I've been reading everywhere that children under the age of 2 should not be exposed to any screen time. When I was pregnant, I told myself I would strictly adhere to this rule.
I grew up in a traditional Asian family where, as a child, I was never allowed to make my own choices. My parents always had the last say and could never be challenged. So when I decided to not allow any screen time for my child, my decision was final . . . or so I thought.
I got a reality check when my daughter started eating solids at six months. I tried my best to talk to, sing to, and entertain her. I tried to stand my ground and remember how my mother told me not to give in to baby's cry. But as the bowl of food stayed full and I grew tired of singing to her, my eyes started to wander to the TV remote . . . and with that, my "tiger mom" days were over.
I switched on YouTube and scrolled through a list of baby nursery rhymes, finding hundreds of videos with millions of views. The moment the video played, my baby was mesmerized and calmed right down. For the next few minutes, she sat and enjoyed the cheerful music and beautiful colors on the screen. She loved it!
That moment allowed me to just close my eyes and take a deep breath. But then I started worrying: Am I weak? Am I not disciplining my child like the good, strict Asian mum that I was supposed to be? I felt like I was the worst mother in the world! Is this how media addiction starts in children? Am I not being a role model to my child? Those questions kept running in my head.
It took me only six months to break my own no-screen-time declaration, which made me unhappy and stressed out. Worrying about being the perfect mum made it even harder for me to be a good mum. And that's when it hit me: I'd rather be a good mother than one who's always worried she's not perfectly following the rules.
So, yes, I caved. But I've come to realize that every now and then, I just need a moment for myself, to take a few deep breaths and de-stress. It is during times like these that I allow my daughter a few minutes of screen time. I have used this strategy as a coping mechanism, and it has made me into a much happier, well-balanced mother and given me my sanity back!
I don't underestimate the risks of technology to very young children. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under the age of 18 months should not be exposed to any screens at all. Recognizing this, I am always aware of how much time I allow my daughter in front of the screen. The tiger mum in me still exists, and I only allow screens when I am desperate for a moment to gather myself, and I never use screen time as a babysitter.
Just like everything else in life, I believe that there should be moderation in screen time. I have to remind myself to stop over-stressing, as this will just spill over to my baby. Instead of trying to be the perfect mother by adhering to strict tech rules, I now use technology to help me be a better mother.
Here are five ways I use screen time in moderation with my baby:
Don't let the screen be a babysitter. Screen time does not replace the face-to-face interaction a baby needs for development. I'm mindful of using it as a way to catch my breath and not as my default activity. And I always stay nearby when my baby is watching to make sure nothing inappropriate pops up unexpectedly. I also plan plenty of outdoor activities with my baby.
Limit the amount. I set a timer on my phone . . . and stick to it! This way I never go beyond the time limit I set for myself.
Take inspiration from screen media. I use the songs and scenes my baby sees on TV as part of a learning experience. For instance, when she's heard the song "The Wheels on the Bus," I'll point out real wheels on a bus next time we're out and sing the song.
Use FaceTime. Instead of switching on the TV each time you need a break, try video-calling your parents or family members and let your child chat with them. According to the AAP, it's OK for babies younger than 18 months to video chat because they're able to make a connection to loved ones by seeing and talking to people through the screen.
Find age-appropriate content. There are thousands of nursery rhymes, cartoons, and options for young children online. Read the reviews and official ratings to make sure the content they watch is age-appropriate. Some of my favorite channels are Mother Goose Club and Chu Chu Baby. Check out Common Sense Media's list of YouTube channels and videos for preschoolers and terrific toddler shows.
This article is part of Common Sense Media's Parent Voices series, which provides a platform for opinions about parenting in the digital age. All ideas expressed are the writer's own.