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FATHER OF AHHHS! – Screen Time or Scream Time

This blog is dedicated to my favorite blue genie, Patch Adams, Hook and Mrs. Doubtfire, The Great Robin Williams.

The first book someone gave me at our baby shower was a book that believed in no screen time for toddlers. This included TV, laptops, iPad etc. The book made a very good (in my opinion) case on the detriment on a child’s early development caused by screen time. Interestingly enough it had already been a topic of conversation in our home. Our family is not big on TV in general. We have one television in the entire house. It has HBO, Showtime and whatever else the package included. It’s not out of a particular belief system, or lack of interest, it’s purely a lack of time to even sit down and watch the “boob tube.” Adding a child to the mix made it even more impossible to find time. The book supported many ideas that I had myself about screen time and children. My partner and I had discussed giving up the TV before our son was born but then decided against it. I know it can be quite a controversial topic but in the end like most things, we felt as long as there was moderation it was okay. We found value in Elmo and Sesame Street early on. There is a great program that Tino enjoys called “Super Y,” which features classical music, dance and fine artists. We do make a point to sit with him and engage in what is being seen. We’ve counted and sung along many times. Another premise that we try to stick with is finding appropriate programming without commercial interruption. This is made easier with the ON-Demand features and YouTube. The goal is to balance learning and entertainment value and avoid using it as a babysitter.

When Valentino turned two we began to introduce videos especially the Disney classics. We’re careful of the choices and censor out options with any violence. Of course it was not long before he could sit through an hour and a half movie. Then he wanted to repeat them over and over again. He was content watching Toy Story every night. We’ve watched Finding Nemo, A Bug’s Life and Cars more than 30 times each! We noticed his vocabulary grew in accordance to the shows he saw. Even when we were out driving around or at the beach he would call out the characters and describe a plot or situation that coincided with where we were.  Driving past a tractor in a field became a “Cow Tractor’ from Lightening McQueen –“Remember when Lightening McQueen sneaks up on the cow-tractors at night and made a loud noise and scared the cow tractor and the cow-tractor went MOOOOOO! And then the cow-tractor fell over and farted? Remember?” I mean really that is quite a sentence for a two year old. What caught me most by surprise was learning that Tino has a gift for music, even at this early age. He can recite the lyrics of a song from hearing the first few beats. We also noticed his ability to mimic voices; play pretend and sense of humor expand.

Growing up I never had a Television. I think I was the only child in my elementary class who never had a TV. Every day kids would come to school talking about the latest cartoon craze or some popular show. I was always left out of those conversations. After school I had chores to do, homework to complete and would spend time in my father’s Chinese restaurant doing whatever I could do to contribute. While my friends watched the Flintstones, I was making wontons for the family business. Of course I hated it at the time, I wanted to know what I was missing, I wanted to belong and be included with popular kids. It was around middle school when my father caved in and we got a TV, the whole world changed for me then. This is how I learned about the world outside of what I knew the good, the bad and the ugly.

In some ways this has helped me open my mind to some of the screen time we’ve exposed Tino to. I think the key for us is that the screen does not replace the parenting. We strive to stay present with him when he is engaged in any screen time not walk away or use the time to do other things. It also doesn’t mean that we have not said no countless times. We were shocked when recently the first words from his mouth when he woke up one morning were “I want to watch tractors on the computer!” I mean his eyes were not even open. When told no we were greeted by resistance but woe is parenthood. With a little distraction he got over it pretty quickly but it doesn’t change his persistence.

I worry often about the struggles down the road of TV versus homework, or Computer versus homework, or getting ready for school versus putting down the iPad. I imagine teenage screaming matches and name calling associated with putting our foot down. I wonder if I’ll regret soon what we allowed to happen now. I’m not affirming either choice but rather I am encouraging an ongoing dialogue of the subject within the family. I think that is the only real thing you can do. I also think different children will respond differently, so that has to be taken into consideration.  Screen time is going to be a major part of our children’s lives; they will grow up with the most advanced modern technology with live streaming, downloading and the World Wide Web at their fingertips. Technology will be part of their communication, learning and education. Therefore teaching discernment and priorities will become essential to our ongoing parenting.  Best of luck to all of us!