This article was originally published on KSL.com in Motherhood Matters.
He was screaming something in toddler babble I could barely understand. So as he ranted, I stooped down and looked into his sad brown eyes, sure that would help me break the code.
And it did.
He wanted “gaba gaba on pad,” which roughly translates as, “I really want to watch ‘Yo Gabba Gabba’ on your iPad, Mom. I and want to do it now!”
We ditched cable a year ago and barely miss it. We watch over-the-air programming or stream shows over the Internet. It has saved us lots of money but may have aided to our children’s love for electronic devices.
They are so good at maneuvering them. Both of my twin toddlers know exactly how to use their chubby little index fingers to swipe the touch screens and go exactly where they want. My 2-year-old niece taught my father how to play Angry Birds.
These toddlers have been able to use these devices for a very long time — since they were babies. I think it’s instinctive.
Just last year the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended to “strongly avoid screen exposure for infants under the age of 2 years.”
Well, it seems I blew it, and not just for my toddlers. My bigger kids far exceeded the AAP’s guidelines for older children as well.
But I’m not the only mom failing in this department. Our babies are growing up in a digital world — and that is OK. In fact, I argue that it is good.
Even with the concerns of a link in screen time and obesity, I have found great educational value in television programming and apps — so much so that we are actually adding more electronic devices to our home this holiday season, as are many, many other families.
As we add these electronics, we now need to help our children find a balance between being an active child and responsible user of digital media. There are three things we can do to help our children use technology appropriately.
1. Keep them aware of time. Even for adults, the Internet can be a vortex where we lose all sense of space and time. We jump on Facebook or Pinterest, and before we know it an hour has passed. It is so important to keep an eye on the clock and teach our children to do the same.
If we keep track of the time they spend online in half-hour or hour increments, this can be easy to do. I even go so far as to set a digital timer for the kids to see. When it beeps, it’s time to move on to something else.
2. Have them earn their screen time. We always value most of the things we work hard to earn. The same is true for our children.
If we provide opportunities for our children to earn time to play video games, or watch their favorite shows, they will be more careful with when and how often then choose to use that time. This can be easily done through an exchange of currency like tokens, tickets or punch passes.
3. Provide age-appropriate, non-tech options.“Just play with your toys” or “use your imagination outside” seems self-explanatory to many of us. But sometimes — in order to convince our kids to turn off the TV — a little more planning and coaxing is needed.
The situation seems easy enough. You turn of the TV for some “real” play time. But the kids don’t know what to do with themselves. Many moms I know have found it helpful to suggest to their kids specific activities like a board game or play dough. I even find it helpful to have structured activities with my little ones and pull the toys or blocks out of the toy box and move them to the center of the room. Then we all get down on the floor and build a tower or read a book.
When all else fails, use your right as a parent to take the device away, turn it off and break out the homework.