries for kids can be a tough challenge. When it comes to screen time, no more than 2 hours are recommended for young children (though let’s face it, many of us just do what works for our family). Parents can totally use screen time to set boundaries for their kids, by making sure they adhere to a limited number of hours, and by allowing them to “earn” small increments of screen time for good and positive behavior.
Not every kid can take vacations every few months (or every few years, even) to far off destinations. Some can’t afford it, and others are physically incapable of frequent travel. Thankfully, and especially for the aforementioned families, screen time allows folks to travel without having to leave their homes. Technology can give viewers inclusive and diverse videos and 360 tours of other cities and countries. Travel is so important for kids, and if you’re unable to take them to Japan or Costa Rica like you’ve been wanting to, the very least you can do is show them what it’s like there via screen.