If you want to jump right into the belly of the parenting beast in 2015, just mention the words screen time: a term that only emerged in the last few years to encompass all of the electronics in our lives and how much we use them.
It's a hot topic because we don't want our kids to be the Generals in the Drone Army, but we also find ourselves needing the respite that a screen can provide. Enter today's parents most challenging decision: to screen or not to screen.
Times when screens seems acceptable:
If you have to wait in a doctor's office with a toddler...
If you have a work project with a deadline...
If you're in a restaurant and can see the hungry meltdown brewing...
If your spouse has been out of town all week and there's eight feet of snow...
If you want to make dinner without having to field 3,451 questions...
That's when we love the screen. It give us mess-free patches of time where we can turn off the struggle.
Other times it's more complicated. There's not a pressing situation at hand, but we're still fielding the requests.
Can I have your phone? Can we play Wii? Can I watch TV? Can I check something on the iPad?
It's less black and white and a whole lot murkier. You want to say yes when it would be easier, but you feel like you should say no because, well, it's a screen.
Why do screens make us feel so bad? Why is there so much shame and guilt about screen time as a tool in our parenting arsenal?
Because screen time comes with an unspoken judgment. If you need screen time to parent your kids, then you're not that great a parent.
Talk to any parent, and they'll be quick to defend their screen time strategy.
Only X minutes a day.
Only on weekends.
Only on vacation.
Only when Mommy's head is about to explode.
Screens aren't new. We had plenty of access to MTV and Nintendo growing up. I can't remember my parents ever telling me to turn off the TV or put down the Gameboy. But screens have changed, and we are the first generation of parents to have to deal with tablets and smart phones and social media and these weird platform games and Minecraft and texting.
We have so little information about the long term effects and that's terrifying. Will our kids end up with carpal tunnel in their teens? Will they be smarter? Or dumber? More creative? Or less?
Will they know how to have relationships? To communicate? Or will they rely solely on emojis to express themselves?
What will be the impact of the look-at-me selfie culture? What about cyber bullying? What about online predators?
Yes, it's a brave new world. And it's scary. We sure as hell don't want our kids to be the guinea pigs. If we can just keep it contained enough, maybe we can exert some control over the situation.
And when we're not monitoring, we feel like failing, lazy parents opting for the easy choice instead of standing firm.
And we feel guilty; the screen shame kicks in.
I personally am a lover of screens, especially the traditional varieties of TV and movies. As a family we don't have many limits on screen time except meal time and bed time. My approach has always been: Let's be reasonable about this.
They access screens on their own, and we watch and play things together as a family too. (I have a closet thing for the Mario brothers.)
But sometimes I let the screen time shame take over. I threaten to take away screens. I inconsistently place limits. I operate from a place of fear instead of reason.
I have to remind myself that as a family, we are engaged with the world. Our lives are not dominated by screens.
My kids go to school, do homework, read, play outside, make forts, hang out with friends, play card and board games, participate in sports, do chores.
Like a lot of kids, they default to screens when they feel bored and uninspired. But who can be engaged and creative and focused every hour of every day? I certainly can't.
I'm letting go of the screen time shame.
Because my kids live well-rounded lives. Because sometimes I need the easiest option.
And because I think reasonable screen time works better for our family than emergency only use or placing limits. Because when something is such a special treat, don't you just want it more?
After school today, my kids will come home, grab a snack, play video games, and watch TV. Possibly at the same time. And as far as I am concerned, there is no shame in that.
This post originally appeared on KalySullivan.com
#tenyearsaparent is a weekly blog series about what I've learned in my first ten years as a parent. Whether you’re a parent nodding in agreement or shaking your head with disgust or a non-parent using these posts as birth control (the surgeon general wants me to tell you that reading blog posts about parenting is not an effective form of birth control), I’ll be spilling the beans on what parenting is really all about.
When she doesn't have her nose in a book, Kaly is a writer and co-founder of Harlow Park Media. She also practices yoga, wrangles and referees two elementary-age boys, and blogs about her often humorous efforts to lead a mindful, connected life.
More from parenting