iCHOOSE SANITY (The Rebel Mama Guide to Screen Time)

I’ll be frank; I’ve appreciated the magical screen in many situations – from the classic hand over on the plane when the ants in the pants get partying, to a quick “watch videos of yourself for a sec” while I sweep the floor (my child is distraught when I sweep without him). But never, EVER, have I appreciated Peppa Pig more than last week, when lil’ guy came off a nasty ass flu and became a whiny, cranky, stage five clinger.

We recently arrived in Florida to escape the winter, and just a couple of days in, my dude racked up a serious fever – like, I actually had to source out a pediatrician and PAY for healthcare, fever –  which took over his little body in a big and very ugly way. Although he managed to sleep on his own at night, the days were spent with him glued to me every waking moment, including sticky sweaty naps. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about it, after all it’s my duty as his mama to comfort and help him get through (and I’d be lying to myself if I said I didn’t secretly bask in all the snuggling that was happening).

SO, after a week of gross, he finally emerged and lo and behold became a complete asshole for two days. Two very long days. And in these two horrifying days, PEPPA PIG SAVED MY LIFE. (Honourable mention to you too, Curious George) We were stuck at home enduring tropical storms with Mercury Retrograde in full effect, and this little guy was pissed about everything. Not a game, nor a book or even a cookie could get him to cooperate, smile or be a little less psychotic. Seriously, why would a human scream to be with you, and then scream AT you when you’re together??!!!
*Insert much overused head massage emojii*

My toddler was trying to kill me, I swear, so if sitting him in front of the telesitter shut him the hell up long enough for me to eat – and maybe drink – I was IN. I felt the LCD screen quietly mocking me from the corner, whispering: “Use me… You need me..”

Prior to my stint as a mom, I said allllll the things that any idealistic and hopeful future mama would: “My child will not watch TV… he will only get the iPad when he’s older… I will never hand him my phone” (hahaahahaaaa! DEAD). I really wanted this to be true, but the reality is, there’s a lot to accomplish in a day and sometimes an uncooperative or overly hyper child gets in the way of getting shit done. And sometimes, those perfectly curated toys aren’t going to fucking cut it.

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I still have some personal rules, but I’m over all the stressing and feeling guilty about those exceptions – and I’m perfectly at ease about the day it rained for hours and we ran out of activities and watched Hangover 3. Terrible movie.

So how can we be healthy, happy and make sure we’re letting our kids explore technology in the best way? I’m thinkin’ balance, boundaries, and moderation. After all, the goal should be (or at least mine is) to raise a smart user without the screen fully taking over all aspects of his life. We have first hand experience in how consumed we can REALLY  get, plus these kids were literally born into Instagram.

What I try to do, is focus on what’s important to us and ingrain those same core values into his little peanut brain so he has a chance at life. Real life. Not just hanging out with internet friends. *Which by the way, is a whole other scary digital topic that we’ll save for another day.

I make sure when we’re together (as a family or one-on-one) I’m present and interacting. Even while watching something, I ask questions and let my son point things out.. after all, TV can be a very good educational tool. Hello, my sister and I were practically raised by Sesame Street and Today’s Special while my parents worked over-time to make a life in a new country. We’re doing just fine if I do say so myself.

My one hard rule is no screens at restaurants. There are plenty of other things you can do – like engage the tiny human in conversation. I’m well aware that he won’t last long in that scene, so when he inevitably gets bored – and after he eats –  we go for a little walk. Sometimes a small toy or colouring book does the trick, too. My general goal is to include him in our social experiences and equip him well for his own; even if it is more work than laying out an iPad.

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And of course there’s nothing our kids love more than grabbing our phones to play, so I’ve begun to use it as a tool rather than saying NO or automatically airing something from YouTube. Again, it takes a little more effort, but I might as well lead by example and use it in a good way, right? I like to show him how to take pictures and make videos since it’s my own hobby. This has become interactive and a solid creative outlet! Connecting with friends and family is also a good one as it creates a tech-positive vibe.

Some other tips I’ve garnered (please feel free to send us more of your own!)

  • If they are using an iPad or screen, it’s best to keep it away from the face. A good rule of thumb: make a fist with the child’s hand under his chin.  The distance between the that and their elbow is where the screen should be.
  • Never let them use screens in the dark, it’s not good for their little eyes (as per Optometrist’s orders)
  • Twenty minutes at a time and then break. Unless it’s an emergency, tell them to pick up a fucking crayon.
  • Find useful, educational, engaging apps and games to get them reading and excited about learning.  Use technology for good rather than evil. Some apps we like include:
  • Anything from Sesame Street, Zoo Alphabet, Spelly Fish, and Raz Reading. If your wee one is a bit older (6+) the Osmo Game Centre is the coolest little kit to take your iPad sessions to the next level. Children’s Ebooks are obviously an option too, but we’re trying our best to stick to paper before it becomes extinct.
  • Make sure they never, ever, use your iPad or phone in a room that you aren’t in. They will be making shady friend requests and clicking questionable links in no time.
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At the end of the day, I make sure my boy spends tons of time outside, is well socialized and exposed to a plethora of activities that don’t include screens, so if an episode (or three) of Thomas the Train quiets him down during an explosion of feelings while I’m driving or I need to cut his damn toenails in peace, it’s quite fine with me. Besides, I’m pretty sure when he’s at grandma’s he’s watching movies in their entirety, and I’ve chosen to just let that one slide.

My advice to you, and to myself, would be to live alongside technology but not be ruled by it. Child or not, this would be a good philosophy to remember. You should be able to fully disconnect and continue to be curious about the world and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Is there anything on the internet that can truly beat a picnic in the park? (If you answered porn or online shopping, you need to throw your phone in a lake immediately).

As with everything in life (except wine) moderation is where it’s at. Children will learn from watching us, so as long as we have healthy digital habits, so will they. So long as we don’t have our phones strapped to our foreheads 24/7 and can carry a decent conversation, the kids are alright.

Plus, it sure beats passing him my makeup bag to play with while I take a call, because that ends up being a costly trip back to Sephora. There’s literally nothing worse than hearing your $35 bronzer hit the floor.

xx A

Connect @aleksjassem on Twitter & Instagram

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