Summer! Time to get out of the house and ride bikes and take nature walks and make bucket lists and catch worms and have lemonade stands.
…Or watch a hell of a lot of TV and iPad.
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Do you fall into one of these two categories? What’s your “policy” on screen time? Do you even have one?
Well, I thought I was doing okay with our regulations until I chatted with a few camp moms recently about this very topic. One mom proudly declared that her kids are limited to one hour of screen time per day. Not to be outdone, a chipper sanctimommy super-dedicated mother scoffed at the one-hour limit and retorted, “My kids don’t watch screens. We are far too busy being active outside and using our imaginations.”
Are you fucking kidding me, lady.
Ain’t no place for this slacker mom in that circle, so I bowed out pretty quickly. Because here’s the cold hard truth. My kids watch a lot of screens on days off from school. Often our time consists of a rotation between Minecraft, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Star Wars Rebels, and Barbie cartoons. (I could list those in order of most to least painful, but it’s really just one continuous circle of hell.)
But you know what else we’ve done so far this summer? Gone to the zoo, gone to Legoland, swam in pools, gone on walks, gone on bike rides, played in the sprinklers, gone to the library, read piles and piles of books from the library, written stories, drawn pictures, built Legos, played tag, had friends over, gone to friends’ houses, visited our grandparents, planted flowers, done chores around the house, played baseball, played kickball, played on the swing-set, baked cookies… and the list goes on.
Yet we still watch a butt-load of screens. Why? Here’s why.
The days are effing LONG. The first kid is up at 6:00 EVERY FRIGGING DAY. Once in a while he submits to his exhaustion and sleeps until 6:12. But that’s rare. And he’s the last to go down at night—usually around 9. That’s FIFTEEN hours of child-awake-time to fill.
So yeah, Super Mom and Other Mom, my kids watch waaaaay more screens than yours. But I have a list that explains why it’s totes okay and I’m a fab mom regardless.
Relaxation and Recovery.
Remember how stressful the school year is? Homework, permission slips, long term projects, reading logs, talent shows, extra-curricular activities, sports practices and games, rushing to get them ready in the morning, fighting with them to go to bed at night… You know it’s exhausting. Well, guess who else it’s exhausting for? OUR KIDS.
How good does it feel to veg out and let them hang around in PJs and watch TV? I’ll tell you. DAMN GOOD. They aren’t bugging you. You aren’t lecturing them. WINNING. (And resting and recovering, but mostly winning.)
I am outnumbered.
I have three kids, ages 9, 7 and 5. They could not be more different. Finding a common activity that they all enjoy can be near impossible some days. The 9-year-old wants to play chess while the 5-year-old wants to chuck the chess pieces at our heads. And my poor daughter, the 7-year-old, the only girl, just wants someone to play house with her. ALL DAY. ERRRY DAY. So quite often, I have one or two screens on to keep them out of my hair while I spend quality time with the other(s). <– See?! Good mom alert right there.
Screens make excellent babysitters. (I can’t be amazing all the time.)
Mama’s more than a butt-wiper.
I am a work-at-home mom. I write when I can steal away minutes. Usually that means after bedtime, but sometimes I am too tired at night. Or sometimes they go to bed too late. Or sometimes Orange is the New Black comes out with a new season. For all of these reasons, I need to fit writing in during the day. If I need to work and cannot send them outside, off to their screens they go.
I live in the devil’s armpit between June and August.
Speaking of playing outside, I make sure they get outside as much as possible. But summer where I live does NOT fuck around. Next week’s forecast is 97, 97, 98, 98, 100 degrees. So by lunchtime, we are inside for the day. If you can entertain an 9, 7, and 5-year-old for eight straight hours without the use of screens, you are a sorceress. I am not.
I’m tired. Aren’t you?
Sometimes Mom needs a frigging minute.
Or a whole damn day. Remember in “real job” world when you could “call in sick”? Ha. Mems.
Well, once in a while Mommy gets sick and Daddy still has to go to work because bills. Or other days, she’s not “sick” like puking sick, but she’s about to lose her ever-loving-mind-if-one-more-person-pees-himself-or-tracks-mud-in-on-the-carpet and needs a day off. Screens are the closest thing she can get to a “sick” or “personal” day.
So no, I don’t “limit” screens with any sort of formula. If I think it’s been long enough, or if their eyes are glazed over in a zombie-like trance, I might tell them to take a break. Some days are jam-packed with moving and shaking and learning and shit. (I mean, I was once a teacher for crying out loud. I GET IT.) But other days are heavier on the Minecraft / PJ Masks.
I think we are doing okay, though. Their muscles haven’t completely atrophied or anything, and Minecraft is educational, right? I mean, it makes them think.
So I am pretty sure I’m still in the running for Mom of the Year thank you very much.
This post was originally published on Sammiches and Psych Meds.