My mother is very anti-television. As children, our screen time was as rare and precious as platinum. I still remember racing down the stairs with my plastic shield and wrist guards to watch She-Ra Princess of Power. It was a big freaking deal.
The rest of the time, my brother and I were left to “make our own fun”. And we did. We tipped over rocks in the creek behind our house, searching for squirming things. We rode our bikes to the boundaries our mother set to our freedom and back again. And, of course, we read.
We snuggled on the couch beside our mother as she read book after book in her soothing voice, weaving added magic into the words with her inflection. Once I was able to read on my own, I disappeared for hours at a time with Little House on the Prairie and The Babysitters Club. Then I started playing with the words myself, shifting them around like pieces in a never-ending game.
I’ve tried to create the same screen-time limits for my own children. There’s only one problem: my husband.
In the sixteen years we’ve been together, I’ve witnessed him read exactly one novel. He’s a brilliant man, well-versed in current events, but apart from the news, reading is not his chosen form of entertainment.
Since he can’t go in depth with our two-year old on the state of American politics, his idea of parental fun is watching music videos on his phone with our girls. He has exposed them to everything from Flogging Molly to Justin Bieber. Who does that?
I’ll admit, he’s the “fun one” who instigates dance parties and unexpected rounds of dodge ball, but if he or the girls are too tired for epic levels of amusement, it’s full screens ahead.
He’s even gotten them hooked on YouTube videos of some chick whose entire fortune rests on her ability to play with the newest toys and describe every detail in a voice rivalling Caillou in high-pitch annoyingness. She won’t even show her face. I imagine she’s a woman in her early fifties, mortified beyond belief that she earns an exceptional living playing with make-your-our lip gloss kits.
If I take a shower or go to the gym or otherwise leave my children’s impressionable minds to their father’s direction, I will likely return to find them all staring vacantly into a smartphone, TV, tablet or some combination of all of the above.
My husband and I disagree on very little, especially when it comes to parenting our girls, but the Great Screen-Time Battle has reached monumental proportions.
If it were up to me, all screen time would be limited to the following:
- During multi-hour car trips
- To occupy a vomiting child, so as to contain the fallout to one room. Conversely, to occupy children while I vomit
- To keep our wild toddler entertained and out of serious mischief while I cook dinner with knives and flames (Which is probably the only reason I ever got to watch TV).
- To entertain my oldest a couple hours during her sister’s weekend naptime, so I can have a couple hours a week to myself (Selfish, but whatever. She gets to watch shows that scare her sister like Madeline—because apparently little French girls are terrifying—and I get to write.)
If it were up to my husband, it would be GO for screen time all the time.
As far as I’m concerned, the evil of TV and YouTube is two-fold: What they’re experiencing and what they’re not experiencing.
I’ve bristled at shows as innocent as Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Jake’s the leader because he has a sword (literally, a wooden sword, but we all know what that means). Why? The girl pirate, Izzy, holds the power to fly. FLY, DAMN IT. Of course, she needs Jake to help her determine when to do it. If shows as banal as the ones on Disney Junior set me off, you can imagine my reaction to the Biebs.
Then, there’s what they’re not experiencing: Imaginary play, arts and crafts, and even boredom. Never underestimate the power of boredom to breed ingenuity. I spent the first part of my childhood in a town the size of a postage stamp surrounded by mountains. When our mom told us to “make our own fun”, we had to get pretty creative.
I don’t mean to brag, but when left to my own devices, I’m rarely bored. Five-hour flight delay, no problem as long as I have a book. Power’s out? Let’s pretend we’re pioneers!
“I watched TV all the time,” my husband will say, “And I turned out fine.”
I can’t argue with that.
“I turn on the TV when they’re on my last nerve,” my husband will say. “I figure it’s better than yelling at them.”
This one gets me every time since I’m the yeller in our pair. Maybe I wouldn’t be if I entertained them with screens instead of planning elaborate Carpet Picnics. I lose my cool when I’m feeling overwhelmed, which let’s be honest, is on the daily.
“They love it so much,” my husband will say.
And, of course, they do. Plus, they often cuddle with each to watch their favorite show or huddle close to see a small screen. Add a TV or smartphone and they’re practically a stock photo of sisterly bonding too perfect to be real (For a minute or two until someone smacks someone for choosing the wrong clip or I start griping about eye damage and wasted brain cells.)
As I watch my girls oozing with enthusiasm for my bald-head TV nemesis—aka Caillou—I think back to the thrill of watching those episodes of She-Ra and give in to one more show. Point husband.
We will keep fighting the Great Screen-Time Battle because, like most things in our marriage, the best solution lies somewhere in the middle.
Now, I have twenty minutes to write like a demon before Caillou ends or that woman uses all the sparkles in her nail polish kit. Then, it’s my turn to weave some reading magic into a few chapters of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory before my husband blasts Flogging Molly for an all-family dance off.
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