Over the weekend, a friend’s cousin mentioned that she was trying to move her son to a new childcare centre.
“I just found out that they actually give the kids ‘screen time’,” she ranted.
She spat out the words ‘screen time’ as if they were covered in mould and dripping with sweat – as if giving two-year-olds screen time was akin to feeding them a diet of lemonade and chocolate for breakfast, lunch and tea.
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“How much screen time?” I asked.
“I don’t know – it was one of the other mums who told me. Apparently, she’s seen them watching TV a few times at pick up, and the kids are in the ‘18-30 months’ room. So whether it’s five minutes or two hours, really, it doesn’t matter, does it? I’m paying them to look after and educate my child, not plop them down in front of a screen!”
I could sense her rage brewing.
And perhaps she could sense my lack of rage in response, because when I didn’t immediately agree with her, she followed up with:
“Look, I’m not against any parent choosing to let their child have screen time – that’s everyone’s decision to make. I’d just like to think that if my little one is watching TV, I have some say over what they are watching and for how long.”
I’m just going to come out and admit it: as a parent, I’m pretty fond of screens. The official guidelines suggest no more than one hour a day for kids 18 months and over, and that’s pretty much what we do.
But make no mistakes: my kids start the day with cartoons, every single day.
They’re up at 5.30am and with them plonked in front of the idiot box for the first 30 to 60 minutes of the day, I get the much-needed space and time I need to prepare their breakfasts and lunches, while I feed the baby and squeeze in sips of cold tea.
In a childcare setting, I wouldn’t be all that devastated if they used screens, either: it’s all about context.
Pressing play on a Disney cartoon to keep the kids occupied? That’s probably not on. A childcare centre has literally dozens of other games, puzzles, crafts and activities available to keep the kids occupied, so this seems a lazy choice.
But setting up an interactive iPad activity for 20 minutes of learning, or playing a 15-minute kid-appropriate doco on how the body works?
That’s fair game in my book. Even if the child is only (gasp!) two years old.