There was a brand-new season of Banged Up Abroad the other night on National Geographic. My wife and I were sitting down for dinner after having fed, entertained, bathed, played and mustered every ounce of energy we could to keep up with our two-year-old son– after all, a toddler’s daily activity routine is equal to an adult going through 83 rounds of boxing in a gym.
While he was beginning to get restless and the opening credits of my favorite TV show were rolling, I instinctively reached out for my iPad and went to the Dave and Ava channel on YouTube and thrust it in his hands. Did I feel like guilty that I was pushing what some refer to as an “electronic pacifier” his way? Not in the least bit.
Psychologists are ready to bandy out suggestions that their studies have shown a “correlation” between screen time and obesity, aggression or sleep disorders. The issue I have here is that “correlation” doesn’t equal causation. I’d much more readily argue that poor dietary choices cause obesity rather than a video of Wheels on the Bus on loop. Between a scientist and a psychologist, I’d throw my lot behind a scientist. Their hypothesis is objective, conclusions are tested and the methodology used to arrive to the conclusion is rigorous.
I’m not in denial and refuting common sense either. I’m well aware that a five-year-old could, for example, resort to a screen as a means of escapism to avoid going out and playing with one member among his playgroup who is a bully. Also, my idea of allowing access to technology doesn’t cover the channels that you allow them access to. Older children could easily get hooked onto social media, but that’s an entirely different kettle of grenades. My definition of allowing access to technology is restricted to designated gaming and learning apps, besides YouTube.
There could be clear upsides to using technology. For example, a study conducted in the early nineties noticed that the GameBoy generation of under 25s had developed a far stronger and more dexterous thumb than the previous generation. Technology can also aid multi-tasking. I’ve often noticed my two-year old is apparently fully engrossed in a Badanamu video – but somehow manages to chip in randomly and on cue in a conversation my wife and I are having in the same room if it concerns him. I also see technology as a means of bonding. With a few learning apps, my son is beginning to learn shapes, colours, sounds, syllables and words. At times, we both sit together in front of the iPad and play on it together.
There are rules we follow with technology. It stays off when guests visit (or when we are visiting guests), I keep reminding him to hold it at least half-an-arm-length away from his eyes and, of course, I keep parental locks switched on and often peek over his shoulder to check the content he is watching on YouTube.
I’ve found that my son doesn’t “need” a screen in front of him all the time. He does ask for it occasionally and sometimes gets it, while at other times he doesn’t (when they violate the rules). These choices that I make for him to either grant or restrict him access to a screen are non-negotiable, though I’m happy to offer him an explanation for my decision.
He’s got friends within the apartment complex where we live who he plays with for at least an hour every day (no anti-social behavior), he attends nursery every day and patiently sits for circle time with all the children (no attention deficits), he’s actually underweight rather than overweight about a kilo-and-a-half under his ideal height-weight ratio, and he can easily go through an entire day without a screen if he’s sufficiently distracted and occupied with other things or people - tech is certainly no crutch.
I wouldn’t advocate taking my advice at face value. After all, I wouldn’t take your advice at face value either because each parent knows what’s best for their child. The point is that if you do choose to hand them a device, like I did the other night, you don’t have to hand them a bit of your guilt along with it too.