This will be Meg Thompson’s last “Words to You Mothers” column. You can read her previous work here.
I watch my daughter nestle into the couch with her sippy cup of milk, a bowl of ham, and her iPad. Blissful and babbling, she swipes to unlock it, then opens Spotify to play the Dixie Chicks. Now she must make a decision. Does she want to read an eBook, scroll through the thousands of pictures we have of her, or work on counting goats in one of her apps. She is 18 months old, and according to some pediatrician guidelines, bound for hell.
When Mae is immersed in reading “There’s A Monster At The End of This Book” for the 14th time in a row, I like to think I have just a little bit of time to myself, so I kick back, take a sip of room temperature coffee I poured for myself six hours ago, and call the Ohio Department of Taxation regarding the letter I received in the mail about their title transfer program. When I get put on hold for the rest of my thirties, I figure I have time to unload and then immediately load the dishwasher again.
Focus on you!!!
Screen time-shaming is the hippest new way we’ve got to divide parents, cause arguments, and make them feel guilt about their personal parenting methods concerning the children they are raising while we continue to make blanket recommendations. Cool, cool, cool. On one hand, I get it. On the other hand, fuck that.
Before one has children, it is easy to think things like, “I’m never going to be one of those parents that go to McDonald’s three times in one day,” or, “I’m never going to just GIVE my child MY PHONE ,” but high-faluting sentiments like that can quickly go out the window, especially when you find yourself behind a Buick going 25 miles per hour in Amish country during a thunderstorm and your daughter has been crying for so long you can’t remember your own name. During these tender moments, I have promised to give my daughter anything, literally anything she wants. Deaf to my pleas, she has passed on my offers to buy her a car, a horse, and tickets to see the Dixie Chicks in concert this summer. All she wants is my phone, so I give it to her, and that way we can both stop crying.
Screen time-shaming reminds me of one of my favorite Seinfeld scenes. Kramer is sitting on Jerry’s couch, reading the VCR manual. When Jerry questions him on this, Kramer responds with, “Well, we can’t all be reading the classics, Professor Highbrow.” What, exactly, is a toddler supposed to be doing with their time? Crafting that block tower, ever higher? Why, again, is my child’s intellectual capactity directly linked to how high her block tower is?
Furthermore, while I’m here, why do adults act like screen time isn’t all that we want all the time anyway? Screen time is incredible. Yesterday, as a desperate mom trapped inside during a Northeast Ohio snowstorm, I made play-dough. High-fiving myself while whispering the refrain to “We are the Champions,” I imagined all the sweet, Instagrammed, homemade fun I would have with my daughter. After 25 minutes, hands dyed blue, covered in flour, I dropped the dough on the table in front of Mae where she was seated in her chair. She stuck her finger in it and then cried to get down.
In a recent article I tried to read but had to stop because I got too pissed off, I learned that no one really knows what irreparable damage screen time can do, but we should probably be wary anyway. There was also a warning that all of those “educational” apps might not be so educational after all. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love being Western and all that the Western world has to offer: esoteric burger restaurants, liberal arts degrees, tapered sweatpants, but one thing I can’t get behind is our obsession with getting humans who haven’t been alive for a full two years to learn, speak, fetch, etc. As if we aren’t overcome with enough as it is, trying to raise a healthy child in a turbulent world, now we are supposed to think about screen time. Well, sometimes mama needs a cocktail and an esoteric burger, so that means Mae is going to sit in her high chair and I’m going to give her an iPad and I legitamately don’t care what she looks at on it. North Korean propaganda? Fine. Waiter, could I have an extra slice of lime? Hard core pornography? Hey, might as well see it now so I can answer any questions. Oh, wait, that’s just Game of Thrones. Oh, wait, she can’t talk. Even better. A child quietly gazing at an iPad in a restaurant is far desirable to a child, howling, in a restaurant. Just ask anyone in a restaurant.
Meg Thompson lives and writes in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the author of the poetry chapbook Farmer (Kattywompus, 2015). Her work can be read at DIAGRAM, Lumen, Sundog Lit, The Journal, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Follow her on Twitter!