My husband and I refuse to let our toddler use screens – the good, the bad and the painful cross-country flights… this is what parents can expect
The decision to avoid such devices was easy but difficult to maintain. My husband and I committed before our daughter was born
It was the second hour of the flight back from Colorado to New Jersey when I stared at the family sitting in the row next to us and watched them with envy.
Mom and Dad sat peacefully in their seats watching the movie on the plane while their little one quietly watched cartoons on a propped iPad.
Our dispute, by comparison, was a complete massacre While my daughter screamed angrily throughout the nearly four-hour flight.
My husband and I promised before Amelia, almost 2, was born, that we wouldn't let her use screens until she was older.
Our decision to go screen-free as parents stems from my career as a science journalist, which has exposed me to the many dangers of technology.
but Our promise was a much greater strain on our willpower than we had anticipated.
Our Thanksgiving trip to Colorado last month was the ultimate test, and my husband and I were dreading it for the weeks leading up to the trip.
My dining experiences usually consist of my toddler squirming in her high chair, crayons spread out on the table, and me shoving food into my mouth when I'm not coloring with her
The entertainment in my childhood came from my imagination, and it is what my husband and I wish for my daughter
We recently took our little girl on her first trip to visit family in Colorado for Thanksgiving. We purchased a busy board, especially for this task, which contains different motor skill activities
We've mastered the art of distraction in other parts of our lives—taking turns taking Amelia on strategic walks back and forth at restaurants while the other eats, and vice versa, for example.
But the problem is that we never had to keep her confined to a seat for longer than 45 minutes. This is the point in her car seat when she goes nuclear – we think out of boredom.
I can remember traveling as a childless mother (oh, the good old days) and wanting to freak out when a family sat with a screaming baby nearby.
So, the tables were turned for the first time and being a family with a screaming baby was worrying, to say the least.
My husband and I spent the entire trip passing by Her between us, putting on finger puppet shows and walking her up and down the aisle.
She screamed whenever she tried to put her in the seat, insisting on seeing every part of the cabin.
I don't think I've ever apologized to so many strangers once in my life.
the Apparently the busy book we bought didn't have the same calming effect as the tablet next to us!
My husband and I have agreed that Amelia won't be allowed on screens until she's at least five years old — and she won't get her own smartphone until after she's a teenager.
I've written about several studies showing that young children exposed to screens experience learning delays, problems with body positivity and an increased risk of mental health problems.
Research even suggests that their white matter is underdeveloped throughout the brain, which may slow processing speed in a child's brain and affect areas associated with language and literacy.
To be clear, I don't look down on parents who give their young children smartphones and tablets.
A lot of this stems from me not wanting my child to become a device addict like me — my job means I'm constantly checking emails and looking for stories.
We also take the subway while traveling anywhere in New York City, which also comes with its challenges as it can be stressful. Our daughter plays with Etch A Sketch during such trips, which seems to keep her busy as we travel through town
But this addiction did not come until later in life. I was born in 1984 and grew up in the 90s before screens crept into our lives.
When I was a young child, I spent my days playing outside, dressing up and performing freak shows for my parents as if I were a backup dancer for Paula Abdul.
My childhood entertainment came from my imagination, and this is what I wish for my daughter.
Amelia has learned to be creative with little people figurines, coloring books, wooden Montessori toys, and all of my pots and pans.
My husband and I are creative people, and we believe that allowing our daughter to create magical worlds where her toys come to life will nurture that within her.
I also think that connecting with her figurines gives her a developmental boost.
A 2023 study published by Tohoku University in Japan found that allowing children to watch shows on TV, tablets and phones may make them slower to speak and develop.
Children who spent the most time in front of screens in the first year of their lives had the most significant developmental delays when they were toddlers.
Amelia is a cheerful child, always ready to laugh, but sniffing a tablet or smartphone turns her into a little imp trying to take it from my hand.
She never played with anyone.
I feel like her motivation comes from watching me scroll through my smartphone.
Amelia has learned to be creative with Little People figurines, coloring books, wooden Montessori toys, and all of my pots and pans.
“If young children spend most of their time dealing with an iPad, smartphone, or television, all of which are highly entertaining, it can be difficult to get them to engage in activities that are not Electronic, such as playing with toys to enhance imagination and creativity, exploring outdoors, and playing with other children to develop appropriate social skills.
The science does not stop there, as research conducted by experts at Cincinnati Children's Hospital reported that spending a long time in front of screens can affect brain growth and development at early ages.
MRI scans revealed reduced levels of development in the brain's white matter – a key area for developing language, literacy and cognitive skills – in children who spent more screen time than the recommended hour per day.
However, I am not blind to the benefits of the device.
There are many apps designed specifically for young children to help develop their speech and coordination.
Research has shown that screen time can help children develop problem-solving skills, social and creative skills, and communication skills.
Experts at Oxford, Cardiff and Cambridge Universities found that children who spent one to two hours a day using digital devices had higher levels of social and emotional well-being than those who did not spend time in front of screens.
Professor Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute, said: “In light of our findings, calls for blanket technology bans and age restrictions on access to technology do not constitute evidence-based or indeed ethical advice, particularly with the use of screen in some countries. Cases have a net positive effect.
Although there are benefits to letting my child play on tablets, they are not enough for me to allow it – and we plan to ban use until they are at least five years old.
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