Guys, I’m not a developmental psychologist. I’m a tired parent.
Let’s address the elephant in the room — the whole screen time issue with our children is a drag. The struggle is real: balancing the conflicted amount of guilt whenever we pull out the phones at a restaurant so that the kids can sit still and eat versus just having them sit and play with the food. Or that family photo that we need to curate well so that the kids aren’t looking at the phones when the picture is taken. Choose: sit and watch videos while waiting for your turn at the pediatrician or run around the hospital trying to catch them (on all fours my god)?
I’m not sure if this is how our parents felt — we grew up with television and the Family Computer. So maybe that was screen time for us? But what our parents did have was the luxury of not being judged on social media by whoop dee doo — other parents. And strangers who do not know what it is like to have a 5 year old.
Fellow parents, I say this: let’s not feel to guilty about the phone. I’ve managed to convince myself that these are the cards that are dealt to this generation, the so-called “digital natives.” And what many people forget is that they tend to isolate screen time as a problem in itself when in fact kids, by nature do get tired of the screen and would rather play outside (and get dirty). Yes my kids use the phone a lot. But i have to keep reminding myself that I have to give them two evening baths because they run around the house after dinner with their LEGO’s and dinosaurs and scooters. Or how weekends with their cousins are pure bliss — running around the park and getting scabs on the concrete pavement. So yeah, they aren’t missing out.
I do have three learnings I would like to share though.
Don’t use regular YouTube
If you do let your kids watch YouTube on the phone, use the Youtube Kids app. It’s a much safer way for them to discover content. There are a lot of disgusting people out there who release sexual content (using kiddie toys like Barbie or GI Joe) masking them as ‘Let’s Play’ or ‘unboxing’ videos which get placed in the Related Videos section and the algorithm can’t tell the difference. At the very least, the YouTube Kids app is a lot more well-curated by humans — and parents.
Switch them from passive to an active screen
When you can, “upgrade” them to video games. My eldest son (he’s 5) has discovered the wonderful world of rage quitting on the Nintendo Switch because he keeps falling off platforms in Skylanders Imaginators. There is a learning opportunity here — as I oft recall moments when I would throw the controller from sheer frustration with Mega Man for the Nintendo in the 80’s. So these father and son moments with video games are important in teaching life skills like how to deal with failure and frustration.
Sometimes we just need to ask
Last — sometimes we forget to ask our kids what they really want to do. There were times when I would mechanically hand over the phone to my eldest because I know, historically, that he wants to watch Dino Trux on Netflix. But then he tells me that he wants his crayons so he can draw The Avengers instead. I forgot to ask. Well, what do you know, right?
To end, I also have to keep reminding myself that back in the day our parents told us that MTV was bad. So were the Simpsons. And that their parents said that The Beatles were the devil reincarnated. We are part of a cycle of parenting.
This piece originally appeared in my Dad Buds column for The Manila Bulletin on May 20 2018.