The hysteria over screen time for children is quite out of control. The suggestion seems to be that it’s safer to give your child a wasp hive dipped in cyanide than it is to give them an iPad. Angela Cuming is pushing back against the many headlines.
Opinions about kids using iPads are a little bit like the toys you get inside Kinder Surprises – everyone who has anything to do with children has one rattling around somewhere and they are all pretty bloody annoying.
This week yet another childhood ”expert” popped up tell me I am a terrible parent for giving my kid an iPad to watch stuff on. ”The iPad is a far bigger threat than anyone realises” the headline screamed.
The author retold a a story – that I am convinced is actually a Parenting Urban Myth – about being in the checkout line at a supermarket and watching a kid go absolutely nuts (probably wanting a Kinder Surprise) before the frazzled mum hands them an iPad to keep them quiet.
This apparently will lead to all sorts of things like obesity, depression, aggression, poor social skills and, most horrifying, the reluctance of children to run around outside and build ”dens” (I assume she means something other than the opium kind).
It’s hard to know where to begin but maybe it should be at the point where we let go of this ridiculous idea that giving your toddler-on-the-verge-of-an-epic-public-meltdown your iPhone so you can get them, and the shopping in the car, is wrong. It’s the point where we recognise that a five year old watching YouTube isn’t going to use their screen time to watch snuff movies or old footage of Charles Manson and run off to San Fransisco to join a cult or the Republican Party.
It’s the point where we say, you know what, it’s okay to let your kid sit like a zombie on the couch for an hour or more because it keeps them calm and happy and lets mum or dad get the three other kids fed and bathed and dressed in the pyjamas and WHY DO WE EVEN HAVE TO JUSTIFY THIS?
Take my three boys. I have two-year-old twins Tommy and Henry and a threenager, Charlie. I have an old iPhone that I let Charlie use to watch stuff on YouTube. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t make me a bad mum, or a lazy mum, it just makes me a mum.
Charlie loves it. He has a thing for the original Thunderbirds series so I search for old episodes and he watches them, clutching his little Thunderbirds vehicles and re-enacting the rescue scene. He watches that godawful annoying yet reassuringly educational Blippi and now asks about things like apple picking and snow ploughs and aquariums and other such horrible, dangerous stuff.
I give him the iPhone when he’s feeling sick and sleepy and needs to rest in bed, or when I am knee-deep in twins and need a chunk of time to get dinner sorted and laundry folded or when Charlie’s a bit overwhelmed by a big day and needs a bit of downtime in his bedroom by himself.
There we sometimes watch it together, huddled under a duvet and gazing at NASA rocket launches, pretending we are in outer space.
And here’s the thing. Charlie is a bright, engaged, funny and active little boy and the only negative to ever come from his screen time is he now knows the difference between a front-end loader and a back hoe. And woe betide anyone who gets those two toys mixed up when you are drafted in to help him build his road in the pile of sand he’s swept up in the backyard.
We need to stop shaming parents for letting their kids watch what are effectively tiny little television screens (and I bet 50 years ago mums were being shamed for too much TV). It’s fine, they won’t have stunted speech or form square eyes or turn into zombies who rock themselves to sleep or scream hysterically for hours on end and think Blippi is their real mummy.
You are not creating bad habits by giving your child your iPhone to stop them losing their shit in the supermarket, you are parenting, and doing a bloody great job of it.
The iPhone or iPad is not the enemy. It’s a great tool for firing a child’s imagination and teaching them new things and for exploring the little known world of people who make videos of themselves unwrapping different novelty chocolate eggs (it’s a thing).
And besides, once the kids are done with YouTube you can always pour yourself a wine, kick back on the couch and use your screen time to search for photos of Justin Trudeau when he was in college. You’re welcome.
Angela Cuming is a mum of three and a columnist for The Spinoff Parents.
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