In my little family, we were so, so careful — like, ridiculously so — when it came to anything and everything involving screens and our first little one. People were astounded that I worked from home, (happily) watched after a toddler full-time, too, and that we really didn’t watch any TV at all. Even now, and I’m not kidding about this, I swear, we do not have an iPad in our little home.
But as the years have passed, some amount of screen time has been introduced here and there. I think it started when I was really sick with a cold. And really sick with morning sickness (yep, that’s when baby number 2 was getting ready to come along). And it was either explore the “Kids” section of Netflix for the first time so I could sit still for 20 minutes, or, well, I don’t really know what I would have done.
A couple years later, and we’re still careful. But TV, old iPhones streaming shows, and more technology-based entertainment have inevitably become more and more a part of our daily family life. That’s the world we live in, and to some degree, I guess it’s good, in that kids have to at least have a basic understanding of this type of technology at some point, to prepare them for a little thing called school — and the real world.
From my tired screen-staring mom eyes and busy keyboard to my readers’ various devices, here are 20 things that will start happening after screen time is allowed.
20 Getting Grumpy When It’s Gone
This one has really made me pause. Perhaps it’s after Daddy has turned on a half-hour of cartoons in the evening while he does all the dishes. Or maybe it’s after a Saturday morning TV treat. But what I’ve seen happen is a change in a kiddo’s mood after that power button is clicked and that screen goes black, and not a good one. From whining about it to just being argumentative or unusually negative, I’ve seen it all, and it’s one reason I like to remember about screen time limits. Has anyone else noticed this little phenomenon? I mean I know toddlers can be moody anyway, but the connection has seemed clear.
19 Assuming It Will Be Allowed
It starts off simple enough. As I already touched on, maybe a mom simply needs something to distract her little one for a few minutes while they both have a bad cold, and she has morning sickness… Or maybe a dad figures an hour of cartoons in the evening is alright a couple times a week, as long as it’s somewhat educational and age-appropriate, of course…
But then, THEN, it somehow becomes an expectation. Kids, especially young ones, have a way of jumping to the conclusion that TV time is something they’ll get to enjoy all the time. They got to that one time, after all!
18 Singing The Theme Songs On Repeat
To be honest, I don’t actually really mind this one. See, as a parent to two tiny tots, I have come to accept all things routine, repetition, and rhythmical as not only a standard part of our everyday life but also life savers without which we pretty much could not function — not sanely in any case.
It is not just the theme song to Octonauts that they (okay, all of us) are belting out night and day, day and night… It’s, like, every song we’ve ever heard together. And, hey, I guess sweet little voices singing a song isn’t really all that bad. Even if it is the 37th time you’ve heard it that hour…
17 Yelling Out Character Names They Recognize Out In the World
Think your little loves are ready for a bit of TV or game time? Get ready for a unique — and uniquely LOUD — experience every time that you walk into a grocery store. We may walk in and have our eyes quickly pulled toward, say, the fresh baked goods, or the bright signage about the day’s DEALS, or the aisle with the grown-up grape juice… but not kids. They are pulled straight to the shiny and colorful balloons parading magnificently above the checkout counters. They WILL recognize a character from TV. And they WILL scream out its name while pointing and kicking their legs from within that little shopping cart seat.
16 Talking About Things You Didn’t Teach Them
This was a wild experience for me, personally. I spent pretty much every waking minute with my first little one, from the moment she was born until the one day I was in the hospital recovering after expanding our little family, and then it was right back to spending every second with her. I understood the origin of everything she said. I could clearly trace the source of all of her knowledge.
Once screen time is allowed, kids will inevitably be paying close attention to something that you’ve thrown on, and they’ll learn things, and then talk about them, and it will come as a surprise — maybe even a pleasant one if they were viewing something educational!
15 As If They Can’t Hear You When You Talk To Them During TV Time
My little ones are pretty amazingly attentive and good listeners, my first most especially. That’s just sort of how we roll. (Yes, shameless mom brag, but it has a point in this story, so sorry not sorry.) Be prepared for your good listener to become deaf to everything you say once the TV is on or a phone is in front of their face. Let’s just say that sparkly talking ponies have a way of being pretty hard to look away from, especially when it’s either keep staring at them or turn that screen off to go eat broccoli, wheat pasta, meatballs, and pearl tomatoes (thought I’d throw in a toddler dinner idea just for fun… See what I did there?)
14 Bargaining For Just (Fill In The Blank) More Minutes
It may start to feel like no amount of screen time is EVER enough. It’s like it is addicting or something, funnily enough… (I say to a generation of parents who would rather lose most other possessions they have ever owned instead of that gloriously glowing device that they check first thing in the morning and all but kiss and tuck in every night…). If you thought you had to jump through some hoops to get your toddler to calmly leave the park (pro tip: give a [blank]-minute warning, then another a few minutes out from actually leaving, and then actually leave to help it go more smoothly, BTW), just wait for their pleas for just a FEW more minutes with your phone…
13 Asking If Everything Has A Movie Version
This is actually pretty cute, too, but also pretty funny. As my little one tries harder and harder to understand this world, her place in it, and what it is all about, or at least more or less how she might expect it to work, she has a LOT of questions. I consider that a GREAT thing. And now that she’s had a bit of screen time, it’s pretty cute to hear her lovely little voice excitedly asking if, like, everything has a movie version. After all, if her Little Golden Book about princesses turned out to actually be based on an entire canon of musical and enchanting movies, why shouldn’t her new favorite tome from the library have an on-screen equivalent, as well?
12 Wanting Toys Inspired By TV Characters
Oh, marketing. How do you work so very well, and still in such classic ways? It’s like we’re all still human or something… Kids are of COURSE tempted by toys (and clothes, and hair clips, and books, and anything and everything) that is themed after the characters from their favorite TV shows and digital games. And really, has all that much changed? (We’re looking at you, precious collection of vintage ‘90s Ninja Turtles action figures… or billions upon billions of stuffed Garfield cats suction-cupped to car windows…) Sure, once it was Power Rangers or Pokemon (okay, maybe it’s still Pokemon…), and now it’s, well, actually a lot of it is just revived again (thanks, Polly Pocket and aforementioned Ponies…).
11 The Inevitable Not-Age-Appropriate Slip
Okay, so the weird and perhaps somewhat wonderful land of screen time has been opened up to your precious little loves. In some houses, once it’s allowed, things just get less rigid (think of parents who never had the TV on before kid bedtime before and then decide it’s no big deal once a tot knows about TV). Or in some families, there are simply special exceptions made. The example that I can provide is Sunday football. It is just a sport, after all, so perhaps the TV is on for a few hours. But what about the ads…? Man, it’s like every network show involves stuff I wouldn’t want my babies to see, even in shortened preview mode, until they were like 13. At least.
10 Using It As A Tool For Travel
If you’ve decided that some amount of screen time is OK, and you are a parent to little kids that you must keep entertained and calm at various key moments, you are, I would argue, bound to begin to see it as a tool in your parental belt, at least to some degree, at least sometimes. Specifically, it is known far and wide to be a favorite tool for various modes of travel. As in if there’s a first plane ride in store, parents who pretend technology doesn’t exist when their kids are awake sometimes then shove an iPad in front of their faces. And for keeping toddlers awake for those last 4 minutes before you can get them home for a REAL nap? YES.
9 Dealing With Them By Handing Over The Phone While Dining Out
Even for parents who don’t eat out very much at all… Even for families who don’t even own an iPad… Even with kids who are well-behaved and used to sitting and (relatively) politely sharing a family meal… The unceremonious handover of the iPhone to the restless tot at the restaurant table is a VERY real and VERY common thing.
I think it’s because parents have to find SOME way to get out. And to, like, actually eat. And once you’ve ordered, it’s like your hard-earned money is already spent, so you have to keep them quiet enough to stay, somehow… Crayons and a tote full of toys only last so long. And it’s nice when BOTH parents get to actually eat at the same time.
8 Disagreements Over How Much Is OK
A parent’s decision to allow TV or other screen time is sometimes one made in desperation. It’s sometimes one that becomes a habit. (We’re looking at you LONG winter nights… and is it just us, or has this winter been a particularly long, dark, and frigid one? *writer's fingers move and type even as her mind begins to drift to a warm sandy beach…*). But I (obviously) digress: The point is, there will come a time when one partner in the parenting team disagrees with the amount of screen time that the other one thinks is A-OK. And they may trade stances. And need to renegotiate from time to time.
7 Wondering If They Were Really Ready
Then, there is the argument, essentially, with the parental SELF. Is allowing this precious and innocent child to sit in front of a screen really acceptable? Was it too soon? Or, there’s the variation of this: Is the silly cartoon show that seemed just fine really appropriate for a kiddo of that age? You will probably find yourself questioning. And hey, maybe that can end up being a good thing? In an age obsessed with beautifully glowing screens in various shape, sizes, and levels of network connectivity, perhaps tending to wonder if it’s all REALLY a good idea is, well, a good idea.
6 The Temptation To Subscribe For Even More
A very careful mom I know finally decided to allow her little kids to watch a bit of Netflix. Why not cable or satellite or Hulu or Prime or one of the other ones? Because, believe it or not, this mom (OK, it’s me) had chosen to stick to a budget and avoid too much excess by just picking ONE thing to stream shows and movies. But even this mom has been tempted at times to add more, and mainly because of the additional viewing options for the kids! “Well if I got that subscription, they could watch Daniel Tiger… and I’d get free 2-day shipping, too…” It’s easy to be tempted and even start to justify new purchases and subscriptions.
5 The Joy In Sharing Shows Of Your Youth
Netflix and other companies really have it figured out. We like nostalgia. We feel like we were just kids yesterday, too, and now that we have kids, you know what? We are honestly pretty stoked that the Magic School Bus is riding again! That ponies aren’t just those old plastic toys in our parents’ garage, but a whole new wonderland of entertainment! That Trolls — TROLLS people!! — are reborn into movies, music, playthings, and more, the likes of which our childhood selves could never have even dreamed! Basically, yeah, it’s kind of fun to share some of the stuff you remember loving to watch when you were just a kid, whether it’s a classic Disney movie or a reincarnation of your favorite old show.
4 The Irony: I Can’t Enjoy Childish Flicks Now That I’m A Mom
Now that I’ve gotten so excited about getting to reunite with my good pals Strawberry Shortcake, Ariel, and yes, even Ms. Frizzle as my own kiddos begin to explore the silly and exciting world of the screen, let me confess the saddest part: I really can’t even enjoy it anymore. I bum pretty hard on this many days. As a young adult and even up through when I was first pregnant, I still liked busting out some kids' DVDs or streaming some old cartoons every now and then. I legitimately enjoyed remembering my old favorites sometimes! But now that I live the overly serious life of a parent, I can’t actually get into any of these shows when I put them on. The irony!
3 From Rare Treat To Daily Habit
It’s a slippery slope. Once the box is opened, it might be impossible to close it. What other clichés can I list here to drive the point home? Basically, habits are easy to form, and it’s easy for TV and other screen time to become a habit, in case you didn’t realize that, having checked one to five social media apps, email, the weather, and your calendar all via a screen all in the last, like, 6 minutes…
Really, you might take pause one day to wonder how TV ended up being a daily thing when you only meant it to be a special treat…. How your preschooler knows each character by name when you swore they’d just watch that show one time…
2 Sibling Squabbling Over What To Watch
Is there more than one little self-centered person in your house? Is the TV on or the phone provided for some amount of entertainment? How many of these tiny tykes are there?
Then there will be that many opinions about what show should currently be streaming. That’s how many pairs of hands will be reaching out to claim Daddy’s iPhone as their rightful prize for sitting still during dinner at a restaurant. Basically, there will be squabbling. Try as you may to drive home the point that “the fact that either of you is getting to watch this is a special privilege!!!” don’t necessarily expect them to see it that way, or to keep their opinions to themselves.
1 When Rest Is Best
Perhaps it has a purpose. In fact, I know that it does. This is why I gave in and let my first baby (when she was far from being a baby anymore) watch any amount of TV at all, ever. When you are sick, or when they are sick, nothing else quite keeps them stationary and relatively restful like getting to watch a bit of TV. It’s apparently like the oldest trick in the book: I recall clearly that the pharmacy where we picked up antibiotics and things after pediatrician visits handed out one of a small collection of cartoon videos to parents picking up kiddie prescriptions, perhaps more helpful in getting tots to rest and recover than the actual medicines…