The dark side of screens

Mommy Issues

My son has been watching children’s shows since he was a year old. Of course, during the first couple of months of parenting, I swore that I wouldn’t be the parent who let her child watch television at such a young age. During pregnancy, when I saw many parents shamelessly holding their iPhones and iPads so their children could watch videos, I would cringe. All the lessons from my parents, media and society had made me certain that screen time was absolutely inappropriate for children. I wasn’t sure why or what the implications of screen time were, but I was sure that it was wrong even immoral.

So, when I first took my son home after giving birth, there was a strict “no television” rule. I would not tolerate any type of screen being on when my son was awake. And this drove my husband crazy. He would beg to watch a live soccer game, but I was so sure about the negative influences of media that the answer was always no.

After a couple of months, I realized that screen time was necessary for child-rearing especially when you don’t have a 24-hour standby nanny to help you along the way. And eventually, I allowed my son more and more exposure to media. In some cases, I admit, it was for my relaxation. Without YouTube, it was impossible for me to finish a meal, go grocery shopping or hold a conversation. My son was instantly calm and mesmerized when I put on a Pinkfong music video — and I was addicted to the simplicity of it. But for other times, I used screen time for my son’s safety. Once he started crawling, my son would invade the kitchen when I was cooking, where the knives and gas stove became a hazard. When I was using the bathroom, I was afraid he would knock down glass objects from the counter and hurt himself. The couple of hours I had my son watch children’s cartoons became essential and routine for everyday life. It’s been almost three years since my son was born, and nowadays, I’m the one who hollers at my husband to “turn something on” for our son.

As for my previous concerns, I told myself that I was being hypersensitive. After all, I was raised watching television, and I turned out fine (mostly). Also, many media videos and games were created exclusively for toddlers as an “educational” tool. Technological devices such as iPads seemed to be targeted for parents to easily show videos to their children, and all my mom friends unequivocally agreed with the absolute need for a one-hour break during a long day with a baby. But despite the praises of media, some part of me still felt guilty. I had to comfort myself, saying that as long as screen time was limited to two hours a day, it wouldn’t be harmful and that’s what I continued to believe until last week, when I came across an appalling article titled “A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley” by The New York Times.

The article details all the famous techies who refuse to let the children in their families near technology — Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, won’t let his nephew join social media networks; Bill Gates banned cellphones until his children were teenagers; Steve Jobs kept his young children far away from iPads. The article goes on to say that Silicon Valley tycoons are terrified of the possible damage screens and children’s programs may inflict on their kids. And there is more news coverage of how Silicon Valley parents, most of them important figures in the development of media, are banning their nannies from using phones, tablets and laptops when caring for their children. According to the nannies, these parents are alarmed about the addictiveness of screens and obsessed with keeping their children “unplugged.”

As a parent or guardian, it is hard to not have a passionate reaction to this ironic situation. Personally, I felt like I had been cheated I felt betrayed. I was angry that these big, powerful people working in the tech industry had guessed the toxicity of digital media for children and had protected their children from it yet did not spread the word to the public. But I was even more irritated at myself. Because even though I now know the toxicity of media, it is still impossible for me to stop screen time. I mean, I don’t have a nanny to help me on demand.

May Choi writes the Monday column on being a transfer student-parent. Contact her at [email protected] .