In three months, my son turns 2. That’s going to bring some fun new parenting challenges. Potty training. Those “terrible twos.”
And tough decisions about how much time he’s going to sit and stare at screens.
Under the age of 2, young kids should have no screen time in front of TVs, computers, tablets or other media devices, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. After 2, they should get no more than two hours of screen time a day.
The reason: Toddlers learn more from real-life interaction and language, and staring at screens can rule those things out without bringing much of value to their spongy, impressionable little minds.
A quarter of parents of kids ages 2-5 allow more than three hours of screen time per day, according to one recent study — well above the recommended limit.
Many ignore the APA’s under-2 screen time ban, too — especially with tactile screens like tablets and phones, which make possible the kinds of interactive apps and games some notable docs, like Seattle’s own Dmitri Christakis, believe can be good even for our littlest ones.
I’m all for playing with interactive screens, as long as what we’re actually doing is interactive. I show my son photos and videos of our family and friends on my phone almost daily, asking him to point, name and swipe. I’ve even created little games where I ask him what he wants to see, then ask Siri to do a Google image search of things like ducks, oranges and giraffes. He loves that.
But I’ll admit it: I’m scared to let my son just sit and watch passive TV when he turns 2. Any of it. For a while.
Let me tell you about one of the deepest sinkholes of guilt I’ve crawled into since I’ve become a mom.
I watch our son Mondays and Wednesdays and work Tuesdays and Thursdays. But every now and then there’s something — an email, an interview, deep edits to a column — that just has to be taken care of at an inflexible time my son won’t give me on one of these watch-the-baby days.
That’s when I turn on the Apple TV, go to Netflix Kids, pick an episode of Barney or Daniel Tiger or one of those weird baby colors and shapes shows and get to work.
It’s happened only a handful of times. Five or six at the most.
But every time, he enters The Trance.
It’s not really a trance. It’s the blank, idle face any of us make when we give ourselves over to some show or other.
On adults, it’s part of life. But on him, it looks wrong. He’s a toddler. He moves and plays and blabs and cries. TV takes my little ball of energy and sedates him, right in front of my guilty, desperate eyes.
All parents are different and I can only imagine the range of reactions to this. Everything from, I let my kids watch TV from the bassinet what the HELL are you implying? to Well, that’s what you get for dumping your kid on some brain-dead machine before his time.
Funny things happen to your brain when you become a parent. You get weirdly risk averse and paranoid, in any of a number of directions. Sometimes it’s smart. Other times, it’s silly.
My mom hears my concerns and laughs. She put me in front of the TV for hours while I was in diapers. I’m fine. Mostly. What am I freaking out about?
And it’s not like my son suffers in front of the tube. He yells “Barney!” when that impossible creature comes on screen and points. Neurons, clearly, are firing.
But what it comes down to for me is this: Much as I’d love (love!) a new way to get reliable me-time on mom days, and I’d hate to end up over-restricting anything that’s essentially harmless, I don’t need a group of doctors to tell me screens are weird for little kids. Watching my son is enough.
And I’m just not sure any regular time in front of non-interactive screens — no matter how kid friendly the content — should be among his birthday gifts this year.
This is where I shut up and turn it over to you, especially if you’re parents:
Is a passive screen just another toy after the age of 2, or an electronic distraction that’s best avoided — or heavily restricted — until your kids are a little older?
Mónica Guzmán is a freelance journalist, speaker and award-winning digital life columnist for GeekWire. You can find her tweeting away @moniguzman, subscribe to her public Facebook posts at facebook.com/moniguzman or reach her via email. See this archive of her weekly GeekWire columns.