Confession: I Broke My Own Rules About Toddlers and Tech

boy playing on computer in airport

There’s so much thrown at you when you become a parent, it’s insane. I was 22 years old when my firstborn arrived to turn our world upside down, and my husband was only 21. We were smart kids, and we felt pretty prepared. Tons and tons of parenting advice flowed in from every place imaginable, but we still took the time to do the research and quickly formed opinions on everything from baby baths to toddlers and tech. We’d be keeping our little guy away from the screens as long as possible. We did a good job – with him.

The years flew by and Bug was a very content little creature. He played with his toys and observed how everything worked. We baked together, took walks, and stayed pretty busy. By the time he was 18 months he did get some cartoon time in the morning. He also liked to poke at every adult’s smartphone. (We’re obsessed with them, why wouldn’t we expect our kids to be too?) When the family watched shows after dinner, he sat with his back to the screen and watched his little cars whoosh down the track before him. All was well.

By the time he was three, we noticed that he was showing his grandparents how to use their iPad, which was weird to my husband and I because we didn’t know how to use an iPad either. We started traveling a decent amount to visit family and let him play with the Kindle while out on the road. The Christmas after he turned four he received a Nintendo 3DS. After the initial excitement of the holiday wore thin, he only used it on long car or plane rides. All was well.

Right before Bug’s fifth birthday, my daughter was born and if we thought our lives changed with our firstborn, the second was a huge shock. I was out of practice with this parenting thing – big time. When she turned one and her personality started forming in earnest, he quickly discovered that she was a whole different animal.

Bug went off to school that fall and I started working from home full time. Things were beyond crazy, but we liked it that way. All of a sudden I found myself putting the Nugget in the highchair and turning on Elmo so I could squeeze in an extra hour of work. Nap time simply wasn’t enough time to really get anything accomplished, and she refused to sit and play while I worked like her brother did. Getting anything accomplished while she was conscious was becoming more than just a struggle. If I was going to feed these children, I needed to work, dammit.

Now that she’s 18 months, Nugget knows how to work a smartphone and her big brother’s tablet. When coloring bores her, my husband and I often let her have one or the other when we go out to dinner so we can have some adult conversation without having to worry about a toddler shrieking because she can’t get the straw she’s pulled out of the cup – 80 times or so now – back into the top. (Can you imagine?!)

brother and sister playing Nintendo 3DS

Today the focus is less on banning technology from the house than on doing technology right. My son plays Minecraft because of all the video games out there, it’s pretty educational. He also enjoys a little PBSkids.org when he is granted access to the computer, which is basically like the Holy Grail in my household. My daughter gets some TV time once a day, and it’s always a show that will teach her something. We’ve decided to embrace the screens in our home, and I think it was a good call.

It felt so much easier to have standards with baby #1. Maybe it’s his personality; maybe it’s mine. To me fair, life has changed quite a bit since I was a new mom. I’m a bit older, possibly slightly wiser, I work full time now and I didn’t before. Having a child in school changes the game completely. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s how to survive each day – sometimes a little technology goes a long way to keep the hubs and I sane, so I refuse to feel badly about that. Also, technology is a huge part of my – of everyone’s – lives. We can’t expect our kids not to notice. For about one hour a day, Sesame Street or Doc McStuffins is my babysitter, and the boy gets to build things with a controller instead of with his hands. They also read, build with blocks, and play with cars. They go for hikes every weekend and help me cook dinner. (Yes, the 18-month-old helps cook dinner. It’s a disaster.) You know what? My kids are healthy, happy, and incredibly loved, and the screen time doesn’t change that.

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