When my daughter, Stitch, was about six months old, she got sick with a terrible upper-respiratory virus, which was accompanied a horrendous cough. On one of our five trips to the pediatrician’s office that week the doctor wanted to try giving her a nebulizer treatment to see if it offered any relief. She was not a fan. After a few minutes of screaming, thrashing protest, the nurse suggested we take a break to let her calm down. I nursed her for a few minutes, which helped. When the nurse returned she pointed to my phone and suggested, “You should put on a video she likes to distract her.”
I was kind of dumbfounded. I had never shown her a video on my phone (though, she’d watched occasional videos with her Daddy). In fact, I made a point to not let her play with my phone at all, working to adhere to the no screens under two recommendation as much as possible. I pulled up a music video of one of her favorite songs on YouTube to see if that would help. It didn’t, but it changed the way I thought about screen time with my daughter.
That night when we went to give Stitch her reflux medication, which she hated and fought with hysterics twice a day, I asked my husband what YouTube music videos she liked. I pulled up one on the computer, plopped her on my lap to watch, and she easily took her meds. After just a few days of this new routine, she’d open her mouth for the meds as soon as the video started. No more fighting, no more hysterics. It felt like magic.
I guilted myself about this for months. I remember countless discussions with my mom about how we really did limit the screen time, looking for validation about our choices. But, this worked for our family and made our lives easier. Now, 14 months into parenting this little girl, I’ve finally stopped giving myself a hard time. Like so many things in life and parenting, moderation is the key.
Today is the conclusion of screen-free week (May 1-7), and I’ve felt a bit bombarded this week from parenting, education, and literacy resources, as well as my fellow Usborne Books & More consultants, suggesting to take a break from the screens and read a book, play a game, take a walk, or be crafty and creative. I decided not to share any of the graphics with tips on things to do instead of screen time or results from a new study correlating screen time and speech delays. It felt disingenuous to encourage others to do something I wasn’t willing or able to commit to do myself.
That’s not to say that I plopped my daughter in front of the TV or iPad all week. In the scheme of things, she gets very little screen time. She watches a music video (usually Kodachrome, performed by the Muppets) when she gets medication. On the weekends, she and daddy might snuggle and watch some Splash and Bubbles after she wakes up from her afternoon nap. And, she has a few apps on the iPad that she and daddy like to play together, including one app where they read books. We FaceTime with her grandparents at least once a week. Most of her screen time is interactive with an adult. The few times I’ve put her in her ExerSaucer to watch TV, she’s instantly bored and fussy.
I no longer feel any guilt or shame about these things, because 93% of the time, she’s reading books or playing with blocks and stackers while she listens to music. We go to the park and on walks. We take adventures to the grocery store and the New England Aquarium and the library. My girl would read books all day if you’d let her. She’d flop back and forth between being read to and reading independently. We must be doing something right.
So, if your family also skipped screen-free week, feel free to skip the shame too. We do what we have to do. Everything in moderation, my friends.
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