Screen time: One more reason for mom guilt

Screen time is a new reason for mom guilt. But apps can be good learning tools if parents supervise and interact with kids.

When we flew with both of our children recently, I was a little nervous. I had never flown with two before. I wasn’t sure how my 16-month old would handle being confined for three hours. And my 3-year-old? There’s no containing that energy.

A few days before the flight, I prepared. Busy bags were built, snacks were stocked, and books were at the ready. For good measure, I slipped the iPad into my son’s backpack. Nothing would stand in my way. These kids were going to be fully entertained and fed, and consequently, quiet.

To my extreme relief, both boys were perfect angels. I sat in my middle seat, one child asleep on my lap and the other excitedly pointing at airplanes outside his window. While I was mentally patting myself on the back, my son closed his window and asked, “Mama, can I play on the iPad now?”

And there it was — that familiar twinge of guilt.

I tried to distract him by pointing out the buildings that now looked like ants, the clouds that were so close we could touch them, but with no luck. I had put away the tablet for a few months, telling him that when we flew to Grandma’s that summer, he could play on it. He definitely did not forget.

Defeated, I turned on his ABC tracing game and scrolled through my phone. Before motherhood, I was sure my kids would almost never watch TV. And play on an iPad? Are you kidding me?

I have a confession: my 3-year-old watches TV almost daily. We have an hour limit that I regularly extend. He doesn’t nap anymore, so when his little brother naps, I turn on a show in the name of “resting our bodies.” Really, it’s because he asks, and I want a moment to make lunch or just sit for a moment without being needed. Yet, every single time I click play, I have the same guilt: You’re not engaging with him. He’s not using his imagination. He’s going to be a screen zombie.

This is relatively unchartered territory. I didn’t grow up with cable, let alone Netflix. If there wasn’t a show that captured our interest immediately, we ran off to play.

There also wasn’t this excess of technology at our disposal. My son asks to watch TV, play on the tablet and even text on my phone. The way a 3-year-old can navigate technology absolutely shocks me. My own mother, whose advice I seek daily, never had to deal with this specific type of guilt.

That said, we do live in a technology-driven society. My sons will have to know how to operate these devices as they grow older. While it can be abused, technology doesn’t have to be the Big Bad Wolf I make it out to be in my head.

My 3-year-old couldn’t quite perfect writing his “Cs” until he practiced on the tablet. He can name every planet, and facts about each one, because of a “Storybots” episode. He learned each of the letter’s sounds with the help of songs on YouTube.

Technology can be a useful tool. So, while I navigate this new kind of childhood, I will do my best to find balance, and try to drop some of the guilt without fully dropping the screen time.

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