Whenever my 12-month-old daughter hears the telltale sound of the Count’s “Number of the Day” song on “Sesame Street,” she stops whatever she is doing, crawls furiously over a smattering of blocks and semi-chewed Cheerios and plants herself directly in front of the TV.
She almost always looks over her shoulder, her 5 teeth exposed in a jack-o-lantern-esque smile, just to make sure I see that she sees that her favorite part is on.
“Wow, it’s amazing ― she really seems to understand what is happening on the show,” my mother-in-law said to me on a recent visit. I smiled, and nodded my head and agreed that it was pretty incredible.
And yes, she is smart. But the reality is that she watches it almost every day (thanks HBO OnDemand). Her reaction is less “understanding” and more Pavlovian response to that sick Transylvanian beat.
I keep reading articles about moms who make these elaborate justifications for screen time, and how they use technology to “explore the world,” but never as an electronic babysitter.
At the park, small talk between moms is heavy with shame.
”Did you watch ...?”
“Oh, no, we don’t watch TV in our house”
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children under 2 should avoid screens completely in favor of human interaction. Research also suggests that bright lights and loud toys add nothing of value to a child’s development.
And to all of this, I say, meh.
Look, I work in education communications, and I have read all the studies on screen time and learning outcomes. But, I am also a working mom with a husband who travels and a need to shower and pour caffeine down my throat in the mornings.
Of course I close all the baby gates and remove any choking hazards, but then we pretty much tune out ― she’s absorbed in the goings on of “the street” and I’m absorbed with dishes, or chopping up strawberries (so much chopping!), or work emails, or whatever else needs my immediate attention because there are only so many hours in the day. And I know that I am a good mom.
I look at screen time guidelines like I look at “no smoking” signs in hospitals ― sometimes people are idiots who exercise poor judgement, and need someone to spoon-feed them common sense.
Obviously I spend time with my daughter away from the television. We go on walks almost every evening when I get home, where I call her attention to squirrels and blue trucks that drive by and black cats darting between parked cars.
We visit the zoo and the museum and go swimming at the rec center. She interacts with the world around her for the vast majority of her day.
My cousin’s kids started kindergarten not knowing the difference between numbers and letters (clearly they were not watching “Sesame Street”). But I would say that the vast majority of us are doing a fine job, and we should stop feeling like we need to add, “I know I shouldn’t, but...” to the beginning of every story we tell about how we choose to raise our tiny humans.
They are all going to turn out all right. Probably.