Any mom who hasn’t had her head under a rock for the past ten years knows the ugly truth about screen time. Screens are bad for kids. TV is bad and iPads are bad and smart phone apps are equally bad. They fry baby’s brains and they make toddlers even more impatient than they already are and they ruin older kid’s creativity, destroying any possibility that your child will ever become the next Steve Jobs, which is ironic since screen time was invented by Steve Jobs. The light from screens is the reason why your kid won’t sleep at night, and the radioactive waves from screened devices will give them cancer, and the evil little-kid characters on the shows will make them whiny and rude and violent.
That’s the truth about screen time.
But it’s not the whole truth.
Because screen time is like chocolate. No, it’s like triple chocolate fudge ice cream with syrup and chocolate chips and whipped cream. It’s terrible for you in the short term and terrible in the long term. It gives you a sugar low and a headache and it makes you fat. But in that transcendent moment when the chocolate fudge hits your taste buds, it’s so, so good.
So here’s the other truth about screen time. Used sparingly, it can transform your kids from wild, screaming dervishes who scatter toys and crumbs all over the house into content, complacent creatures who sit motionless and quiet– did I say quiet? – for an hour or more. It can give you time to finish folding the laundry without a toddler undoing every fold faster than you can straighten them. It can let you cook dinner in peace, without any fear that the oil from your frying pan will splatter up and burn the baby on your hip. It can give you a solid 30 minutes to finish the project or proposal or phone call you’ve been working on in 30-second increments all day long.
In other words, it can change your life.
And that is why no parent of young children should ever give up screens entirely. Unless you live in a hippie commune with 50 other families, all of whom have children of various ages who will entertain and supervise your children while they all play happily in the beautiful playground handmade of recycled materials in the center of your commune common space surrounded by cob houses, you need screens in your life. And if your parents or older relatives tell you that you managed just fine as a toddler without an iPad to entertain you, ignore them. Trust me: the only reason you survived toddlerhood without an iPad is because iPads didn’t exist yet.
But as with all parenting aids, the key is moderation. Screens are like crack cocaine — the more you use them, the less effective they become. So the secret to using them properly is to save them for when you really need them.
Here’s your guide for when you really need them.
…for background noise. If you need background noise, turn on the radio. You’re too modern for a radio? Play podcasts. Kids complain about podcasts? Play Disney song & story audiobooks.
…when your kid has friends over. Unless the friends are actually frenemies and they can’t stop fighting, in which case you can use screens for brief periods, to break up the fights and reset the friendship.
…when you’ve recently bought a new toy, unless of course the screen is the new toy. Otherwise, give your kid the toy instead.
…on bright, sunny mornings. Why? Because when it’s sunny outside, it’s very important to get your kid outside as soon as possible. Exposing him to sunlight shortly after waking will program his circadian rhythm, which will eventually help him sleep at night. Screen light in the morning will deprogram his circadian rhythms and turn him into a sleepwalking vampire who stays up all night. So if you possibly can, save the screens till after lunch.
…on road trips. This is what they were invented for. Road trips override all other rules.
…when your kid is sick. Especially if your kid is a toddler. Especially if he needs to rest but doesn’t feel sick. The screen will magically hold him motionless, enabling his body to rest and recover. While also distracting him from his sickness. That’s good parenting.
…when you really, really need to get work done. Avoid this on a regular basis, because novelty is key here. But when you absolutely have to meet a deadline or take a call, the magic of the screen can make it possible.
…at bedtime. The secret here is to put it last in your bedtime routine. Make it a bribe for all that toothbrushing and pajama-putting-on. This little trick made our bedtime routine go from hours to minutes instantly. Keep in mind, though, that the light from the screen can disastrously disrupt your child’s circadian rhythms, making his brain think it’s morning when it’s actually evening and destroying any good you did by going outside when it really was morning. You’ve been warned. Use sparingly.
…at restaurants. Best bet: bring lots of toys and busy bags, and keep the screen in your back pocket as a last resort. Bring it out as necessary between when the busy bags get boring and before the food comes.
…while you’re cooking dinner. Ideally, of course, your kids will help you cook dinner. Also ideally, you’ll send your kids outside to play and wear themselves out before dinner so they’ll be tired at bedtime. But on days when you’ve been counting the seconds to bedtime since 10 am, or if you have a three year old at home, it’s completely acceptable to put on the electronic babysitter at dinnertime.
…when your child is acting like a monster, a zombie, or a three year old. Desperate times call for desperate measures. For best results, combine with a small serving of wine. For you. Not your kid. Unless things are really desperate.
…use your best judgement. Just remember this: frying your kid’s brain is not always a bad thing. Sometimes, you need to kill a few brain cells. You don’t want your kids to be too smart. Because the only thing worse than a three year old without television is a thirteen year old who can outsmart you.subscribe.