We don't have cable TV anymore. We got rid of it when Carys was maybe six months old and she constantly was trying to crane her head around to watch TV, and I decided that I needed to stop watching it, even in the background, when she was around. From that point until she was around one and a half, we didn't really let her watch much TV, and life was good. She wasn't really interested in it, and we kept busy outside and doing other things.
But I got pregnant with Emmeline right around that time and first trimester exhaustion just completely wiped me out, so I went the easy way out and let her watch a ton of Netflix on TV while I laid on the couch and napped.
When I eventually got some energy back, trying to wean her of constant TV watching was painful...for both of us. Her because I was removing access to her precious shows, and me because I had to listen to the whining and screaming.
Her whole personality changed on days when she was allowed to watch so much TV. She was meaner and whinier and not nearly as pleasant - and this was with watching "good" shows like Daniel Tiger and Sesame Street. We didn't even watch Calliou because I've heard horror stories about whiny kids stemming from it, so the change in personality was honestly pretty shocking.
Look at that grump face.
She is also obsessed with "her" tablet (actually mine) and will throw a fit if she isn't allowed to use it - which is terrifying, because I don't let her use it that often. We're talking 10-15 minutes here and there. Yet if she isn't allowed it, she has a meltdown. And if she's allowed to use it unchecked, she could literally go three hours straight using it and watching "eggs" on YouTube (people opening KinderSurprise Eggs. It's a thing. Apparently?) without blinking. I know this, because when I was passing kidney stones about a month ago and in agony one day*, I let her use it without a time limit and she didn't set it down for a moment. Like some teenage dude, she even watched it while she was peeing. The same personality shifts occur when she uses the tablet; going from pleasant and easy-going and a good listener to cranky and whiny and even lashing out more.
*Oh, did I forget to blog about that? Because yeah, I passed a couple kidney stones and had an ambulance ride and hospital negligence and then a different hospital and ER visit and all that. But the fuckers came out and if I ever get them again I think I'll just carve my kidneys out with a plastic spoon, because that would be less painful.
I instituted a system of "TV Tickets" (actually for any screen, but TV tickets flows better than "screen time tickets") where she got four tickets each day. She can use any one ticket for 30 minutes of screen time or all four to watch a movie (this was later cut to 15 minutes, though she could still use all four for a movie). That actually works well - she will even tell us to turn off the TV if we are watching it after her bedtime and she comes out for a glass of water. I stopped letting her watch it within an hour of waking up, as it seems that screen time in the morning completely throws off her mood the rest of the day. She was still constantly asking for the phone or tablet, so I had to further institute a "one screen at a time" rule (i.e. tablet OR phone OR television), which makes me want to punch myself in the face, because how did I let it get to that point? There were actually times when she was watching TV *and* playing on my phone? WTFFFFFFFFFFF, self???
I know that she wasn't watching that much TV compared to national averages, but it was way more than what a "good" mom - the mom I wanted and want to be - would allow. And I needed to limit it for my personal parenting goals, also - our activities and walks and trips had greatly decreased during that time, too. I was so tired and sick when I was giving into her and using it as a crutch, but it was a hard habit to break even when I started to feel better.
The idea that she's so easily engrossed in my phone and my tablet and the TV, even when only getting to use them briefly, is horribly sad to me. And Emmeline is beginning already - she reaches for my phone whenever she sees it. I know part of that is because she's a baby and the lights are engrossing to her, but I want to do for her from the start what I did for Carys - only without the backwards slide.
When I look around at my husband and myself, and I can absolutely see from where it comes. I was one my phone and computer all the time. I've gotten a lot better once I was honest with myself and once I made the commitment to cut back. I've made a huge effort to be on my phone or computer only when she's sleeping. But it's stupidly hard. I feel like I'm missing out on some urgent news if I'm not checking Facebook or Instagram throughout the day, and like events aren't happening unless they're documented or shared.
WHICH IS DUMB. My childhood was absolutely amazing, and it only fills like four physical photo albums. It wasn't blogged about (irony/pot/kettle) or posted to social media or shared on Instagram.
I love those connections, though. I love reaching out and connecting with other people, especially other moms of small kids. I don't want to give it all up. (Sometimes those fifteen minutes on Facebook are the only adult interactions I get all day.) But I can do that during select moments, rather than al day long. So I'm trying so hard to be present and phone-free in my daily interactions with the kids, but I sometimes feel so addicted to my phone and social media. I feel my fingers inching towards the phone or computer and telling myself, "I'll just check it quickly and then log right back off."
I also know we're not a "no TV" or "no tablet" or "no phone" family. We'll always have them around. Realistically, she will get screen time. There will be some times that I need to make dinner and she's nagging me, or some days when I don't feel good, or some days when she doesn't feel good. There's a time and place for screens, and I need to be better about limiting viewing to those times. I can't and shouldn't and won't beat myself up for the odd show here or tablet time there. I will be mad at myself, though, if she comes to me and I tell her to "Wait a minute, honey," while I check Twitter one more time.
I'm working on it.
I've stopped taking pictures and immediately uploading them to Instagram - instead, I snap some pics, put the phone away, and upload them to Instagram later, when the kids are sleeping or, let's be honest, when I'm peeing. I love taking pictures of the girls, and I doubt I'll ever cut back on that, but I don't need to take additional time to post the pictures online within seconds. That can wait.
I limit myself to a few minutes of Facebook a day, after I've tucked the girls into bed or, let's be honest again, when I'm peeing. Facebook can wait.
I don't watch television until they're in bed (which is good, since I doubt the lesbian scenes in Orange is the New Black would be considered toddler-friendly). Television can wait. (No, I don't watch TV while peeing.)
I love to read, but instead of picking up my Kindle or reading on my phone, I'm picking up real books. I want the girls to read (and thank god they both love books despite their screen love), but they aren't going to pick up good reading habits watching me stare at a screen. They need to see me reading real books, and reading often. (Also, sidenote: If you saw a parent at a park reading a physical book while their child was playing, you probably wouldn't think twice. But if you saw them staring at their phone - even if they were reading War and Peace - you would totally judge. Because you wouldn't know they were reading War and Peace. So. Deep thoughts there.)
It's a work in progress, which seriously makes me heartsick to type. It shouldn't be a work in progress to be completely present to your children. That doesn't mean I need to entertain them every minute. I want them to learn to play independently, and Carys is actually really good at it. But I don't want to be a zoned-out, "hang on a minute," phone-checking zombie when they're playing by themselves, completely engrossed in my computer. There are so many better things I could be doing with that time.
I know it's only by seeing me (and their dad, but getting him on board is another story) put down our phones that her screen addiction will truly break. Every time I sneak a glance at my phone when Carys is trying to engage me in play, I'm breaking her a little bit.
I need to fix myself before I can fix her.
Screens can wait. Their childhood can't.