I’d like to preface this by saying if your children watch TV, use iPads, computers, or cell phones, there is absolutely zero judgment on my end. I understand, because I was one of you.
Before motherhood I was never one to say, “When I have children, I won’t allow them to watch TV or use technology.” In fact, I was quite the opposite. I thought, “What’s a half hour of television going to do? Educational apps? Sure, why not?”
I am an elementary school computer teacher so every day I teach young children the importance of technology and how to use it. It really is a necessity in 2019. My kindergarten students use programs such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and Google Docs! They are incredibly tech savvy and I encourage educational websites and using the computer in a meaningful and appropriate way.
My mindset about early technology use changed when I had my daughter. When she was three months old I became pregnant again. Caring for an infant while being pregnant is extremely hard. So when she was around ten months, I started putting Sesame Street on for a half hour a day so that I could take a shower, actually eat something, or clean the house. I never veered from Sesame Street. My daughter loved every second, and I thought I had found the hidden secret to parenting.
She quickly began singing the songs, clapping along, and recognizing the characters. A half hour a day soon turned into a hour a day. “If I put one more episode on, I can do a quick load of laundry, empty the dishwasher, and pack my lunch for work,” I thought.
As the television time increased I suddenly began seeing a terrible change in my daughter. She started waking up and immediately asking for Elmo. She would search the couch for the remote and scream “ELMO!” To make matters worse, she decided that she no longer liked certain parts of the episode so she would scream and cry for specific songs and I found myself rewinding and fast forwarding, making my lovely break time not a break at all.
As the weeks went by my daughter’s behaviors declined. She started throwing tantrums and acting out. I chalked it up to toddlerhood until I made the connection that 90% of her frustration stemmed from her Elmo obsession.
That’s when I decided to make a major change.
How did we do it?
During this time we happened to be moving directly across the street. I decided that once we officially made the move, we would explain to my one year old daughter that Elmo lives at the old house and did not come with us. I had no clue if she would understand that but I had nothing to lose.
The first few days in the house she was very distracted, but soon enough she began to ask for Elmo. I would simply respond, “Elmo doesn’t live here. He lives at the old house.” I was surprised to find that she handled the news extremely well. She got upset the first few times I told her but it faded quickly.
Four months into living in the new house, my daughter has never asked for Elmo on TV again. She doesn’t search for the remote anymore or stare at the TV waiting for me to turn it on.
The biggest benefit? Her behavior has done a complete 180. She no longer throws crazy tantrums, she is not attached to the TV, and she doesn’t beg me to watch it.
The bonus benefit is that since cutting out television her vocabulary is completely exploded. Her verbal expression is advanced and she is now saying three word sentences, answering with yes and no, and communicating very effectively at 21 months old.
So what about my half hour break now that I have ANOTHER infant? I still get it! Now that the television is not an issue, my daughter has learned to independently play. After hours of Mommy and me play time I will tell her it is time for Mommy to change the baby, make dinner, or clean up. She then engages in authentic play, and keeps herself entertained for much longer than a half hour! She babbles at books, makes food in her pretend kitchen, draws pictures, plays baby dolls, and builds with blocks, all by herself.
Her imagination has run wild and I truly believe the TV was prohibiting her from learning, coping, and engaging in real life scenarios.
What about phones, iPads, or other screens? They’re just not for us! We do not allow her to use our phone for any purpose other than to call her family members. If she wants us to play music, we will play the song but she is not allowed to hold the phone or look at the screen. If screen time works for you and your family, I say keep on keepin’ on! It’s just not something our daughter could handle and therefore we needed to make adjustments.
My daughter still loves Elmo, the character. She has many Sesame Street books, dolls, and toys. We talk about him and sing the songs together. However, she knows that we do not watch him on television anymore. Also, I can have the television on if I am watching something, and she continues to play without giving it a second glance.
My takeaway from this experience is that when we do not limit screen time, some children are not getting adequate time to engage in social interaction, problem solve, and learn simple coping mechanisms.
Behavior is rapidly declining in schools. Based on my experience, I am starting to believe technology is the culprit. Children need time every single day to interact, explore, and learn appropriate behaviors. Being glued to a screen will not expose them to any real life situations. Being stuck in a virtual reality may be entertaining and fun but our brain cannot process the overstimulation.
Will I always ban technology use? No! Of course not. When my daughters are five I will teach them the same useful tools I teach my Kindergarteners now. There is a time and a place for technology and for my daughters, now is not the time.
We love you, Elmo. But not on the screen!