we do screen time

"How much screen time do you do?" is to moms what "how many times a week do you do it?" is to young-marrieds. It's a household secret, something to be whispered about behind closed doors and over Chardonnay.

Inevitably, it's something that we all confess that we should "be better about."

Anytime I sit my son down in front of Finding Nemo, there's a sliver of myself that fears I've just doomed him to a life of living in my basement, popping Ritalin, playing World of Warcraft.

But it's just a sliver.


I'm going to say it.

We do screen time.

As I type this, Chicken is watching Cars. No, he's not sick. Nope, it isn't raining.

It's not because I'm lazy, overwhelmed, or not creative enough to come up with something better to do.

We do screen time because:

1. Some of my favorite memories from childhood included a screen. 

We can go no further until we recognize the genius that was Reading Rainbow. Wishbone. Sesame Street. The great thing about these shows was that they never hid the vegetables; they celebrated them. They didn't try to trick kids into learning. They showed us how interesting and brilliant the world is. They taught us. Simply, unapologetically, joyfully.

I remember the first time I saw Young Frankenstein, sitting next to my Dad and sisters, all of us laughing so hard at "put the candle back," that we passed a box of Kleenex back and forth so we could wipe our streaming eyes when the scene was over.

Summer afternoons after playing in my outside fort all morning, I ate a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of green grapes in the TV room while watching West Side Story. I'm talking every afternoon I did this, for a couple of summers in a row. I may or may not still know the entire score and a few of the dance numbers.

In high school, I hosted a Dawson's Creek party at my house Wednesday nights. We watched Dawson, all agreed that Pacey was far dreamier in every possible way, and then we buckled down and studied for our APs.

2. Parenting is the World Cup finals of "Would You Rather."

Would you rather have your kid watch an hour of Sesame Street while you cook a healthy dinner and fold some clean pajamas...


would you rather spend an hour trying to distract your kid from the Sesame Street he wants to watch, zap a cheese quesadilla in the microwave, and put the kid to bed in swim trunks?

There's no wrong answer. I've done all of the above. But in choosing the occasional liaison with Elmo and crew, I have found that personally, I would rather let Chicken enjoy an hour of TV and give myself that time to ninja-blitz my to-do list.

3. Chicken does actually learn from these shows.

Chicken and I spend a lot of screen-free time together with books and puzzles and toys, naming colors, objects, animals, numbers, letters. But the great thing about screen time is that the TV and iPad are always excited to engage in the kind of repetition toddlers need to really learn. Mommy can only read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom so many times before it becomes clear that she's dialing it in. But the Elmo's Alphabet iPad app? That's our jam. Elmo will squeal "A! Astronaut!" for hours. Hours.

And Chicken's increased vocabulary is only the most superficial evidence that he is learning while he watches and plays.

He sees a character smile or laugh on TV and says "happy!" He sees someone cry and says "sad..." He sees someone hiding in the corner and says "hide. Scared." He's learning empathy, to recognize the feelings of others based on their behaviors and expressions. That's a complex milestone, and one that many children (boys in particular) struggle with.

4. Pop culture is culture.

There's this idea that if something is old, it's good, and if something is new, it's junk.

Just because a movie was made decades ago does not make it good. (I just re-watched The Brave Little Toaster, which I remember loving in my childhood. Noooooooot that good actually. And I used to love Calamity Jane, starring Doris Day. Until I watched it a few years ago and realized it was wildly, absurdly anti-feminist.)

Many truly insightful and groundbreaking shows simply aren't old enough to have stood the test of time, simply haven't been around long enough to be lauded as classic. But they're good. And they're shaping today's conversation about how to entertain and engage children. Why would I want to exclude my children from those experiences?

Look no further than the Reading Rainbow kickstarter to see how a community can connect over a shared love of television programming. I want my kids to participate in the world, and big old part of the world occurs onscreen.

PS - I wonder if London mommies of the 1600's worried about their kids getting too much "stage time."

5.  I want to support good screen.

I want my kids to grow up to be creative, compassionate, socially aware, funny, skilled at and passionate about their work.

In a nutshell, I want my kids to grow up to be the kinds of people who could create the next Dora the Explorer, Finding Nemo, or Sesame Street.


We don't have the TV blaring all day long. We don't pop our one-month-old Buster in his bouncy chair in front of the screen and go to the Circle-K to buy cigarettes. It's not our babysitter. The TV (or iPad for that matter) is a tool, like Chicken's play kitchen or crayons, a tool for entertainment and education. Any tool can be used inappropriately. We do our best to use screen tools appropriately.

We do our best to pick programming that we ourselves enjoy, so we can sit down and watch at least part of it with him without needing to huff some antifreeze first.

Sesame Street: in. Barney: out. We just don't talk about the big purple dinosaur.

Some days Chicken doesn't ask to watch a movie. Some days he wants to watch Nemo twice. And we play it by ear. If it's been a hard day and he is relaxed and enjoying himself, we just might put it on again. If it's a gorgeous day and he's fidgeting, we cut off the movie halfway through and get our shoes on.

So there you have it.

You heard it here first.

We do screen time.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know about the 1600s and "stage time," but in the 18th century there was tremendous anxiety over the rise of the novel. Many thought fiction was not only a waste of time, but addictive and morally destructive!