HUFFPOST PERSONAL

Controversial As It May Be, 'Screen Time' Makes Me A Better Mom

The author and her child.
The author and her child.

Before I became a parent, I vowed to do (and not do) a lot of things. My daughter was going to be breastfed until she was 1, and she’d eat all-natural, organic, homemade meals. She would never use a binkie and would rarely touch a bottle. Screen time? She would be limited to 30 minutes a day. 

Of course, my plan seemed fail-proof. I was 29 when I conceived my daughter: a work-from-home, stay-at-home mom. And my husband supported me. We agreed today’s kids were too distant and distracted. We were “those people,” the ones who judged the parents who broke out the iPads at dinner. Plus, we had read all the studies. Childless me knew best — or so I thought. Or so I believed. Until we had kids and “dinner dates” and things to do on our own.

You see, it is easy to live in a disillusioned little bubble. Before children, I was smug. Scratch that: I was stupid and naive. And while I felt guilty, at least in the “early days” — the first time I used the television to distract my daughter, I felt like a bad parent; I convinced myself I was a “bad” mom — these days I believe the opposite to be true.

Screen time makes me a better mom. 

The first time I used the television to distract my daughter, I felt like a bad parent; I convinced myself I was a 'bad' mom — these days I believe the opposite to be true.

Now I know what some of you might be thinking: That’s ridiculous. That’s absurd. Only crappy parents rely on Netflix and cable to care for their kids. Plus, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly suggests parents limit media use. Kids under 5 should watch no more than 60 minutes each day, and those under 2 should watch no TV ... at all. And while I do not dispute or refute the experts — these guidelines are in place for good reason — there are things science and studies fail to consider.

My daughter is a Type A personality. She is high-strung, high-stressed and always on the go. She attends school every morning, dances almost every evening, and her weekends are spent running, both miles and errands. Some days I need to help her destress and decompress.

Like most 6-year-olds, she gets worked up and “amped up” and watching a cartoon (or two) gives her a chance to shut off her mind.

But there are other reasons — more selfish reasons — I let her watch TV. I am a stay-at-home and work-from-home mom. I have virtual meetings to attend and deadlines to meet, and giving her screen time gives me “me” time. I am able to write while she catches up on ”She-Ra,” “Sesame Street” and ”DC Super Hero Girls.” And while this may sound bad, at least on paper, I believe I am teaching my daughter responsibility. Through my actions, she knows women work. Hard. I am helping my daughter become more independent. When Mommy works, she gets her own snacks, drinks and toys, and I am teaching my daughter about balance. When the episodes are over, I’m done. I put my phone down and laptop away and we play.

I am active, engaged and fully present.

I am also calmer. News writing can be a fast-paced, demanding industry but setting boundaries — for her and me — has helped me unwind.

I believe I am teaching my daughter responsibility. Through my actions, she knows women work. Hard. I am helping my daughter become more independent.

There are other benefits, too. Television helps me talk to my child on her level. “Sesame Street” has spurred conversations about race, anxiety, diversity and disability. I’ve used Oscar the Grouch to explain that we cannot change another’s attitude but can love them in spite of it. He is also a key example of why you cannot (and should not) judge a book by their cover, and countless “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” songs have worked their way into my home. I’ve found Daniel’s “When You Feel So Mad” song particularly useful.

In short, television has opened dialogues between me and my daughter. Cartoons have helped me be more engaged with my kids.

The TV has taught my daughter. Thanks to “Super Why,” she knew her alphabet at 2, and thanks (again) to “Sesame Street,” she was able to count to 20 by age 3. And I use the screen as a motivator. My daughter earns episodes or “tablet time” when she completes chores, e.g., making her bed earns 15 minutes while doing her homework gets her 30.

TV time also gives us a chance to cuddle — something I fully appreciate as the mom of a high-energy kid — and to make memories. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a Halloween tradition, and we always spend Christmas week watching “Rudolph,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “The Grinch.”

Television has opened dialogues between me and my daughter. Cartoons have helped me be more engaged with my kids.

That said, I have a few “rules.” During meals, the TV is off. The dinner table is a screen-free zone. All programming must be supervised. I will not let my daughter watch a new series unless I can watch an episode with her first, and on weekdays, she is limited to two hours max, and that’s what works for me and my family.

To each their own because I know better. I know not to judge other parents and how they parent. 

So at the end of the day remember: It doesn’t matter what our kids watch or eat, it matters what they do, what they say, what they feel and how they act, and only you know what is best for them. Only you can decide what works for your family, your child and you.

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