I want to quickly hash out a couple of thoughts I have about an article I saw going around that calls "screen time" and technology use "Digital Heroin."
First of all, I didn't read the article. I didn't even click on it. I knew that there would be no new information that could help me on my parenting journey. I also didn't feel threatened or upset by it either - it was more of a "same ol' same ol'" moment that I quickly moved on from. It is nice to be at a point where I don't get upset by articles like these or question our choices every time I come across a fantastic piece of "clickbait".
A friend posted a rebuttal that I did read and enjoy. I found it to be quite reasonable and to fit what I've learned about technology and its use in our family. (I know many of you may be thinking that I am falling into the confirmation bias and I'm sure I am. But once you've researched, read, and lived something for a while I think you need to not read everything that you come across. You come to a point where you need to be at peace with your decisions and look at your life as objectively as possible and assess if what you're doing works for your family.)
I thought it might be helpful for someone, somewhere if I shared my thoughts and experiences. In no particular order, here are some thoughts that jump to my mind:
1) I get why parents are scared. But as many have pointed out, we are always scared of the "new thing". TV, Radios, even BOOKS were vilified when they became first popular. When Marisol was a baby I read a book and tried to limit her "screentime" (why do I keep putting it in quotes, you may wonder? Because "screentime" includes so many different mediums that it is not logical to lump them all together as "one thing" - read more here.) The book told me that screens were changing her brain. Well, that sounds scary! After years of reading and thinking and trying I now think - well, OF COURSE IT CHANGES THEIR BRAINS. But is this a bad thing? That is the question to ponder and look into.
2) On that note - this idea of being "addicted" is another very emotionally charged one. Our brains "look the same" when on heroin and using screens apparently. If you read the rebuttal I linked above, the truth is that the reward centers or our brain "light up" when doing all sorts of things - eating and having sex are two other activities that cause similar brain patterns. But being addicted comes about because of abuse and/or other deficits in our environment - mostly due to not having enough love and support. If our relationships with our children are strong and we are lovingly connected they are not likely to exhibit addictive behavior. Addictive behavior is trying to fill a void that is not found in humans surrounded with loving environments. I've noticed when I'm with people I have no problem putting my phone down because I want to connect with my loved ones. But it is always a choice. Mostly I choose to put it down and engage, but sometimes I sit in the same room with my husband or sister while we play on our phones - because sometimes that is how we want to relax! And that's fine.
3) My kids are at their "stations" (computer/TV/gaming system) a lot. More than most parents in our culture are comfortable with. And yet - they both stop and go do other things quite easily. This week is quite hot so we went to a spray park and dinner with friends one day and another friend's pool another day. They went willingly and happily. Marisol stops watching YouTube and playing SIMs to go play with her friends. Gerry stops watching videos of his own accord most nights and says "I'm ready" when it's time for us to go to sleep. They are not limited and therefore they can walk away knowing they will be able to come back to it where there aren't other things (like sleep or play!) to do. I'm not saying it's perfect. And yes we do have our phones and a portable gaming system to bring with us places. We do this to make our lives more enjoyable and to support Gerry's big love for gaming. But they certainly don't exhibit "psychotic" behavior!
4) Gerry has seemingly learned to read overnight. Ok, it wasn't overnight but it was quite a transformation over the past couple of months. He has not had one "lesson" and I have not made any effort to "teach" him. He has learned from his games and videos. I am surprised every day at the words he is reading. He tells me new things every day, like the difference between "No" and "Know." He asks me questions and I explain, like the sound that "ing" makes - and then we brainstorm a whole bunch of words that have that sound. It is fun and effortless and his new skill has almost entirely come from unrestricted "screen time". Of course now it has expanded outward and he reads EVERYTHING that he comes across - signs and my texts (a smaller screen) come to mind. :-)
5) Yes my kids are at their stations a lot. But most kids are in desks for a significant part of the day. I think of it as their "chosen desks". They are so dedicated that every morning they sit right down and "get to work." If only we were all so lucky to be so eager! They are also free to leave their stations to move, go to the bathroom, talk to me etc. And they do! Quite often. Marisol currently goes to the trampoline, her bar, and stretches almost as much as she sits at her desk. Gerry is more dedicated to his desk, but we got him a birth ball and he is rarely "sitting still."
With any "study" we need to remember that almost all of the "subjects" are school children because most of our population is in school! How much more interesting and informative might it be to look at a population who is NOT in the school environment? That is a HUGE confounding variable that most people ignore because school is considered the "default". Of course there are many people, myself included, who do not believe school as it is now SHOULD BE the norm or "control" group.
6) Carter (6 months old) is already showing interest in the phones around him. Of course he is! He's wired to explore and learn. Mostly he wants to grab it and put it in his mouth. But also the light and images and sounds catch his attention. Am I absolutely thrilled by this? No. But it is an opportunity for me to change MY habits. To put down MY phone and pick up a book or a board book. To put music on (my phone - haha!) and sing to him or dance around. My kids follow my lead when I make other choices. And I'm not going to be too worried when he starts using my phone in appropriate ways either.
Finally, I know that many parents might argue - well that is fine for YOUR kids - but I can see it is bad for MINE. I do not claim to know what is best for all other kids and families. But I do know that many might look at my kids and think they are "addicted" - I simply disagree. I encourage other parents to keep seeking out alternative ideas, experiences, and information if the mainstream fear-mongering doesn't seem quite right to you.
Wife, mom, information and peace seeker.