Modern Mishpocha: Limiting screen time for parents

By Shirlee Press

“Let it go! Let it go,” belted out my toddler, as the song from “Frozen” played in the background.

“Canholiba anymore!”

I lifted my head from my phone, where I had been checking social media.

“Can’t hold it back anymore!” I sang, correcting her.

She ignored me and kept singing.

My eyes darted back down to the luring glow of my screen: photos, videos, status updates, clickbait headlines. When I looked up again, my daughter was watching me, gently mouthing the words to her favourite song.

It was in that moment that it hit me: For a parent who worries that her kids are getting too much screen time, I am doing exactly what I am trying to teach my girls not to do. Talk about modelling bad behaviour.

But the days with young children can be so long, and the temptation is always there.

Even the baby seems to notice that aqua case with the interesting lights that mommy plays with on and off all day. If she ever manages to grab my phone, her face lights up with wonder. Why wouldn’t she be fascinated with it? Mommy carries it around everywhere.

I think I spend an unhealthy amount of time on my phone, and it is not lost on my kids despite how young they are. As a mother on maternity leave, my phone is my lifeline to the outside world: family, friends, daycare and what’s happening in my community, country and around the world. It also contains a treasure trove of images of my family and my life before kids.

And let’s face it: sometimes you just need a virtual babysitter for a well-deserved break. Or a shower. Or to be able to make dinner. It’s called survival.

My perspective on this is obviously limited to having young children, and I know it only gets harder as they grow. Older kids now live on their phones, and they are a big part of their social lives. I won’t be able to enforce screen limits if I don’t follow them myself.

I’ve read about how smartphones can be addictive by appearing to stimulate the same areas of the brain as drugs. I sometimes think about their long-term effects on our health. What don’t we know yet?

Still, our devices are also a learning tool for ourselves and our kids. For a family with relatives who live far away, a vital link to grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

When I was a kid and needed to learn about something as a child, I went to the dusty shelves of the library to flip through an encyclopedia. If I wanted to see photos of family or friends, I opened an album. If I wanted to say hi to Safta on the phone, my mom made me keep it short due to the incredible cost of long distance to Israel.

Those days are over. There is no denying we now live in a dual world where the virtual and physical are intertwined. And that requires being plugged in to feel part of it.

Ultimately, everyone has to find that happy medium that works for their children and parenting philosophy.

My brother sees nothing wrong with himself or his kids being on their devices. He spent hours on our desktop computer as a kid and now earns a great living working for a giant tech company. He taught himself the bedrock of what he knows today during those long solitary sessions.

The American Academy of Pediatrics even recently softened its stance on screen time for children under two, though it remains pretty limited. The Canadian Paediatric Society still recommends avoiding it completely.

But this is a column about screen time habits for parents. And I think it’s worth reflecting on that every once in a while.

Our kids grow up so quickly and these early years are precious. Do I really need to check social media while my toddler is trying to entertain me? Probably not.

In no time, the tables will be turned and I will find myself talking to a wall while she scrolls through her phone.

Now how will I feel about that?