In the name of making the world—or, at the very least, our countries—a better place, I feel like we are caught in the middle of a fight between “anti” and “pro” everythings. And the more I look at it, the more I think that this line of thinking is the wrong one for two reasons. The first is that it places us against another group; from division cannot be built unity. The second is that it bypasses completely the real questions we need to be asking and the real issues we need to be addressing.
Nowhere has this been clearer to me, at this stage in my life, than in the Mom community. Everything seems to boil down to a pro and anti decision. But life is a lot more complicated, and the solutions, therefore, cannot be to do versus not to do.
Take the question of screen time. Parents aren’t dumb; we know that screens are not good for our kids, we know that all programmes are not good for our kids, we know that we should delay introducing screens to our kids. So posts, articles, or people underlining how terrible screens are and giving parents tips on what to do instead of using screens, without any consideration for why the parents are using screens in the first place, don’t really serve a purpose other than to make parents feel bad about a decision they already feel bad about.
While I understand and agree that screens are not the most beneficial form of interaction for children, I find that sharing articles of this type is very divisive and, ironically, reinforces the very reasons why screens are used in the first place.
We unfortunately do not live in an ideal world, and families often find little to no support when it comes to family life and parenting. Many of us who have been able to keep our kids away from screens lead a privileged life: we can live on one income, we have support from family and friends, we are healthy (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually), we are not subjected to daily, constant microaggressions that exhaust us, etc. If we have to use screens, we do not all have the resources to know about or find quality content for our children. We do not all have the energy to sit with our children and make watching TV a bonding, educational experience.
If we want all children to have the privilege of constant quality time with their parents and siblings without screens, and if we want all screen time to be quality educational and bonding time, we should perhaps focus our attention on creating the conditions in which this can happen for everyone, rather than make those of us using television to help us survive feel guiltier than we already do. What I hope is for questions such as “How can we do more things with kids without screens” to be replaced by questions such as “How can we, as a community, support parents in their efforts to bring up the next generation”.
One avenue worth exploring is how we can help create conditions in which parents don’t have to rely on screens as much. Perhaps those of us without children or privileged parents can visit parents who need support and have regular playdates with their children (distanced exterior home visits can work during a pandemic with incredible results). Perhaps we can tutor their children for free so that the parent doesn’t have to shoulder homework on top of everything else they have. Perhaps we can offer to pick up groceries or other supplies for them. Perhaps we can cook for them and drop off food they only need to warm up. Perhaps we can create activity swag bags with instructions to drop off. Perhaps we can offer them a listening ear so they can offload some of the pain related to the microaggressions they are subjected to.
Looking at the question in this way also helps us focus on how to create healthy, vibrant communities, rather than engage us in divisive and hurtful conversations of screens vs no screens. If we truly believe that children should never use screens, then we should act to create the conditions in which screens are not needed.