Screen Time Isn’t Great For Kids, But It Can Be Good for Parents

I told myself that I wouldn't park my kids in front of a screen. I generally don't, but sometimes the kid is crying and you need some animated support.

by Eddie Wilders
Originally Published: 

I grew up in a one-television household. The set was located in the living room and my screen time lasted an hour each day between the time when I finished my homework and dinner then two hours for Saturday morning cartoons and three hours for football on Sundays during the season. We didn’t have tablets or computers or any other types of technology that allowed us to watch multiple shows at once, let alone calm us down. My mom likes to tell me that she would put some magazines in front of me and watch me rip them to shreds. Apparently, that kept me busy.

As technology has taken over our lives, I made the decision to limit the time my kids were going to watch TV. There was no way that they would have access to an iPad. I would find constructive ways to keep my kids from break downs and crying fits. They would do what I did: read books, play outside, rip up a magazine.

Then I had kids. And I changed my mind.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I will freely give my 18-month-old my phone to watch Mickey Mouse or Daniel Tiger. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when there is a threat of a nuclear meltdown, you can bet your sweet life that I will find something for her to watch within seconds. Not only will I happily watch her become mesmerized, I will also argue (with other parents, mostly) that it’s the right call.

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I believe it’s my job to keep my infant or toddler calm in public spaces. I completely understand why they break down and I don’t take it personally or sweat it too much. I see parents do that and I feel for them; my children have screamed for no reason whatsoever. It’s what they do. That said, it’s a problem to have a wailing kid and the fact is that my phone tends to solve that problem.

Never is this tactic more needed than on an airplane. My daughter’s first plane ride was filled with me walking her up and down the aisle combined with watching as many cartoons as possible. At the end of that plane ride, I was able to recite the three episodes of Mickey and the Roadster Racers that I had downloaded.

While the plane can be ground zero for meltdowns, any tight space is really a challenge. This past weekend was one of those challenges where nothing else was working to help ease the crying of my daughter. We were waiting patiently for a local artist who was sketching children’s favorite stuffed animals at our local bookstore. The line was long, the store was small, and the children were plentiful. We stood still for 47 seconds before my daughter needed to get out of my arms and explore. Not wanting to lose our place in the line (I hadn’t made friends yet), we argued over me wanting to hold her and her not wanting that at all. After a few seconds of thrashing, I pulled out my phone and she instantly calmed down. She stayed in my arms for two entire episodes of Mickey Mouse. Everyone around me rejoiced as the crying had stopped and it was quiet.

I’m not saying that the phone is the answer to everything. It’s not. I’m just saying it’s the answer to some things. And having an answer is nice — especially if you put a value on providing other people with respite from your kid’s crying.

I will always go to her toys or a book first, hoping that the familiarity of those objects will be enough to sustain her in those moments of crisis. But when those objects are presented and promptly launched across the room, there is sometimes no other negotiating to help ease whatever is causing the outburst. If the phone is going to make the crying stop for anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour, I’m on board. Especially in those moments where the crowds are visibly becoming frustrating but telling you “It’s okay. We’ve all been there.” So, judge all you want. I will continue allowing my baby to watch Mickey Mouse in exchange for peace and quiet in a judgmental zone. And I will do it with a great smile on my face.

Eddie Wilders is a dad of two beautiful daughters that test every ounce of his being every day of his life, and he loves them for it. He’s become a world-class negotiator using the powers of Mickey Mouse and Cheerios.

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