When I was a child, 'screen time' wasn't monitored in the obsessive way it is today. I don't think the term had yet been coined alas I was permitted unlimited episodes of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Clarissa Explains It All before, and after homework. It wasn't that parents cared less or were demoralised for not watching the clock tick by as children were glued to a TV set; I genuinely think the world was a softer place where there was less threat of a child catching a glimpse of breaking news that would scar their growing brain cells. Of course Maggie Thatcher must have made a damning speech in parliament and the Berlin Wall came down within my news era, but I was never subjected to it with the same brutality that a child could be today.
I listened to a podcast on Ted Radio Hour about 'screen time' and I'm what they referred to as a 'digital immigrant' whereas a child born in the past 5 years - my son - is a 'digital native.' Like a proud first time mother I firmly insisted that my child would not watch any television until he was at least...25, but like all second time mothers know, this is near impossible with 5:30am wake up calls, breakfast to make, socks to find, coffee to drink, brain cells to awaken, and courage to muster so I surrendered to early morning cartoons. There is Thomas the Tank Engine to teach our children about transport, and Fireman Sam to talk about health and safety. What a wonderful bouquet of television to start the day off I used to chuff to myself, then Ted Radio sent me back to school with a lesson on whether my 17 month old needs to be stimulated so early in the day via a screen. It hasn't only been the latter podcast that has caused a recent screen time stir in my house, it has been various blog posts, overheard parents, and my own conscience alike that have began the topical debate of how much is too much television for children, and adults?
It has been stated that preschool aged children in the USA watch roughly 4.5 hours of television a day. Are some families replacing outdoor activities and books with screen time because it's an easy default position? Will those tiny humans grow to become as intelligent as the child next door who only watched half an episode of Elmo? Who knows? Will we ever know? On a different yet similar note, Michael Sandel's Ted Talk (it's my new nap time obsession, let me be) shares a story about schools in under privileged neighbourhoods in Dallas, Texas who are paying children $2 to read a book! Intrinsically I believe it takes away core educational values to bribe a child to read instead of letting them navigate their own language path. I think our attention spans and educational needs are being compromised because of the overwhelming screen time we inject into our lives, while ultimately I question whether our technologically obsessed world will lead us down a screen rabbit hole with no hope of attending a tea party with Alice in Wonderland?
To throw a curveball amidst such screen time chatter, I am not in a position to completely remove the television from my home: I like feasting on House of Cards far too much to abandon Kevin Spacey at this crucial point. That said, I take my hat off to a family who I read had omitted their TV from their living room in order to break it as their focal point, and it worked a treat. They reconnected with their environment and it became a place of creativity and peace rather than tension and ignorance. The unknown brings ridiculous amounts of rhetoric's to the forefront of this piece but these are questions I hope, like myself, many first, second, or even third time mothers are asking themselves before pushing an iPad in front of their child while at a dinner table and on public transport rather than engaging in conversation, eye contact, and reading a story that will positively teach our children manners and discipline to prosper in this big bad world without a device to save them from the crushing reality of humanity.
Top tip: once bath, book, bedtime routine is complete there's nothing like an hour of Instagram escapism to lighten the pressures of motherhood.