By Ana Connery
When my son was under 2 years old, I broke one of the major guidelines set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics: I let him watch television. For years, the organization has recommended that children under two avoid screen time altogether, but I can count on one hand the number of mom friends I have who follow this rule to the letter.
At the time, when I made the choice to let my toddler watch television, part of me thought, what the hell? I watched a ton of TV as a kid in the late '70s and early '80s and I'm totally fine (for the most part). The other side of me wondered if I might come to regret that decision in the future.
I was a single mom with a demanding job when my son was at the age that the AAP warns against screen time. He went to daycare when I went to work, but there were plenty of moments at home when we were alone and I needed to take a shower or make an important phone call. With no one else to watch him, I felt the safest place for him was in his high chair, where he couldn't crawl or otherwise get into an unsafe situation. I tried placing toys on the tray for him to play with, but inevitably they'd fall and he'd start to cry, so I flipped on the tube. I comforted myself by choosing PBS shows that seemed as educational as they were entertaining. Whatever guilt I had over letting him watch television wasn't enough to trump my concern for his physical safety.
Fast-forward eight years. Today, parents like me aren't just worried about television, we're worried about all kinds of screens, particularly the mobile variety. Tablets and smartphones are all around us, and kids seem to have an insatiable appetite for them. Fisher-Price has a bouncy seat that accommodates an iPad. CTA Digital makes a potty that does, too. Are we going too far by letting toddlers play with tablets while they're trying to tinkle?
A new study from Common Sense Media found 38 percent of babies under 2 use tablets or smartphones, a 10 percent increase since 2011. With this phenomenon so new and long-term research still years away, it's hard to know what the right thing to do is, and split-second decisions usually win out. How many times have you found yourself in a pickle where you need your child to be quiet and safely entertained and the closest tool that can help is your phone? Too many to count, probably. But is it safe?
Babies' brains are developing rapidly, and those first two years of life are critical periods of growth. At the same time, technology's presence in our lives is also flourishing, and who knows where we'll be by the time our kids are faced with these decisions regarding their own toddlers' screen time? It stands to reason that developing an aptitude for technology will only serve our children well.
In the meantime, I think the best thing any good parent can do is be aware of the research and the opinions of experts and use their best judgment. Just try not to pass that judgment onto anyone else. Finger-pointing at others for what you consider bad parenting helps no one, certainly not our kids.
Like sugar and the number of playdates we host per week, I set limits for my son based on what I think is best for him. When I interviewed the First Lady for Parenting magazine two years ago, she shared that the Obama girls don't have screen time that isn't connected to schoolwork during the week, and have limited time on the weekends. I was impressed by the First Lady's candor and inspired by her decision, but what's best for her family is not necessarily best for mine. Each parent has to decide what's most important to regulate, and how to do it.
Until we know more about the effect of letting kids play with tablets and all other things tech, that's the rule I'm going to live by.
What's your opinion on tots and tech?