Lynn Easton.

Early On: Shutting down screen time and guilt

Forest children laughing in the spring air.

Spring break brought more than just the Forsythia back to life in our neighbourhood.

The forest children have returned just like they have for generations in this place. For two weeks, they roamed the streets like one wild-being just emerging from the winter slumber. Ready to rumble.

They careened through our front yards, over our hedges, and occasionally up our trees.

They made a racket flying down our roads on all kinds of contraptions. There are dozens of fresh divots in the edge of my grass from a legion of small boots making the leap across our ditch.

And I loved every second of it.

Each winter, I get a little nervous that the screams and chatter might end. That this might be the year when technology takes our children for good. Turn them into those screen-Zombies I keep hearing about.

But like the spring we never thought we’d see, the forest children arrived again, against all odds and without a device to be seen.

It’s the toddlers and preschoolers I worry most about. I’ve heard the important warnings from the Canadian Pediatric Society that our youngest should not have any ‘screen time’ until they are at least two years old.

Doctors are concerned about their young brains need time to develop before we introduce them to the potential negative effects of this technology.

Other research reminds us that it’s likely all our brains are being rewired with the use of smart phones and tablets. We need to show restraint when using these devices ourselves and when we hand them to our children.

We need to take heed of the professionals.

We don’t know what this intense relationship is doing to their physical or mental health. And sometimes, it feels like a losing battle when I see toddlers sitting with iPhones propped up in front of them or hear stories of their prowess at navigating through a tablet before they can talk.

But not today.

Today – even after spring break is over and they have all had plenty of rainy days to stare at their screens – I can hear the new batch of the smallest of our forest children laughing in the spring air.

I know every one of the screaming preschoolers outside my window spends plenty time in front of screens because they tell me about their favourite YouTube videos and games. Occasionally, they even ask me to play. Sometimes, I actually do.

So do their parents. Most of those parents work full-time, are often exceedingly busy, and all of them are exhausted.

The guilt these parents hold these days is much deeper than in past generations. So much guilt – often fueled by constant social media comparisons and discussions about what their babies eat, wear, and how they play.

When the topic over screen time comes up, I remember the incredible feeling of relief and thankfulness every time I turned on my grainy 24-inch TV for my own preschoolers. We didn’t have cable and it was always fuzzy, so I never watched much.

The American Pediatric Association began warning against too much TV for young children long ago.

The recent Canadian Pediatric Association ‘no screen’ warning includes avoiding the ‘tube’ for our youngest children. But in those desperate moments, I’m glad I never had anyone whispering in my ear what a bad parent I was.

Yes, we need to be prudent. We need to be vigilant. Zero screen time is an excellent goal for each and every child, parent, and grandparent. It’s pretty simple. We’ve never seen a technology that could so obviously change our brains.

But let’s make it just that – a goal. Let’s not beat up this crop of stressed out parents even more when they turn to the ubiquitous smartphones to help them through the dark rainy days.

We are all human. And that means, we may not come out of this parenting gig smelling like a rose every time. But just like the Forsythia and the forest children, our smallest budding techies are resilient and with a just a little prudent care will likely survive until the sun comes out.

Lynn Easton writes for the Ridge

Meadows Early Childhood

Development

Committee.

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