As a mother of two, small, very busy and very needy children, it has been tempting on countless occasions to sit my children down and let the television cast its immobilizing spell on them. The television is the perfect babysitter. It keeps my kids happy, safe, and as long as my husband doesn’t try and talk me into a larger one, only costs me pennies.
What’s the issue with using such a flawless babysitter? Studies have shown a link between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, and other behavioral and health issues when children have too much screen time. It concededly is not the only factor causing these issues, but a large one nonetheless.
Another study has shown the amount of stimulation television gives a child’s brain has the same effect as methamphetamine on an adult. If every parent knew and cared about this, there would be an epidemic like in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and televisions would be banned from every home with young children.
How much is too much? The pediatricians at Mayo Clinic recommend children ages 2-5 get only one hour or less of total screen time per day. Children older than 5, including teens, should be limited to two hours or less per day. That means zero screen time until the age of 2.
For anyone who knows children, they start to become almost unmanageably active the same time they begin walking. This is when the temptation begins. When mom just needs a moment of quiet, or to refresh yesterday’s makeup instead of looking like she went to sleep still covered in last night’s dinner.
With my first child, I was very diligent in keeping my daughter screen-deprived. The sole exception being FaceTime with family. I saw firsthand what too much television did to other children I knew. Daniel Tiger was teaching them what to do if the house caught on fire, but the television had them so entranced that they wouldn’t have noticed until the flames burned the couch right out from under them. Of course, I wouldn’t let that be my child.
I went back to work when my baby was 6 months old. With the increased load I was now trying to keep up with my high-energy baby on sometimes less than five hours of sleep. The appeal of putting on a movie and closing my eyes for an hour or so was almost impossible to resist. I managed to push through those next six months until her birthday before introducing the television. It started off as a snippet of Sesame Street here and there while I did the baby’s hair. Then, it was a full episode so I could cook dinner or fold the laundry without her “help.”
Flash forward another six months — my baby is only 18 months old — when we brought home her little brother. Nursing a newborn is impossible when your older child tests your sanity with their 100th “look mommy” of the morning. My gold standard of minimal screen time quickly lowered to bronze and my pious judgement towards other moms was reduced significantly.
I made the decision television would be my last resort. We spend much more than an episode’s worth of time singing songs, playing with toys, swinging at the park, and going to the library to read books. Screen time in and of itself is not the issue. The problem is the lack of connection we have with our children when we resort to using television as a babysitter. Television doesn’t just keep our children’s attention, it keeps our attention off our children.
As a middle child, Carly Roes has a fine-tuned sense of justice. A mother of two and master of none, she enjoys her experience one day at a time.