A personal rollercoaster with three children aged 8, 7 and 5: 4 paths we don’t want to go down and one that might be worth a try.
“Mummy is Paw Patrol sophisticated?”
“You know… you said we can only watch sophisticated movies during the week”
“ooohhhh you mean educational”
“Yes yes that! So what about Paw Patrol?”
“No dear, I was thinking more “once upon a time” or “Octonauts”
“All right! Octonauts should be ok for all of us”
Thank God for the Octopod inhabitants and their ability to magically interest three children aged 8, 7 and 5, while calming my guilt feelings about sticking my kids in front of the TV for two hours while I desperately try to get some work done.
24/7 parenting + working + household-managing is forcing many of us to make choices they would definitely not have made in times where better childcare then TV was available and support for a host of different tasks could be received from actual people.
We need a break, but screens are bad- let’s be honest.
Or are they? Is it not me who looks forward to tonight when the kids will finally be asleep,
and I will be able to enjoy one (or two…or maybe three?) episode of my currently favourite series on Netflix (Sophisticated? Educational…? Let’s not talk about that please).
Netflix is amazing: it’s giving me a break from my thoughts and my worries, it’s bringing me to places I cannot reach right now, it’s overwhelming me with beauty, it’s offering something easy for me and my husband to cuddle in front to.
True but there are all these studies showing how you end up dumb and voting populist parties if you watch too much TV as a child (full article here). And I mean, it does not necessarily take several decades of studies to notice that lots of screen time makes children passive and incapable of a conversation with another human being.
So I will go on and feel guilty about those two hours a day, when my children undergo a sort of slow but steady lobotomization.
But hang on a moment, if I look carefully enough, I can find the evidence that tells me that not all screen-times are made equal (link our own piece by Ana on this): it is all about what the kids are watching and how much they are interacting with it. You can even positively enhance fine motor skills if you pick the right toddler-friendly video game (full article here)!
Which means I could actually make it my next project to find all age-appropriate series, movies and videogames and let the kids loose on those. As soon as I can stick the label “educational” on them, I don’t need to worry… actually I can even use them as part of my home-schooling plan! There kids! You now HAVE to watch TV: this very educational video is made especially for your age group and explains everything about the spread of a virus (been there. Done that!).
Or maybe I stop and think for a second.
Which admittedly took me a while to get to, in this new loud busy world, where cooking and cleaning the house takes up a good 50% of my waking time, setting up zoom calls the other 50%... and so all the rest has to be squeezed in somewhere, somehow… if possible, maybe.
But now two boys are watching an extremely educational programme on TV and one is following his ballet class on zoom (bless him! How much imagination does he need to make music out of that crackling noise, to make relationships out of those little icons of his friends on the screen, to attribute respect and gratitude to the image of his wonderfully dedicated and ever-smiling teacher?) and I have exactly 13 minutes left before I show up to my dearest friend’s 40th birthday party… on zoom of course.
Which leaves me with roughly 5 minutes to think, 5 minutes to write and 3 minutes to throw a decent top on and possibly some lipstick.
What does “educational” actually mean?
It means that my child learns something from it. So strictly speaking, everything is educational, because if a thing goes through your brain, it will leave a trace… and if the same thing goes through your brain many times, like an elephant in the jungle, it will leave a path… As for the elephant, once there is a path, your thoughts and actions become more and more likely to go that way again, rather than venturing in unexplored territory.
What kind of habits do I want my kids to pick up during this strange time? What kind of paths do I want my elephants to go?
Path 1: “Screens are where you go to connect to your friends”
… mmmhh… not for me thank you.
Connecting to your friends if you are a child today is simply impossible. It’s tough. It’s sad… but no amount of zoom will change that. It will give you (parent) the illusion of doing something for your child, and it will leave the child alienated and wondering about screen buttons rather than feeling any closer to his friend.
When it comes to connecting, the kind of paths we want to build are those of full relationship with realpeople. Especially for this generation, what a better time to show them the beauty of the real as compared to the virtual. The warmth of the neighbour’s smile as she brings over her home-made dal, the joy of sharing our passata with the lady who has forgotten to order it and the next Ocado slot is in 2 weeks, the fun of a socially-distant race with the neighbours.
Path 2: “Screens are where you go for fun”… it depends how we define fun.
There is some to be had on screen, but maybe not of our favourite kind.
We have certainly noticed that we laugh (and cry!) much more just running around trying to tag each other than by playing even the most engaging videogame. Movies and documentary make us gasp and sometimes even laugh out loud, but what is a rare occurrence in front of the telly, is constant with real people. So if we are lucky enough to share our isolation time with someone (whoever they are) let’s have fun together (***preview of this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=G-ugfNXYcDg
Path 3: “Screens are where I go to get my brain stuffed with content my mum wants me to learn”
If there is a thing that I want to preserve, nurture and defend from all attacks during this isolation time is that learning is fun. Because it is. Done on your own. Done with the parents. Done with the siblings. It is a good thing and we want loads of it. If I don’t inculcate, the request for learning will come. If I inculcate, learning ends up being a thing the child does against your will. Do it once, do it twice… it becomes a path and before you know it your child thinks learning is a horrible, boring, tedious thing to be done aginst his will.
And there is nothing less human than not wanting to learn (link to “FUN” page on our website)! Let us make sure we preserve the thirst of knowledge and let us NOT use screen to kill it now! If my child learns that learning is fun while the other get stuffed with one more mandarin word, I really do not mind. He is not behind. He has a tool for life.
Path 4: “Screens are where I go to evade and relax and take a break”.
Aaahhh… maybe that’s the thing.
Maybe the children can use the screens just as I do. Maybe they can simply use it to chill after an exciting, fun and educational day. Maybe I don’t need to do much research. Maybe I can go with something that they enjoy and that does not disturb me (David Attenborough: by all means – his soothing voice in the distance has a calming effect on my nerves. Paw Patrol: no thank you - we said we wanted to CHILL! Ninjago… aaaall right, but maybe just on the weekend, how does that sound?).
I think, I negotiate so that I can HAVE A BREAK.
From the noise, from the requests… and especially from my guilty feeling. When you’re done with it, my child, we are going to share a relaxed dinner and maybe you will tell me all about your screen-adventures. Or we will chat about Alexander Hamilton, or about what we did that time at your friend’s birthday.
After my break, I will actually enjoy chatting to you. And that is educational. And if you have listened well to Captain Barnacles, you might even slip in some biology jargon… et voila: sophistication achieved!
As everything in parenting, screens are wonderful, if I use them to nurture our relationship.