A previous version of this piece was originally published in The Fresno Bee on February 2, 2019.
Hi loving parents. Another study about screen-time is shouting at us, so why the hell aren’t we listening? For the love of family & health & kids & community — LISTEN. In the name of February and LOVE….
Thanks to motherhood, ‘love month’ now mostly revolves around how much my husband and I love our daughters — he gets us all flowers, I make frosty heart cookies, we eat waffles with strawberries and whipped cream together at our kitchen table… sound familiar to you too?
The love we all have for our children is incomparable, irreplaceable, non-negotiable.
Our children are our everything. My kids are the only people on this planet who can push me so far past my patience limits and then do something that makes me want to scoop them up and smother them with hugs and kisses a minute later. I love them so, so much. I would do anything for them — for their health, for their life.
I would get up and down from my comfortable table at a restaurant to take them outside if they were not behaving appropriately (instead of giving them my iPhone to glue their eyes on while I ate a meal in peace). I would require them to sit in their strollers and look around at trees, buildings and/or people we passed by (instead of handing them my iPhone). I would let them scream and complain in the car for what seems like endless hours (because I refused to hand over my iPhone so they could watch looping videos of weird people opening presents on YouTube).
As a mom of two simultaneous toddlers between 2012-15 (my daughters are 16 months apart) I did these shocking things and more. Early on, I made a hard choice to resist becoming part of the ‘iPhone parenting generation’ and made my life harder as a new mother… because I love my kids that much. It wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t that hard. If I can do it, anyone can.
Every few months, it seems like new research rears its head: A most recent study published in the journal JAMA pediatrics found that 2-3 year olds who were viewing screens for 2-3 hours a day showed slowed development in motor skills, communication, problem-solving and social skills by the time they reached 3-5 years old. Years ago, I remember an occupational therapist at my daughters’ school made a plea to all parents on Back-to-School night — she announced how incoming Kindergartners’ motor skills were sub-par from years past and cited ‘swiping’ as a likely root to the problem. (Some might say this is similar to finding out that smoking and drinking while pregnant can affect a baby’s development in the womb.)
Stop the screen-time for toddlers. Or, at least just limit it to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation of 1-hour per day.
“But I need some peace & quiet!” many lament. Fine, let them watch Daniel Tiger for 20 minutes and then snatch your phone back (it is okay for children to complain or scream until they find something else to play with). “But it’s the only way they’ll behave in restaurants!” Been there, done that — use crayons, bust out the legos from the bottom of your purse, count the lights on the ceiling or talk to them about how many people are sitting at the table next to you instead. Also, kindly remind your sitter that you aren’t paying them to stick a screen in front of your toddler when they stroll them around the mall.
Because yes, I do care how your raise your children… just as you should care how I raise mine.
AND DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ABOUT TEENS AND SCREENS. (I’ve talked about this way too much on TV… here’s another tragic study from one of my KCAL-9 Los Angeles news segments.)
Child development affects us collectively. When small kids aren’t appropriately developing early skills that contribute to behaving appropriately in classrooms and/or public, it hurts our teachers, our schools, our neighbors, our friendships and our communities. When children start showing aggression towards others or can’t sleep well at night (because their brains are overstimulated from too much screen-time during the day) it makes our own parenting journey even harder. Science and pediatricians are shouting at us to lay off the screen time… so why aren’t we listening?
True love is doing what’s right for the long run — for our kids, families and communities, even if it makes our lives a bit tougher in the short term. No one said love is easy… and boy, do we love our kids.