Ah, da media. (Picture saying this like Ali G. Clip is a bit NSFW, it is Ali G after all. Do not click if references to elephants boning on the National Geographic channel offend you.)
Like many of you probably do, I feel very conflicted about screen time for my kids. It seems that no screen time is the ideal experience. But I watched TV growing up, and I think I turned out OK. I don’t remember what I was doing at age two, but a little older, my sister and I lived for Saturday morning cartoons. There was plenty of Sesame Street and Mister Rogers in there. And I remember occasions when we would watch a movie, rewind it, and immediately watch it again. Of course, we did plenty of other things besides TV. But I certainly don’t remember my mom obsessing about TV as much. (I may have blocked it out; I do that sometimes.)
Besides thinking that surely some screen time can’t hurt, I worry that I could be missing a useful tool. I thought of this again when reading Hanna Rosin’s piece, The Touch-Screen Generation. The article is from last year and is pretty long, but it has some interesting thoughts, particularly on games for touch screens. We don’t have an iPad or similar, but I think about uses for the computer. Henry and I read books about kangaroos and we can instantly look up videos of kangaroos on YouTube. How cool is that?? We’ve also looked at Harrier Jets, bees, frogs eating flies, and caterpillars becoming butterflies. When I was a kid, we’d just have to wait and hope Mister Rogers covered it.
These videos are definitely the exception rather than the rule. I try to avoid videos because Henry becomes a shrieking rage monster when he has to stop watching, and the few minutes of downtime are not worth the aftermath. At the moment we watch one twenty-minute Winnie the Pooh episode per day and a movie on Fridays. The Pooh is used to entice him inside from the playground for lunch (I can’t just scoop him up because I’m wearing Mac) and to allow me to feed the baby without Henry trying to tackle me.
I have no idea how this compares to most people. Should I care? I don’t want to, but this is an issue where it is easy to feel judged, no matter what you do. Rosin’s article notes that experts tend to view an hour of screen time as a zero sum game, meaning one hour of TV is one hour of time not spent interacting with parents. But that isn’t really the way the world works. There are many hours in the day, and I know that the kids get plenty of interaction, playtime, and downtime.
But. I’m sure I’ll always feel uneasy. I feel like I have to justify myself, like I’m justifying to you now. And it will only get harder as they get older. The general approach is avoidance, but I’m hoping for memories like making popcorn and watching a movie together. Watching football on Saturdays. And I don’t want to just bury my head in the sand thinking about apps and games. Sigh, one step at a time.
What’s your screen approach? Any apps or programming you recommend?