Recently a relative texted me and asked for new photos of Amelia. Without really thinking about it, I sent a really sweet photo from the night before – it was of her and Rob snuggling on the couch playing a game together on her iPad.
The relative’s response was, “she sure does love that tablet.”
They didn’t mean anything negative by it, but my insecurity flared up nonetheless. This issue tends to bring out a fair amount of insecurity in me, because truth is a lot of my pictures of Amelia are of her using the iPad or watching TV.
I go back and forth on this; on one hand, I know that fear of new technology is as old as humanity itself. I know that technology is one of the main things that helped Amelia break her anxiety about ice skating and that she’s learned a lot from watching tinny, repetitive music videos.
There’s another part of me, though, that sees her on her iPad and am struck with the apocalyptic images of a kid who can barely hold a pencil or form words or talk to anyone. The internet does plenty to support this fear but lots of moms I know in person do too.
We have an extremely lax approach to the iPad and TV that so far works for us. Rob and I are people who “wind down” using electronics. While we are more mindful of how often we use technology now that we have a kid, we don’t limit ourselves to 2 hours and spend the rest of the time doing crafts. It seems unfair to impose that on Amelia while we mindlessly peruse Facebook in quiet moments.
Essentially Amelia has free access to the iPad and TV when we are inside and it isn’t bedtime. Aside from trips, the iPad doesn’t come with us to restaurants or events–this is mostly because I want her to learn patience and the art of just waiting for stuff (I’ve actually stopped bringing out my phone in waiting rooms even if she isn’t with me because I feel like I need to be able to model this stuff). We took this approach because we thought that by taking away the “reward” aspect of tech time we would take the excitement out of it and make it just another toy she has access to, and so far, it makes sense for us.
So she might use the iPad for 20-30 minutes at a time, toss it on the couch and run to one of her other favorite toys around the house. Other times, especially after days spent at daycare interacting with people, she’ll use it for longer. If we are around new people or if someone new comes to the house, she’ll probably be on it for most of the time because she’s anxious and forcing her to interact just doesn’t help the situation (this is something we plan on working on as she gets older). The TV is pretty much always on at our house, though she rarely sits and watches for longer than a few minutes at a time.
All that said, we also spend time outside at every opportunity. Whether it’s 95 degrees or 0, if she wants to be outside, we all go outside. Generally speaking we are outside as long as she’ll tolerate even if it means we are bored and freezing or hot for an hour or more. She began ice skating this year and would rather be on the ice than just about anywhere else. She points out birds and clouds and the sun and airplanes. She jumps off rocks and snow piles, and when she falls we yell “hey good fall!” to help encourage her to keep moving. When she’s inside and not interested in the iPad, she will paint pictures or play with puzzles or read books or climb the stairs over and over.
So when she’s been using her iPad for a bit and I’m convinced I can see her brain leak out her ears I try to focus on the word “balance,” and I try to remember that with several important exceptions, there are few individual approaches in childhood that will either make or break a person’s future. It’s easy to get wrapped up in things like this and assume that either your child will use the iPad a lot OR get into Harvard and not live in your basement one day, but I genuinely believe that children are far more nuanced creatures than we often give them credit for.
And really, they’ll all have something to tell their therapist one day, right?