As most parents do in this age of over-abundant information and very severe opinions, I engage in a lot of hand-wringing over pretty much every aspect of my child’s daily life. Am I feeding her the right foods? (She had ice cream for breakfast and guacamole for dinner…) Am I disciplining her enough? too much? the right way? (answers to those are probably no, no and no…) And, one of the big ones for anyone parenting in this “digital age”, am I/is my kid spending too much time looking at a screen?
There was a time when I was convinced of the idea of a 100% screen free childhood for Margot. Ha! That didn’t last very long. Truthfully, some of the families I know who claim to be screen-free are on their smart phones constantly in front of their children, and many still watch professional sports on (you guessed it) a screen. I am not disparaging these families, because I believe it’s important for families to find the balance that works for them in all things. But, I believe that having a goal of being 100% screen-free is setting yourself up for failure. Screens are all around us, and they aren’t going away any time soon.
Rather she believes that technology, more than being unavoidable, is a valuable tool for even children as small as our GoGo. The good news for families that enjoy a bit of tech in their daily life is that Dr. Gold encourages the use of media as an educational tool for small children. She states that tablets are, in fact, perfect learning tools for toddlers because they do not rely on literacy for operation (like many computer games would), they respond to a child’s touch (unlike most “analog” games), and they allow for the repetition that children need (and adults find tiresome.)
Another point, which I would like to share especially with those who believe in a screen-free existence, is that we need to help our children develop resilience when it comes to technology (and in life). Resilient children turn negative experiences into positive experiences. In other words, they learn from mistakes and disappointments. If we completely eliminate technology from our children’s lives then we also eliminate the possibility that they could learn from it and develop a healthy relationship with it. It is our job, as parents, to help them navigate this new world, not to deny them access to it.
While Dr. Gold encourages use of technology, this does not come without limitations. She believes that families should all develop their own digital agreements (which apply more to children older than GoGo…) and should decide how big a role technology should play in their homes and lives.
For children 3-5 (which is the group Margot fits into at 2 1/2 yrs old), Gold says it is more important to appoint screen-free time than it is to limit their exposure to screens. She stresses that screens are not a substitute for meaningful interaction with loved ones. Having your child listen to narration of a book in an app on your iPad (or Kindle Fire in our house) should not replace the time your child spends on your own lap being read to. She also believes that apps are generally better than watching TV shows, because games (especially those played on touch-screens) allow independence and mastery. TV, she states, is passive and should not exceed 45 minutes. And all families should have regular 30 minute time periods of totally screen-free togetherness… that means not even checking your phone. (I’m pointing to myself on that one…)
The two hard and fast rules she proposes are (1) NO television in the bedroom and (2) stop taking your phone to bed with you already! I happen to agree with both. I’ve been very guilty of breaking rule #2, but had been working to improve it since before picking up this book. Rule #1 has been a rule I’ve observed my whole life. My parents made this rule and I might not have liked it very much as a teenager, but I’ve never kept a TV in my bedroom in my adult life. The most important thing, she says, for parents to do is model the behavior we wish to see in our children. If we don’t want them to be slaves to technology, then we need to put our phones down once in a while. We need to show them that there are other avenues for entertainment by reading and engaging in hobbies and doing both of those things WITH them. If we are sitting on the floor checking our phones while our children are doing puzzles, we are showing them that what is on the screen is more important and more interesting than what they are doing.
I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book (or borrowing it from your library, like I did) because it was full of great information, and (honestly) it made me feel SO MUCH BETTER about my kid’s addiction to Curious George DVDs and playing games on my phone. It also encouraged me to go-ahead and download a few more games for her on our Kindle Fire. One of which she is happily playing as I type this…