I’m sure you enjoy the irony as much as me of the increasing amount of posts popping up online about digital detoxes, and reducing screen time for children. I’m surprised Zuckerberg doesn’t ban them-what would he do if we all took note? Television as a babysitter is nothing new, we watched hours as children, both with and without my parents. My mum has really fond memories of enjoying some of the children’s shows together, and Sesame Street certainly contributed to my current level of numeracy. But the availability and exposure is certainly increasing.
So many things written about parenting have an unpleasant undertone of superiority and silent (or not so silent) judgment. I am a huge fan of Brene Brown, here is the infamous TED talk which sparked her mainstream notoriety. Brene says “Research tells us that we judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing. If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people’s choices”. Brene also stated that attacking a Mother under the pseudo-agenda of caring for the wellbeing of a child in nonsensical.
Parenting is something we are all so passionate about, it’s up there with religion, unfortunately, just as religion can divide and instigate mud slinging, and division, philosophies of how to raise our little ones can too.
So please try and read this as a shared experience, and perhaps some of the aspects I have found interesting, useful and challenging might be applicable to your life. Whatever you do please don’t (as i know I have previously) take it as ‘great, theres another way I’m screwing up my kid’. Caring about how you parent makes you a good parent, end of.
So to set the scene, intrepid bebe, aka my daughter now just turned two is a horror sleeper. We are talking multiple times a night, her whole life (it was about fifteen, now it’s more like three), which unsurprisingly renders both she and I knackered, short tempered, and at times very emotional. She is also a bag of non stop energy like most toddlers. Over the past couple of years I have found digital entertainment has been, at times, invaluable. By meal times she is usually very overtired and wants to be constantly held and entertained, so once she got to an age I could put her in front of a Cebeebies show for ten minutes frankly i rejoiced! We actively encouraged it, as it meant I could cook, or just sit down with her for a breather before the next adventure. She has always been an early riser (I’m talking pre 5am), so again, plonking her in front of the TV whilst one of us attempted to snooze/lay lifelessly next to her. The in car DVD player allowed us to travel the long distances Australia demands without continual crying (we went no where for a very long time because the car made her scream so much). And the IPad on the 24 hour long haul flights definitely gave me added confidence.
We arrived here three months ahead of our belongings, which took their time by sea. So we had no TV. Once it arrived, it mainly didn’t go up because the walls were newly plastered and painted I didn’t want to damage and I wasn’t sure where it should go. As time passed we didn’t miss TV. We had the likes of Netflix for the rare occasion we could sit down together to watch something, and intrepid bebe had that portable dvd player. I liked the fact the TV didn’t automatically go on and stay on most of the day, that meals didn’t have a background, and that i could hide the IPad, so at least it wasn’t in front of her.
However as time went on, I found she was watching more and more of the IPad. It was almost worse than TV, because being able to select shows so easily, she would be yelling requests from the Ceebies app like a drunk at a tribute night. And the nature of Amazon Prime means the shows run end to end, so before I knew it she could’ve had an hour of Paw Patrol. She was also plagued by endless colds, we were living in a town I knew no one, and we seemed to be spending more hours logged on. Though I mightn’t sit down in the evening and silently stare at the TV with my husband, we instead sat in silence scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, which is surely worse?
I was already aware of the impact of light exposure and sleep disturbance, so consciously avoided and screen time prior to wanting her to sleep, but I decided I needed to do more. She was asking for the IPad as soon as she woke, she was tantruming every time it turned off despite my attempts at pre warning, and ‘when this episode finishes’ its bath time.
So we went cold Turkey, I hid the IPad, no more DVD player. It took some serious willpower on my part, she seemed lost and was not happy about it. But in very little time I noticed a significant change, she is playing independently, her imagination is incredible, she’s coming up with all sorts of stories. She brings books up all the time asking for them to be read over and over, and she pretends to read them herself too. She’s calmer and more patient. She’s still a two year old don’t get me wrong, but the change is both significant and profound. I try to limit how much I use my phone about her, I desperately try to practice what I preach, because I truly believe they do what you do not what you say in the long term. And we might watch an episode of a series online a couple of nights a week, but with blogging, reading and podcasts, TV just doesn’T have much of a place for me anymore. Does she sleep through the night? No, her sleep at night has not been impacted, but she goes down to bed far far easier, and naps are much less of a battle too. The biggest part is me not giving in, when she is being cling or high maintenance, when I want a breather, or to get something done. But for now I know persevering is worth it. No we won’t be screen free forever, but this “digital detox” is a great lesson for me.
A few ideas for things we do in our screen free world.
The radio-I guess old habits die hard and that background lull is something I missed. plus being a stay at home mama, I crave adult conversations (even if it’s one way), so we have BBC Radio six on in the kitchen most of the day, which switches over to BBC radio 4 at 10am.
Podcasts-not just for you, there are some great kids ones. I had tried them on her pre digital detox and she just got frustrated at not being able to get the phone to show pictures. today she sat still for fifteen minutes listening to Postman Pats adventures and then telling me about them.
Books-who doesn’t love books? We have always read to her, but her interest and attention in them has massively shifted. I tried to introduce a few more ‘interactive’ ones initially, i guess in some way of compensating for the OTT animation of TV. So lifting flaps, or pushing buttons for Gruffalo sounds, or pop upas, she loves the interactive element, and we read half a dozen books at least a day now.
Leaving them be-I think I thought to be a good Mother I needed to shower her with continual attention, but in reality, sometimes I need to back off and give her the opportunity to create play. Its so easy to underestimate them as they are always changing, but I have found her more than capable of five and ten minute burst of playing with toys herself, and I’m trying to nurture this. We still do lots together, but its a conscious effort on my part for me to step back and give her space.
Back up-bubbles, stickers, balloons, food bribes, when the shit hits the fan, and the ipad beckons, I have a bit of a contingency arsenal at the ready.
Do what works! My message is not that all children mustn’t see a screen. there is so much good and educational programming out their, and technology is an unavoidable part of our culture and future. For my family it’s about getting things to a manageable level, and reintroducing manageable portions. But I don’t in any way regret the times Cebeebies has saved me, and undoubtable will be times in the future (hello jet lag).And if your child’s in that joyous nap limbo where you fight the four pm danger nap with all your might, then three hours of Paw Patrol to struggle to bedtime is totally reasonable!