I've noticed we humans sometimes have a tendency to get stuck in "either/or" thinking. Thinking "either this or that" is very limiting. Children either eat healthy or they eat crap. They are either respectful or out of control. Parents are either Authoritative (the "good kind" of parenting) or permissive. They are either involved or completely clueless.
These black and white thoughts are rarely true. And they don't lend themselves to thinking outside the box or creative problem solving - both useful skills.
One example that sticks out for me is the dichotomy that people like to put on "screen time" and playing outside. "Kids shouldn't be watching so much TV because they should be outside playing!"
Recently we were outside playing with all our neighborhood friends. I saw that a bunch were all huddled around my daughter, sitting cozily on a blanket under a tree. Most of the other moms were across the park chatting. I smiled inwardly. I knew that the kids were watching something on my iPhone. When we all converged we all laughed because the other moms thought that they were all coloring and getting along so well.
Last summer Marisol and I watched a movie after dark out in the park. We brought our comforter out and cuddled under the stars. It was really nice. It was her idea and I resisted at first, but I was glad that I followed her lead. Embracing technology - TV, computers, laptops, iPhones and iPads, and every other gadget out there doesn't mean that kids need to miss out on Nature and the Great Outdoors. And when kids aren't limited they will combine them in wonderful, new ways that will surprise you.
That's right I said when kids are NOT limited at all. As in - no limits. I know most people are probably thinking, "What?!? Of course we need to limit "screen time" - all of the studies, scientists, Doctors, and parents say it."
Well, I'm getting kind of tired and I have a lot to say on this, so I'm going to try and give you a lot in as few words as possible.
First read this article called, Economics of Restricting TV Watching of Children by Pam Sorooshian. It is a must read. You just can't argue with the logic presented - if you want to keep a kid wanting something REALLY BADLY, then limit them. If, on the other hand, you are looking for healthy relationships - both with you and whatever it is that you are thinking of limiting (because this works for anything, TV, Candy, etc) - you might want to consider a different route.
Second, I get it - where you are coming from, I mean. I really do. I did a COMPLETE 180 on TV and screen time in the year leading up to Marisol's second birthday. The year I started reading about unschooling.
Before discovering unschooling, I had read a book about how dangerous television is to babies and toddlers and how it alters their brains (which it probably does... I'm just not convinced anymore of the "danger" that is involved). I was really careful about not letting Marisol and the little boy I took care of watch what I thought was too much.
Then I discovered these radical people that talked about not putting artificial limits on... well, on anything.
And you know what? It was kind of a relief. Because watching TV is something that Mike and I enjoy - and it's kind of hypocritical to tell the little people in our life that we can, but they can't.
But, I'm not saying it's always easy. It's tough letting go of ideas that have long been planted in your head. It's difficult when you're doing things differently from "everyone else". There's an awesome analogy here about how we all have different "balloons" that we hold onto. TV is one of my balloons. I'm just really good at pretending that I've let go - so good at pretending that my kids don't even know I'm holding onto it. They can watch what they want and when they want - and they usually do.
Of course there are times when we "need" to be somewhere - dance class, or the airport to pick grandma up, etc. Or there are times when we negotiate who is using the "Big" TV (Gerry has been getting the most use lately - 3 year olds seem to love their TV shows extra passionately! But we have iPhones, computers, and laptops too - so there are more than enough screens to go around!)
I will also say that there are times when I've felt guilty about how much they watch. There are two kinds of guilt - the kind that I listen to because it's telling me, "you and the kids are a little disconnected and you need to be more proactive", and then there is the kind that I should tell to go jump in a lake. That kind of guilt is from the little voice in my head that has been programmed to tell me that they need to stop, JUST BECAUSE.
In any case, the main way I deal with either kind of guilt (because I strongly believe that NOT limiting them is the best, most respectful and logical thing to do) is by reconnecting. Sometimes that means sitting and watching with them. Sometimes it means asking if they want to go outside with me, play a game together, or some other activity (while accepting that if they don't want to, that's ok!) Sometimes *I* just need to get busy myself - off the computer, and into something more active - there is always plenty to do around here (and often they will join in - because they like doing things with me)! Sometimes I bring them food because I know that they are needing a snack.
This is one decision that I am absolutely sure of, there are no doubts for me. First of all, I can see the benefits of them watching or interacting (if it's computer or some other type of game). The amount of enjoyment and LEARNING they get from "screen time" is immeasurable. (Marisol often says a math concept or word that I didn't even know she knew - thank you Cyber Chase!)
More importantly, I can see how vibrant, healthy, and active both of them are. They love to go outside, run with their friends, ride bikes, dig in the dirt, go swimming, catch fireflies, climb trees, and tons of other things. And they also love watching TV and playing computer games. I can look at them directly, without any fear, and see that they are whole and that our relationship is remaining intact because I respect the things they love and support choices they make.
I've also had the huge benefit of seeing how my daughter has grown and matured without having any limits placed on her. She LOVED her shows so much when she was smaller and watched a lot. She still watches a lot now too, but she easily decides when she would rather be outside or playing with a friend - and in fact now she prefers that our TV not be on when friends come over because she wants them to play with her, not watch TV! I had more doubts when she was little and would watch for hours, about whether we were making the right choice. I relied a lot on others' experiences and what they shared. (Read here for more reassurance). Now that Gerry is in a similar state of TV-infatuation, I feel confident that we are doing the right thing by respecting his love for Max and Ruby.
It's very rare that something has to be EITHER/OR. More often than not, it is so much better than "either/or" could ever be.
Visiting from the cheeseslave article. It's so validating to find these posts! In my home, I don't limit screen time, but we do limit content. The kids can only watch their uneducational shows on Saturday, and we have our special rules on Sunday. The rest of the week they are free to play educational games and watch our "school movies", which is a growing library with films the kids love, like Magic School Bus, MathTacular, Your Baby/Child Can Read/Discover/Speak Spanish, Signing Time, Rock N Learn, and Rusty and Rosey, among other things. They are well adjusted kids, and technology has really helped them become accelerated learners.
I love this post Susan. It sounds very much like my own journey - it was very difficult to even consider letting go of the tv and technology balloons but I'm so glad I did. I like your distinction between guilt that reminds you to reconnect with the kids and guilt that's just conditioning - I have the same and hadn't thought of such a clear distinction, that's really helpful.
12/8/2013 09:26:51 am
This article meant a lot to me. You have alleviated a lot of guilt that I have been carrying and have given me a much different perspective to consider. Thank you.
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Wife, mom, information and peace seeker.