In Defence of Screen Time

New babies are pure and untainted and as a new Mum, I, like many, was determined to ‘get it right.’ Getting it right means following all the official advice to the letter – or at least that was the plan.

NHS and government guidelines are very clear on screen time for babies, stating that children under the age of 2 should not spend any time passively watching television. Not any time at all. None. Whether it is the fear of damaging their growing brains, affecting their mental health or more encouraging laziness leading later on to obesity, it is not clear. But anyone with a toddler will know that these guidelines are unrealistic.

We are living in unprecedented times, and with the absence of any activity that requires leaving the house, the television has become our go to form of entertainment for our son and there are plenty of reasons why screen time isn’t the worse thing in the world and as of today I am going to stop beating myself up about the amount of television my 1-year-old watches.

Television is the only way I can get my son to stay still. As a new walker, he is determined to explore every low and high of our still un-baby-proofed living room. It has its practical uses, allowing all manner of grooming activities: nail trimming, hair cutting, even teeth-brushing, but its most important role is giving myself and my partner a break from crawling after our son on our solid parquet floor. We crouch poised ready to catch him as he falls over yet again. My heart is in my mouth any time he is on his feet and it’s not healthy that this be for an extended amount of time.

Similarly, without screen time, parents are expected to entertain their children every minute they are awake, and frankly, I don’t have the energy. I can sing songs and dance around but only for so long. Children’s attention spans are fickle and it is challenging to keep them constantly entertained and learning. Television is a bottomless pit of information and at this age my son is learning so quickly. Learning to wave and nod his head are some of the things I am convinced he has learned from television as well as a few words, plenty of actions and noises.

The television is a portal into a world we cannot take him to, (pandemic or no pandemic) and like us he will learn about far-flung galaxies and the ice-cold Antarctic from the comfort of the living room. Television can be a real source of inspiration and does well to feed curious minds. I can see no way in which learning about the world from the television is any better or worse than learning from a book, it can be the perfect accompaniment.

In the absence of social interaction from play dates and just being out and about in the community, characters on television have become the people who children get to know the world by, and it is no bad thing. I have noticed the BBC, in particular, do a great job at celebrating diversity, showing people from all walks of life, and all over the world, people we may not have in our own community. It is important that children see diversity and grow up with it if we are to build an anti-racist and anti-discriminatory society and television should support that learning.

And finally, if there is one thing I have learned about myself during my first year of parenting, it is that I am a massive hypocrite and I don’t really want to be a hypocrite. Whether it is eating the treats I deny my son, or preventing him from sitting in front of the television like I do all day, I don’t want to be a parent who has double standards. I, like a lot of people, have an office job and spend much of my day in front of a screen. In this digital age, it is probable that my son too could end up with a job that also relies on a screen, is it worth fighting this inevitability? To relax, I turn the television on, or scroll through my phone and this is all visible to my son. Screens can be a great source of inspiration, education and laughter, and I don’t want to deny my son those things. They will never replace the real thing, though: walks in the woods, visiting a farm, or talking in real life to real people, but at the moment we don’t have those opportunities. So for me, it is time to relax about screen time, accept that it is our culture, our future and right now, it can be the escapism we need.

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