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Issue No. 7: Tablet Guilt
On the unbearable anxiety of whether to let our kids watch TV. Yeah, I know.
This screen-time horror story involves a beloved children’s singer.
We can all picture the scene: 38-year-old parents whipped up into a fervor, singing along as they introduce the next generation to Banana Phone. If you’re a millennial, I’m willing to bet you know the chorus of Baby Beluga.
So deep reverence for anything Raffi is at the centre of why this story used to haunt me when my kids would ask to watch Paw Patrol. Because, somewhere in the years that lapsed between making memories and becoming nostalgic for them, the world changed.
In the years since we were age appropriately consuming Raffi, the world became decidedly… Digital. And we learned more about what can hurt us, and our kids.
Then the concepts of ‘hurting our kids’ and ‘cartoons’ became intricately linked as the anti-screen-time movement, with Raffi in lead, began to spread the not-so-good word about the dangers of screen time for young kids.
Which brings us to The Story* 😱
A starry-eyed new parent shared on Twitter that her 16-month-old loves to watch Raffi videos and tagged the singer. Raffi replied by pointing out that children under two should not be subjected to the harm of digital screens.
This story is at the heart of why I worked so hard to shield my daughter from the dangers of the screen. And even by the time she turned two – at which point, may I add, I also had a four-month-old – I remained steadfast in my belief that TV time was bad.
I would not POISON my children’s brains with Coco Melon, thank you very much. No, instead I self selected to quietly do things the hard way while literally no one watched or cared.
Like playing the saddest game of Russian Roulette, my husband would return from work each day not knowing if today would be a “here’s the baby, I need to go cry now” day or not.
Then the pandemic hit.
Suddenly our entire lives were relegated to the digital realm with no other viable measure of human contact — not to mention no daycare, no grandparents, no lifeline in sight. Millennial parents were asked to work from home while watching (or, worse, homeschooling) their kids without skipping a beat.
In the monotony and impossibility of parenting in the pandemic, who among us didn’t turn on the TV for our children – sometimes for hours on end?
The truth is, even before the pandemic, I never judged another parent about screen time. In fact, the only one judging me… Was me. (¡qué sorpresa!)
I mean, did I really believe that my one-year-old son would become antisocial if he watched Blues Clues while I finished that report?
Perhaps the truth is that there are also some dangers in shirking the reality of this brave new world… First of which is our own mental health and sanity as we quite literally juggle it all.
Besides, technology is a part of life. Our children are growing up in a world where they may fall behind their peers if they don’t know how to swipe on a photo dump or tell Alexa to play Down By the Bay.
After polling every mom I know, I was struck by how similar the responses were. While the spectrum of guilt varied, they almost all spoke of how they use screen time as a tool to make life manageable — and how much their kids learn and build their own creative worlds in Adventure Bay or Arendelle, in addition to the (yes, sometimes zombie-like) screen time.
Still, one comment stuck out above them all:
“As a mom of a three and five-year-old, I don't care about screen time with offline shows — anything Netflix, for example,” said Stephanie, a Toronto-area mom. “My concern is the algorithm.”
And she’s right. We have bigger fish to fry than the ethics around a benign, 15-minute Peppa Pig vignette (and how my kids now say ‘sun cream’ instead of ‘sunscreen’). We’re parenting in a new age that, frankly, Raffi never has.
We need to balance our own wellness and capacity, while allowing our children to develop the technological skills they’ll eventually need… All while protecting them from the next set of technological dangers (ai, anyone?). It’s a lot.
But it sounds like a lot of us are doing it with intention.
So why can’t we also do it with way less guilt?
UP NEXT: From unpacking gentle/respectful parenting and mom guilt to looking at the culture of participation ribbons and how we grew up, we will be exploring millennial parenting. It’s a series I’m REALLY excited about… And it ends with a guest expert who taught me about a whole new style of parenting that has literally been blowing my mind since I first learned about it.
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