How Screen Time Became My Idol: Part 1

I was checking out at the grocery store and the cashier nodded towards my 20-month-old and said, “Isn’t technology wonderful?” You see, he was quiet and content as could be because he was watching The Shapes Song on my phone. He wasn’t crying because grocery shopping took a bit too long. He wasn’t demanding the candy and toys placed so inconveniently in the check out aisle. He wasn’t causing a wild scene or disturbing anyone around him. Because he was occupied with our friends from YouTube Kids.

It was so refreshing to hear someone acknowledge how screen time can be a blessing instead of hearing condescension that too much blue light destroys baby brain cells. I am a digital age mom and I am thankful for screens and data plans and, every once in awhile, I’m even thankful for The Finger Family Song.

There is no hard and fast rule for age appropriate screen time limits and the recommendations continue to fluctuate as new information arises. Overall, though, I think we can all agree that children are meant to play and imagine and explore. But in the younger years who is usually helping to facilitate the playing, imagining, and exploring? Mama.

I didn’t think about our screen time too often because my boys were not “addicted”. On their own they would put the iPad down and choose to play. If given the choice to watch iPad or go outside, they would choose outside every time. My boys learned so much from their iPad apps so it was easy to justify that time as a learning opportunity. No, my boys were not addicted to the iPad, but someone else sure was.

I used the screen to babysit my kids. I used the screen to give me a break from the bickering or just overall loudness that comes with little boys. I used the screen as a reward and a punishment, which was mostly ineffective. I used the screen so that I could be just plain lazy. When the boys would ask for art supplies and I didn’t feel like getting them out or cleaning up the mess, then I would hand them the iPad instead. Often they would moan and say they didn’t want the iPad so I would pull up their coloring app to try to appease them. I was addicted to the convenience of screens. The screen began to mother my children more than I did.

I realized how often I had started saying “no” to my boys. It wasn’t always a direct “no” but often sounded more like an exasperated sigh or an “in a little bit” or a “maybe later”. I would respond this way when my boys asked for a snack or asked to paint or asked if I wanted to play with them. I sunk into a heartbreaking reality: my sweet 5-year-old would ask me several times in an hour if I wanted to play with him and each time I would respond, “In a little bit,” with full intentions of playing moments later. Then an hour passed and “in a little bit” never happened. Somewhere along the line I stopped saying “yes” to my children and stopped being present in their lives.

So I decided something needed to change. I needed to change. I needed to stop relying on the screens to occupy my children. I took the screens away for a full 5 days and you know what happened? We read more books. We colored more pictures. We played more games. I learned just how much my boys had been learning at school and was amazed at how much their little minds were growing. I had missed out on so much because I let screens dictate our time.

I was humbled at how much the boys simply wanted to spend time with me. When I started saying “yes” again, they would gasp in surprise and exclaim, “Yay! Mama’s playing with us!” I realized just how much screen time had become my idol and how strongly it had been affecting my family. I told the boys how nice the past five days had been and that maybe we wouldn’t be using the iPads as often anymore. My oldest replied matter-of-factly, “So now we won’t have the iPads during the week and only sometimes on Saturday and Sunday!” They weren’t upset. They didn’t argue. They seemed excited to keep up our new routine of family interaction.

It was a sobering realization that they were not addicted to screens, but that I was addicted to allowing them to use screens. I had elevated screens on a pedestal in our home and had sacrificed time and relationships to them. I am so thankful to be on the right track again. I am thankful for renewed relationships with my boys. I am thankful that they never stopped asking me to play. I am thankful that they pursued me and hoped for me and waited patiently for me. What examples of genuine love. I am so unworthy.

We still use screens in our home. The boys get to watch cartoons during breakfast while I’m getting ready for the day and my youngest still uses the phone at the end of grocery trips, but we no longer rely on the screens to get through the day. My boys are much more important to me than the convenience of screens. I hope never to forget that.

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