My three-year-old had his annual check-up a few months ago and they handed me a form to fill out about his development. I knew they would have a question about his amount of screen time and I knew I did not want to answer it honestly. The question was specifically worded like this, “Do you limit screen time for your child?” My husband was next to me, as I was filling out the form. He said, “Nope.” I said, “Yes, I do.” Granted, I don’t limit it as much as I should, but if I have to hear twenty billion times a day, “Can I watch TV?” then that means I have taken some measures to limit it. Of course, we still got “the speech” about too much screen time from our pediatrician, since I fessed up that it was more than 2 hours a day. I get it. I really do. Too much screen time is bad for our children (and ourselves), but I’m tired of the screen time guilt I feel every time I say ‘yes’ to the TV or iPad. Frankly, I’m tired of the guilt that I feel for every shortcoming I have as a mother.
Here’s the deal. I’m working on my 50 Fabulous Summer Bucket List Items along with the twenty additional ones I have that are location specific, and we are flying through them. We’ve been to a rodeo, had a water balloon fight with some 30+ kids, gone on several picnics, gone camping, visited a fish hatchery, attempted letter-boxing (couldn’t find it), gone on a surrey ride as a family, had a lemonade stand and a garage sale, hosted a talent show with friends, drawn sidewalk chalk drawings, played board games, gone to our local outdoor swim facility, eaten snow cones, taken a trip to a local lake, played at a water splash pad, been working on our library’s reading program, gone to the $1 movies at Regal Cinemas (saw Annie, which was really quite enjoyable), gone swimming at a friend’s pool, built an indoor fort, and my daughters are in the middle of writing and illustrating their own stories, among other things. Yet still, they probably average 4-5 hours of screen time everyday. Depending on when they wake up, they sometimes get two hours of TV time before I’ve even rolled out of bed. It’s terrible, I get that. But I feel like a Cruise Entertainment Director and sometimes I just need my kids to sit and chill and not fight. So, why must I feel the screen time guilt every time that happens?
Is there an escape from said guilt? Because I imagine even if I just let them veg out with a screen for only two hours, I would still feel guilt for those two hours. I feel guilt every time that I am not 100% engaged with my children. I’m really good at this whole guilt thing, apparently. I get that I am going to miss these days. Actually, my eldest is already old enough that I do miss those days when she was a baby and it was just her, and she was my shopping partner and listening ear when I talked to myself in the stores about the products I planned on buying. I already miss her chubby little hands that looked like they had been screwed on her arms since she had a huge crease between the two. I already miss how she would say “Hokey Pokey” instead of Pinocchio. You see, I get that time flies. It’s racing faster than I can process. But sometimes, time drags. It drags on those days when I just don’t feel well, when my husband works long hours for days on end, or when my children bicker endlessly. And on those days, which is most days at least one point in the day, screen time sounds lovely.
All that being said, I do turn off the TV and make my kids go fight about what to play with each other. Even worse, I make them clean up their messes. Their messes that obviously prove they are not having screen time all day or else the messes wouldn’t be there in the first place, right? My house is too much of a disaster from children’s items for my kids lives to be entirely dedicated to screens. Is it odd that the mess gives me a bit of relief as it is an indicator that my children still know how to imagine and create? Or the paper scraps? Oh my heavens! The paper scraps around my house. I’m convinced there is a forest missing somewhere due to my girls alone, and yet the screen time guilt remains. You see it doesn’t seem to matter how much I do to keep my kids busy or what they do to keep themselves busy, at the end of the day, I just seem to focus on the hours of screen time they should not have had.
The real reason that screen time guilt hits me, is because I know they’re missing out on stuff, just like I’m missing out on stuff when I spend hours checking (and re checking) social media. I get that we have less time to engage with one another when I so quickly say ‘yes’ to screen time. One Sunday, a couple of weeks ago, I was frustrated as I looked around and noticed that every family member, aside from my baby, was on a screen. That’s not the type of life I want to live either, y’know? I made everybody get off their screens and talk to each other. I realize that I don’t do that enough. And that is where the guilt comes from.
So, dear readers, help me out. How do I rid myself of screen time guilt for the times that we all just want to veg? And how do I better moderate the screen time use so that we don’t miss living life to the fullest? Before I open myself up to judgment, please consider that my baby still takes two naps a day and my three-year-old cannot engage with someone else without screaming at the top of his lungs at some point, whether it be in frustration or happiness. He is loud. So, half the time the TV is on as a tool to keep him quiet and the baby sleeping.
My daughter’s annual check-up was just last week and I had to answer the same question. This time, I told the pediatrician, “She is on a screen more than she should be and less than she wants to be.” That answer didn’t suffice the doctor either. I was given “the speech” again. At the next check-up, I want to answer the question with more honesty and less guilt. Can I have both without removing all screens from our home?