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  • Writer's pictureLeah Vizgan

Toddlers and Screen Time.. Yes or No?

So I have noticed just about every toddler has a tablet... I don’t turn on the TV at all and I don’t allow or give my toddlers phones or tablets to watch at any time. Not even in the car.

I am curious though, what are your thoughts on screen time for kids?

I used to allow screen time, TV and only educational shows a few hours a day. My oldest (2.4yrs old) learned quite a bit if I am honest. But then I noticed it going to a negative place. She would start demanding to change the show, channel, song... and then start having huge temper tantrums when I didn’t or if I turned it off or didn’t turn it on. I also use to allow her to play games on my phone while out and at times that i needed her to sit calmly and quietly for example if we were at a doctor's office or to play educational Alphabet tracing games for long road trips. She would become a zombie with the games, and constantly ask for the phone and throw temper tantrums when she didn’t get it. That’s when I went cold turkey and decided no more TV, phone or tablets. It’s been about 3 months now.

I am much happier now. My toddlers 2.6 yr old and 1.1 yr old play together and focus on games or toys for longer periods of time. When we go to grandma's house and the tv is on they no longer show any interest of watching, they would rather play instead. Same for the few times that I was exhausted and needed a break and said: “do you want to watch tv?” my oldest responded with “no”. I was shocked however I am very happy at the point we are now.

On the other hand, my husband mentioned that our youngest isn’t exposed to any tv and isn’t learning as our oldest did. He suggested to allow them an hour a day of nursery rhymes or an educational show (the same we did for our oldest, Little Baby Bum and Blippi).

I am nervous about taking a step back down the road of temper tantrums and demands or to lose what I have worked so hard to accomplish - no screen time and fewer temper tantrums.

That being said, every Instagram or FB story shows toddlers holding tablets and I wonder how beneficial or damaging that could be.

There are several debates that have good points:

- Screens are now an integral part of society. There is literally no day that goes by that you yourself don’t use a screen for the majority of your waking hours.

This is not going away, in fact, screen time only will keep increasing due to the sheer necessity of, well... life in the 21st century.

While I understand that parents worry about exposing their children to screens, at the same time it deprives them of the benefits gained by becoming adept in navigating through the tools that they will most certainly use in the very near future.

Furthermore, research studies reveal that problem solving through digital means (e.g. digital games) increases cognitive functions such as reflex, strategy, forward-thinking, decision making and teamwork.

The earlier children are exposed to learning what screens are and how to utilize them, the better chances they have into processing what they’ve learned into usefulness in the inevitable future of the complete transition of mankind to utilizing screens as a means to do almost everything.

The reservation parents had in exposing their children to screens was due to an older generation that was scared of the fact that their childhood consisted of other means of attracting interest via physical toys and interpersonal activities (which of course can still remain in the picture), but having said that, you yourself have been exposed to screen time as a child watching endless Disney movies, if you think you turned out fine, why wouldn’t your kids be?

Lastly, distractions are useful to the parents as well. It being a toy or an animation doesn’t make a difference at the distraction level, both will allow you to do chores without having YOU being the distraction. In the case of animations though, it can keep them calm while learning important values that are often emphasized in those animations, like sharing, being compassionate, even teaching reading/writing in a fun way. Overall the benefits outweigh the misperceived “destructive influence” that people are having due to a fear of providing a different childhood than they had growing up.

Different times require different approaches!

As much as I understand what he is saying, it doesn't touch the fact about a toddler's behavior due to screen time.

- So as a nanny I have had experience with families on both ends of the spectrum.

One family had no limits on screen time. They were each gifted their iPads on their first birthday and given free access from there. Those kids could not function without iPads in their hands. They even took them to the bathroom and slept with them. Surprisingly though they were not as mesmerized by tv which also had no limits.

The other family allowed zero screen time in any form except for very rare occasions. The problem was that when they did have the opportunity to watch something they became zombies. Even a tug on the arm or shake on the shoulder could not get their attention. It was actually pretty scary.

Because of these two families, I firmly believe a little exposure combined with a little restriction is the way to go.

I don't resonate with this response since I have given little screen time and no screen time and the results are much different for me and my children.

- Why do toddlers have a tablet when their parents are out and about?

Because it has proven to be a pretty good distraction scheme.

Do all toddlers need constant distraction all the time?

Nah. That is not how it works. But damnit, the tablet helps. It helps a lot.

It's soo much better than having kids running back and forth at the restaurant, isn't it?

Well. I think it is, anyway. We have always done it like that. Gone out to a restaurant with friends. Eat a good meal. And after desert, when the young one is probably very close to her bedtime, and the grownups want to talk and have coffee, that's when the tablet shows up. Because that part of the evening is...not really enough for the child anymore, and the tablet makes it more on her terms again.

When you drive in the car all day, make sure that you can entertain your child. Make sure to point at every fascinating bird you can see outside the windows. Make sure that there is a plan for entertainment. not just a tablet and chocolate. But I have to admit that my plan totally contains both tablets and chocolate. Just...not just that.

Anyway. My thoughts on-screen time is that there is an unbelievable amount of hours in the future that can be spent with the tablet, which means that screen time is never more important than anything else. (and I admit that this is something I have struggled to teach my daughter. She is 8. She is still not good at it, despite having her own tablet for 7 years already.)

I like the idea that the tablet is an instant entertainment machine. She is never so tired or so sick that it stops being entertaining. This means that it's a keep-awake scheme for when you otherwise risk ruining her sleeping pattern. It's a way to make a fever less of a misery. It helps when something hurts (it helps less when you are in the ER with a broken arm, but it helps some.)

It can be used as a reward. And screen time can be revoked as a punishment.

It's pretty brilliant too when you want your child to entertain themselves for an hour when they wake up before 5 Saturday morning.

And it totally helped that one time when my wife was away on some corporate event and I caught something feverish, felt like complete shit, vomited and...just wasn't the most reliant dad for a while. In fact, I even fell asleep on the floor in her bedroom twice before giving up; I totally think of it as a parental win that I could set an alarm on the young ones iPad and say "when it rings, I want you to brush your teeth, get on your PJ's, turn off the lights, hug Teddy and try to fall asleep." It was a shot in the dark, but it hit spot on. Because when my wife got home about an hour after her bedtime, she was sound asleep in her bed. Hugging her teddybear.

By picking the right source of streamed media for your child, you also make them learn a lot of things. Nearly all children's programs are stuffed to the rim with sense morals and teachings on how society works. They learn a lot of stuff about social interactions just by having a screen in front of them. They are taught important things and fun things. She totally knows more about wild animals than I do, after watching one of those reality shows that follows a team of veterinarians at a zoo around.

Despite all this, screen time is not a right. It's a privilege. One that I'm not afraid to revoke for both petty and minor reasons. She is pretty used to "no iPad for a week" as my way of expressing sincere disappointment.

And, well. Sitting with the iPad in front of her for too long is in itself one of the reasons that she may be without iPad for a week. If she wants to use up her entire week's screen time in one go on Saturday, she is perfectly welcome to do that. I don't care, I just regulate it by denying her the iPad for the rest of the week. She has, somewhat, learned to regulate her screen time herself. Which kind of is for the best. I don't want to constantly nag her about it, and I think of it as a parental win that it sort of worked out.

(This, I have to add, after never properly defining how much screen time she has. Some days she uses it for 15 minutes. Some days she plays Minecraft for 4 hours. Most days, it's to watch something for 15-20 minutes and then later the same day watch something else for half an hour again. She even watches the news because SVT, bless them, have a child-oriented news program that is aired and streamed daily. It sort of evens itself out over the course of a week or two, depending on weather and homework and what we force her to tag along on over the weekend.)

That said, she has not one but two rooms filled with toys. And a garden with a trampoline. And a playhouse with child-sized furniture. And neighbor kids. Including one who happens to have her own horse. (which is convenient, because horses are a kind of totem animal...) It's not as if the tablet is the only thing in the entire house that she can play with. It sort of regulates itself that way too.

I always get asked "don't I need time to myself" or How can I be a stay at home mom and not use the tv... The entire point of being a stay at home mom for me is to spend quality time raising my kids and teaching them. Yes, there are moments where I need a break, a sick day, when my toddler wakes up super early and I'm still half asleep or when I need to prepare food or to go for the day but I don't use the tv as a babysitter in those situations. I let them choose to play on their own while I am "busy" or to help me. It's hard, really hard and yes, sometimes I wanna pull my hair out but I also see the positive outcome. I do believe screentime is fine in moderation. I don't agree with hour upon hour of screentime though. Half an hour or so in the morning is one thing, but being glued to it all day is not healthy.

Now that the TV is not in front but literally in our hands, it becomes even easier to zombify the youth. By the same time, we get to enjoy more our parenthood and less screen time for us too!

Of course, it can be turned off when they start being fussing or throwing temper tantrums. I can stop tv for a few days or a week and let them try again. Making it a point that it is very much a treat to be earned in our house.

The problem is that we don't really know the long term effects of screen time on kids. The first generation who has been exposed to tablets from birth hasn't grown up yet. You are basically doing this huge pedagogic experiment on them.

I would rather be conservative and let my kids entertain themselves the old fashioned way, ie. books, outdoor play and physical toys, which are proven to be beneficial.

I'm still confused on whether to allow it or to keep it screen free... Very interested to hear your thoughts.

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