My sitting down to type this requires that my kids are otherwise occupied, and in the McMillan house that means one thing: screen time.
The same is true for when I’m folding laundry, doing the dishes, preparing a meal, returning a phone call, or sitting down to catch up on the latest episode of The Next Food Network Star.
And, if I’m being honest, it’s often the latter type of situation: The kids are in one room doing their own screen-related thing, and I’m in another room doing one of my own. Sometimes we manage to be in the same room, one of us watching TV, another trolling around on the internet, while yet another plays games on a Nintendo DS or my phone. But–just as often–we’re separately glued to screens in separate rooms.
This isn’t like letting them eat fast food several times a week, which is easier to fix (we really have made progress there) and doesn’t impact them daily, or the infrequent bathing that, actually, isn’t all that bad in the first place.
This flies in the face of every recommendation any pediatrician worth her stethoscope would give.
So, here comes the part where I try to argue that it’s really not that bad, this addiction to screens that my family shares. And, I’ll do my best. But, truly, I realize that we need to work on this, and that’s that.
Here’s how these things happen: I have two children with two very different personalities. My daughter enjoys a good television show or a turn on the Wii, but mostly she just wants to play. She treasures every toy she’s ever received, even the ones that came in her Happy Meals; they all have their own special spot in the Kate Universe. She’s also the kind of kid who loves to color, and will practice handwriting just for fun.
Jack, on the other hand, can’t be tempted by any toy. He wants one when he sees it in its shiny, new packaging in the store, but the magic quickly fades once it’s home and unwrapped. He has no interest in riding a bike, and even less in coloring.
Jack likes to imagine; that is his main diversion. Rarely, he does the kind of imaginative play Andy in the Toy Story movies is known for by cooking up elaborate schemes with his toys. Most of the time, though, he prefers for the action to stay in his own head, or to be acted out with our help.
What toys can’t do–or at best, can do only infrequently–for him, TV shows and video games can.
And, when you add tending to Kate, who is younger than Jack and demands way more of me (in many ways), to the whole keep-this-ship-afloat thing we’ve got going on, it means that our screens almost never get a complete rest.
As a kid, I was part Jack, part Kate. I loved my toys, but I loved daytime HBO just as much. Plus, my brother and I had a string of summertime sitters who didn’t see the harm in letting us veg out all day.
And, in the long run, I don’t know how much harm it actually did. Though I certainly was an overweight child, I rode my bike, eventually shed the baby fat, did well in school, had friends, and generally ended up a relatively happy, well-adjusted kid.
Which leads me to this realization: what I’m doing right now is what we parents often do, and it’s destructive–I’m tallying up all that we’re doing wrong, and failing to add in what we do right.
We eat meals–often, at least two a day–at the table, as a family. On most nice, summer days, my children get at least of couple of hours in the pool. They are intimately acquainted with The Orpheum Children’s Science Museum, several area parks, the Anita Purves Nature Center, the Champaign Library, the Market at the Square, Curtis Orchard, the Peoria Zoo, church, Grandma’s house, and their own backyard. We read together–we’re up to book four in the Harry Potter series. They’re doing well in school, and are slowly taking on those extracurricular activities we feel best match their skills and interests.
They have friends. They are (they really are) clean, and well-fed.
They are loved, and they know it through and through.
I could go on and on about this, but I’d rather turn it over to you guys and see what you have to say. Do your kids get a lot of screen time but seem happy and well-adjusted anyway? Or have you figured out how to unplug, even with a child who particularly adores the television–and if so, how did it benefit him? Tell about your experience with screen time in the comments.
In the No-Judging spirit, I leave you with this excellent post from my friend Erin’s Awkward Mom blog. It’s definitely worth a read.
Rachael McMillan just took part-time job number 5,482: teaching sixth- and seventh-grade history at Campus Middle School for girls. She also tutors at The Reading Group and serves as the education coordinator for Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade retailer in downtown Champaign. She is totally in love with her Chambana life, which she shares with husband Scott, kindergartner Kate and first-grader Jack.