Screen Time for Toddlers: To Phone or Not to Phone?

Warning: contentious issue ahead, please keep your hate and rage inside the vehicle before proceeding. I judge no one, I bless all your individual choices and this is a mind-dump, not a persuasive essay. To repeat, this is a mind-dump, not a persuasive essay. To clarify, this is NOT a persuasive essay. To be clear, I am not trying to convince you I’m right. So there’s absolutely no confusion…okay, okay, I think you get the point, right? I do not write on this blog to make my opinions yours and I believe the one real certainty in parenting is that there is no right way to do it. Plenty of wrong ways, but certainly not any right way. Anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something. We do the best we can.

Now that my PSA is out of the way, I have to share about my family’s reluctant acceptance of the cell phone in our operating procedures. We were young, we were dumb, and we were (are) old-fashioned. Before Eliza came, we mutually agreed that SCREEN TIME IS BAD, PHONES FRY BRAINS, YOU CAN’T LEARN ON DEVICES, CELL PHONES ARE CRACK TO KIDS, ETC. ETC. No television. No cell phones. No computers. We looked at electronics as the gateway drug to a future of no friends (disrupts social skills), no skills (cramps organic learning), no talent (time on phone > time on developing talent), and an inevitable path to living in our basement in their 30’s watching YouTube celebrity channels with posters of Facesnapinstatwitter quotes all over our walls. I’m definitely using some hyperbole here, as we may not have been quite this passionate, but I’m willing to admit some of these thoughts lingered.

So what happened and where are we now? Life happened and no matter what we do, it keeps happening day after day. There are times where I’m running one on two while my wife is away and somehow need to finagle a shower out of the zone defense. Newborn, here’s a vibrating chair. Toddler, here’s my phone’s photo album for 6 minutes. Sometimes the newborn reverse cycles and knocks down a mere 3 hours of sleep overnight; guess what, the toddler might get a visit from the Elmo-video fairy while daddy works and mommy tries to keep her sanity on maternity leave. Hey, if I can’t teach the kid Spanish, maybe this loony on YouTube can while cartoon animals dance in the background?

We’re not embarrassed that our stance has changed; it’s always been a difficult line for us to manage. I’m leery of my toddler having a phone dependency, but I also want her exposed to the technology that is going to shape her future. Her parents may be old-fashioned hicks, but the toddler is going to have more technology exposure than my wife and I combined in our entire lives by the time she is 10 years old. Homework might be done on Ipads in a few more years, her first job might be via a remote Skype, and nearly every thing she does to move forward in life will require ample technology. One of the reasons all these gadgets around my 2 year old is so scary is how terrified I am and will be of social media bullying. After the bullying I went through in person doing school…I just can’t even imagine how brutal these little monsters can be with the anonymity of the Internet. But that topic is another post for another time (I have many thoughts on the matter and I’ll probably need to be talked down; I’m shaking just thinking about it).

            The other reason all this technology is scary as a parent is that, for us at least, there’s always a tinge of guilt that accompanies letting my daughter watch television or tinker on the phone at 2 years old. When you’re a new parent (and I definitely consider myself one), there’s some undue internal pressure placed on your performance as a parent. When a Toddler Special (my term for a face down wail, kick, and cry performance) hits in public or after a 3-hours-of-sleep night or when the newborn is also screaming…it’s just tough to stay resolute and not cave into the little terrorist demands and fork over the phone to pacify the situation.

I’m willing to admit that my wife and I usually start as idealists on every issue and this one is no exception. HOMEMADE BABY FOOD. NO PACIFIERS. NO CO-SLEEPING. NOTHING BUT BROCCOLI UNTIL SHE’S 10. NO TELEVISION ON WHEN TODDLER’S IN THE ROOM. I could go on and on but you get the point. We start out with unreasonable goals and cave on most (although I’ll be darned if my toddler doesn’t LOVE broccoli). There’s that cheesy old cliché that if you aim for the moon and miss, you’ll still land in the stars (I’m paraphrasing and too deliriously tired to Google it). And I guess that’s what we’re sticking with. We might embarrass ourselves with…umm…outsized expectations for our parenting, but I think the point is that if you set a lofty goal and do your best as a parent, you’ll still be one heck of a parent even when you fail. My wife and I fail regularly but have finally learned to allow ourselves some grace and our rules some leniency. And, if what I’ve heard is true, we all know all the rules and discipline disappear by the third child anyway, right? J

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