Is it still possible to raise kids sans gadgets these days? This is a question I’m sure every millennial parent has asked at one point or another.
If I were asked this question when I was still pregnant, I’m certain I’d give a resounding “yes!” Having read tons of research about how screen time in excess can be harmful to infants and toddlers, I was hell-bent on raising a gadget-free child. I vowed to allow my kid to experience the world as it is, and not through a screen.
Like never. Ever. Ha.
Now three and a half years into motherhood, and I’d like to tell all the iPad-wielding parents out there—I’m sorry. I’m sorry I used to go all Judgy McJudgerson on you because you let your kids stay glued to a screen. Not anymore, people. Not anymore.
I wish I could tell you that I staunchly honored the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) screen time guidelines, but, well…life happened.
Two months after giving birth, I had to return to work, leaving my little human in the care of my mother. Having my mom around was a huge blessing for my partner and me; it was reassuring to know that the person caring for our child loves him as much as we did. But as we all know, childcare by grandparents also has its downsides, and the major con? Their tendency to overindulge their grandchildren.
My mom believed that her new role was not only to care for my kid but, most importantly, to spoil him, too—and that included breaking screen-time rules. “You all watched TV when you were kids, and you turned out fine!” my mom would say.
I didn’t throw in the white towel easily, though. As soon as I finished work, I would rush home to spend time with my kid in an effort to counter whatever effects screen time had on my little human, who, by the way, was barely a year old then.
Wooden blocks, shape sorters, and books were my weapons. And guess what, my bub started saying his first word at around 12 months! Not “mama” or “papa,” but “caaah” (car). Thing is...he didn’t learn it from our playtime or from one of our bedtime stories—he picked it from watching Disney Cars movies on Youtube.
Dang. McQueen beat me to it.
It didn’t stop there. From cars, my kid eventually learned nursery rhymes, vocabulary, body parts, numbers, counting, letter sounds, and how to sound out words all from Youtube. You could say that Youtube practically raised my kid! (Come on, moms, judge me.)
It made me feel really guilty, but I’ve come to realize that screens are going to be part of our lifestyle. I’m a writer, making a living from screens. I work on a computer and laptop all day, typing away words that pay the bills and make my heart full. I learned I was being hypocritical if I deprive my kid from his daily dose of Paw Patrol, Pororo the Little Penguin, and Super Wings. So screen time it is.
For months, we indulged the kid in screen time. Flashy, exciting games and streaming videos became my saving grace as I tried to juggle motherhood, marriage, and my work. And as moms, don’t we all need a little help?
But then earlier this year, we observed a disturbing phenomenon whenever the tot’s screen time ends.
Our adorable little boy suddenly turns into an angry, screaming monster! He’d become irritable and frustrated, and would even throw full-on tantrums, refusing everything we offered him—snacks, toys, and sleep.
One time, my kid, who’s known as our family’s little chatterbox, went hours without talking! We’d try to engage him, but he’d just look at us and space out—it’s as if his brain stopped working! That creeped me out a lot.
At that moment, I decided to do one thing: swap screen time for green time.
After my kid’s frightening zombie episode, I decided that I will no longer be the mom who let her kid have free rein over screen time and allow him to become a screen junkie in the process. I now know better. I’m taking my kid back. But it’s probably not because of what you think. (As I said, I’m no longer Judgy McJudgerson.)
So how exactly did I take my kid back, you ask? No, we didn’t quit screen time cold turkey. In fact, we didn’t quit it all or ban gadgets entirely. What we did was help our tot realize that there is a more fascinating world beyond the screen.
So how did I swap screen time with green time? Let me count the ways:
No activity could perhaps be greener than biking! The wind in your hair and the taste of fun and freedom is hard to beat. I would love for us to go biking as a family, but...I never really learned how to ride a bicycle, like ever. Sucks, I know. Blame it on my childhood fear and anxiety. So I had to hand this task over to my husband, which I don’t think is really a good idea because of his unremarkable track record for safety. But do I have a choice?
We bought a tricycle for the tot and had him pedal to his heart’s content. Feeling overwhelmed by his newfound freedom, he’d beg us to go outside and bike for an hour or two. I couldn’t be happier! On that note, many of my mommy friends are raving about how balance bikes—not tricycles—are better for kids learning how to ride a bike!
I may not be able to bike around the village with my kid, but I sure can take him out for a walk. Taking a walk is a great way to bond with kids and get healthy, even if it’s only for a half hour in the park. It gives us a chance to talk about random stuff and gives the kids a chance to explore the outdoors, discover birds, insects, and flowers. For moms like me who prefer to catch some extra ZZZs whenever possible, dragging myself out of the bed is hard. It. is. Hard. But if it keeps my kid from turning into a zombie, then I’m in.
Now that I am working from home as a writer, I have now greater control and flexibility on my time and can play with my kid for as long as possible. One activity that my kid and I both love doing is making toys out of recycled objects. I’m no crafty, Pinterest mom, but it’s actually easy to make playthings out of ordinary household objects. There’s the milk carton boat, magnetic alien robots from cans, bottle rocket, cardboard pull toy, and my favorite--paper airplanes! Ha.
Here are some cool ideas from 5-Minute Crafts KIDS -
One of the best ways to wean a kid off the screen (at least one that worked for us) is by letting him absolutely do...nothing. Unstructured time is inherently eco-friendly because it helps kids to learn how to be creative and independent. On his “free” time, I usually just let my kid go to the room or outside the house and let him do what he wants. Sometimes we stay in our pajamas all day, me telling him stories and vice versa. Other times, he goes on his own, creating, improvising, and imagining.
Since imposing green time, my kid has become a lot stinkier, sweatier, and noisier. But I swear, I wouldn’t have it any other way!