Screen Time and Mom Guilt.

Family watches tv together


Hi, Practice families!

A few weeks ago, a good friend from grad school (also a child psychologist, male, childless) forwarded me this article from the New York Times Parenting section, ‘Screen Use Tied to Children’s Brain Development,’ with a one line message:  “Not to be missed by Nina the psychologist or Nina the mom.”

I confess:  I read this article on my phone at the end of a particularly long day, sitting on the couch at 5:30pm with my 3 year old sitting next to me watching Paw Patrol and my six month old sitting on my lap with his eyes also glued to the screen.  ?

And I immediately felt guilty.  

Theoretically, I agree– the less screen time for small children, the better.  Let’s face it:  it’s good for kids to have engaged, interactive parents.  It’s better to have conversations, practice with language, activities that stretch their vocabularies and their imaginations than to be planted in front of a screen.

But.  Reading this article– and noticing my own reaction– made me reflect on something that I share with many parents with whom I speak.  I have been working with kids and parents for close to twenty years.  And I have been a parent myself for only three and a half of those years.  Over the course of time, families often have asked me, Do you have kids yourself?

Before having my own kids, I used to find this question kind of annoying.  No, I don’t have kids, but I spent six years in grad school and have years of experience working with families to successfully navigate this stuff.

Then I had my own kids, and I understood where this question had been coming from.  It’s one thing to know what the ‘right’ thing is to do.  It’s another thing to actually do it, to figure out how to make those parenting best practices work for your family and your life.

Before I had kids, I was positive that there would be no eating in the living room, no kids in my bed at night, no screens until they were out of preschool, etc etc etc.  Now my couch is covered with milk and Goldfish crumbs, my preschooler has been sleeping in our bed since we transitioned the baby to his crib, and it’s a rare day that passes without an episode or two of Paw Patrol.  ??‍♀️

Don’t get me wrong– I am not condoning unlimited screen time.  I’m just saying that we as parents have to use the information that we have to make the best decisions that we can in the real world.  So should you let your kids watch twelve hours (?) of screen time a day?  Absolutely not.  Should you feel guilty about using screen time in moderation at the times that you need to get things done, or just need a break, some time to take a deep breath and help yourself keep your cool?  Again…  absolutely not.  

As parents, it’s helpful for us to be aware of research-based best practices, so we can aim in that direction.  Here, that means starting screens after the 18 month mark, where possible (we really are working to limit the baby’s exposure, the above anecdote aside!), then using screens in moderation at times that you really need them, being present and interactive during screen time when you can, and balancing out screen time with engaged, interactive time that helps kids build skills.  

And it also means not beating yourself up about doing the best you can.  So I hope you can take that with you this week:  be clear on what you’d like to do (your values!), then do the best you can.  If there are places that you wish you were managing things differently as a parent– whether that’s with screens or in any other area– see if there’s something you can do to shift things even one tiny step in the direction that you want to go.

And remember, we work with parents about all of this stuff– how to integrate research-based recommendations and strategies in a way that works for your parenting and family life, how to manage (and minimize!) parenting guilt, how to troubleshoot challenging behaviors, and how to identify your values, build your own parenting skills and tool-kit, and move toward a more joyful family life.  If you’re looking for support, reach out to us today.

P.S., Good resources on the screen time front:

Also, for our expecting and new mamas– you’re not in the screen time trenches yet, but we love Emily Oster because she summarizes the research about pregnancy and early parenthood in a way that helps you make evidence-based decisions.  Her books, Expecting Better (pregnancy) and Cribsheet (early parenting), are two of our favorites– if you haven’t checked them out yet, take a look.  

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