The fact that I feel like I need to start this blogpost with about fifty disclaimers shows what a difficult subject screen time for kids is. A lot of people have an opinion on the matter and usually these opinions are quite strong. So, let me just state that this blogpost is not written to make you feel like a shitty mom for letting your kids watch TV or an overly strict mom for setting screen time boundaries. See it more as a quest we can go on together to figure out what your (kid’s) current TV habits are, if you are happy with them and if not, how you can change them.
Instead of the fifty disclaimers I want to start off with two facts:
Fact 1: Research shows watching too much television is bad for the mental and emotional development of children. The list of consequences of watching too much TV is quite endless and scary: obesity, aggressive behavior, anxiety, sleep-, attention- and social disorders, addiction, lesser cognitive function. Most studies advice parents: no TV under the age of two. Only thirty minutes under the age of four. And for older kids: no more than one or two hours a day. There are also studies that show kids learn a lot from certain programs: counting, colors, words, songs, a new language, you name it. And one also needs to take into consideration that it’s not just “The Television” that can cause harm. There are a lot of other factors (like genetics, diet, trauma, social environment, etc.) that will contribute to a child’s development. But all researchers agree: screen time needs to be supervised and offered in moderation.
Fact 2: Motherhood (parenting) comes with so many perks, but also with quite a few challenges. Sleep deprivation, teething, sick babies, cooking while your child is tired and whining, cleaning the house while your child is bored, getting anything done when your child is having a toddler breakdown, being extremely tired and wanting just two seconds of peace and quiet and did I mention sleep deprivation? Sometimes (read: a lot of the time) it feels like these challenges can be dissolved by one simple thing: screen time.
So how do you cope when you know something isn’t good for your child, but…you know, there is fact number 2? With some things, the lines are clear: a busy street, cigarette smoke, alcohol, a barking dog, an unsupervised swimming pool, plastic bottles with red labeled warnings on them – these things all form an immediate danger to your child, so you keep them away. But TV isn’t a driving car or big dog coming towards your baby. Those dangers don’t have an “upside”, like screen time does. Maybe TV is more like fastfood for the brain. It won’t kill you instantly, it’s just not good for you in the long run.
But a child’s brain is so sensitive. It’s growing like crazy! And all of the learning and developing that brain is doing right now has such a huge impact on how your child will perform, think, but most importantly: feel, when he or she is older. So how can we balance fact 1 and fact 2 to the best of our abilities, so our children can get the best chance at a happy, healthy life?
This is what we did.
I had a very (very) strong opinion about screen time for kids when I was pregnant. TV was an absolute NO for me. Not until our baby was seven. You see, I only had access to fact no. 1 at that time. When Aya was born, we kept her away from screens until she was about one year old. Then we started using songs on ChuChu TV during meals. Yes. We are blessed with a fussy eater. So, we tried everything to get some food into her, especially when I stopped breastfeeding. Then, when winter came, Aya got every virus that was going around at daycare. She even ended up in the hospital during Christmas. We discovered the IPad was a great distraction from her discomfort and pain. This is how, slowly but surely, TV became a regular thing in her daily routines. When we were potty training, Peppa Pig was a lifesaver! And during our nine hour flight to Curacao Mickey Mouse got us through. By this time, we had almost completely forgotten about fact no. 1 and were being lived by fact no. 2.
A couple of weeks ago Aya woke up next to me and the first thing she said – even before I got a snuggle and a kiss – was: “Pappa!” Which means “Peppa Pig” in Aya-language. It was very confronting for me. I realized she was now watching Netflix twice a day. In the morning (because then I could wake up a little more slowly after a short night) and in the evening (because then I could cook without a toddler around my neck and chill after dinner). So basically, my daughter was watching TV for my benefit. Not because TV programs have potential benefits for her development. But because I felt tired. This did not feel right. At all.
I am not judging moms who feel overwhelmed and use screen time so they can cope a little better. I am saying that I realized we had fallen into a new habit. One that, even though Aya loves Peppa Pig, doesn’t really benefit her. And therefore, doesn’t benefit me in the end. So, I decided to make a change. No more Netflix in the morning. The only screen time Aya gets is after dinner (yes, you read that right, no TV when I’m cooking).
It instantly felt great: our mornings are way more energetic and fun. We get more done, because we get ready faster. We have less tantrums, because I don’t need to pull her away from the screen. We feel better, because let’s be honest, TV makes you a little bit bleh.
When I’m cooking I either put Isaya in front of the sink, on a chair so she can play with water. Or she will be “cooking” as well, or playing in the garden, or eating veggies unnoticed while playing (such a great trick for fussy eaters). There is no conflict when it’s time to sit down for dinner, because I don’t have to “disrupt” her time with Peppa. And I have some leverage during dinner: one more veggie and then you can watch Mousy (that last but is probably not the best parenting advice, but it works, so yeah..;)
I think we live in a time where we cannot deny the importance of TV and internet. I’m not planning on keeping my daughter away from screens. Actually, I hope she will become very tech savvy, because as a blogger I know that’s one skill you definitely need more and more these days. But I will continue to take a moment, every once in a while, so I can figure out if our screen time habits still benefit her, now and in the future.