By Alix Tonsgard, MS, Early Learning Specialist, DuPage Children’s Museum
Let’s talk about screen time. It’s happening in our household more than I would like to admit and at times I struggle with guilt over it. As an early childhood specialist I know all of the research and recommendations for ages and stages and best practices around screens. Let’s face it, a lot of that has gone out the window, and I’ve had a lot of guilt and anxiety around it. I was thinking about my anxiety over screen time the other day, and it occurred to me that I have also had a lot of guilt and anxiety around the foods that are not being consumed by the small person in my house. I have additionally been having anxiety about trying to make sure that on rainy days we move enough to stick to our sleeping schedule so that I am able to get X amount of work done during nap time and squeeze in a workout for my own sanity.
Do you notice a theme here? My own personal anxiety about the things I perceive as impacting the child in my house are not the real issue. The real issue is my anxiety and how it manifests that is affecting my little one. So I decided to take a moment to reflect on our days, and I realized a few things.
First, I am actually putting into practice some of the things I know about screen time, for the most part. This little guy is obsessed with trucks and construction vehicles, so a lot of our screen time is YouTube videos of actual trucks doing real work. These videos are usually watched with a 2-year-old’s nonstop commentary and questioning about “What’s that one?” “That’s an excavator?” “What’s he doing?” So there is a lot of adult-child engagement with the content being viewed.
Did you notice that I said this was happening for the most part? This leads me to my second reflection. My household is not short on its supply of emotions and stress at the moment. Right now in this current situation, it is a little more challenging to put on our game faces for the sake of the youngest one in our home, and let’s be honest, the teenagers aren’t interested in trying to hide their feelings on anything ever. Where I am going with this is that sometimes Stinky and Dirty gets turned on and we just completely zone out, and right now that is ok. He feels our stress and I am sure it makes him a little stressed too, and if a little time tuning out helps him manage this, then I think it’s actually doing more good than harm.
A side note on stress – before bed we always talk about our day, and if I was feeling more stressed than normal or he had more meltdowns, we talk about it. I try not to mask the fact that sometimes, just like him, I don’t always do the best job regulating my big feelings. We will talk about what happened and the feelings and what we can try differently tomorrow. In all of this he sure is getting his fill of lessons on the humanness of the big people in his life.
The last reflection I had was in regard to all of the amazing things that are happening when the screen is off. This little dude has had hours of time jumping in puddles and filling his trucks with rocks, baking banana bread and helping prepare the cauliflower to be roasted for dinner. As I sit here in the driveway typing this blog, he is doing his own child-directed sink-or-float investigation without having been prompted to do so. Science and math and art and literacy and physical development are happening in every moment that the screen is off. Some of this is prompted by me, but much of it is through his own investigations. I guarantee that if you take a moment to eavesdrop on your child’s independent play, you, too, will be surprised by the amount of learning that is happening. And so my reflection ended with the deepest of deep breaths and some self-talk, urging myself to relax.
If you are feeling guilty about things you think you should or shouldn’t be doing right now, I hope you can take a deep breath with me. We are all doing the best we can, and a little extra screen time is not the end of the world. If you are interested in or looking for tips, I have linked a resource that is encouraging, reassuring, and helpful from the Institute of Digital Technology and Child Development: https://www.childrenandscreens.com/media/press-releases/12-tips-for-parenting-young-kids-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/
Alix Tonsgard is the Early Learning Specialist at DuPage Children’s Museum. She holds an MS in Child Development from the Erikson Institute. Acting as the Museum’s advocate for early childhood development and learning, she ensures that the latest research in Early Childhood Education is represented in all Museum exhibits, professional development initiatives, and public programs.