When I was pregnant with my son, my first and only child, I swore up and down I wouldn’t let him have tablets or electronic devices until he was at least ten-years-old. I wanted him to have an old-fashioned childhood; playing outside, collecting insects, drawing, riding his bike. You know, all those nice things I was forced to experience as a child in the 90s. I judged parents that let their children have the tablet at the dinner table, but I changed my tune, rapidly I should add, after my son was born.
Being stuck in LA traffic with an infant wailing in the backseat called for desperate measures. Soon, it seemed any time we were in the car or at a restaurant, I’d find clips of Winnie the Pooh to play for him on my phone. It kept him occupied and calm. As a single mother, it became my crutch, and by the time he was two, he had his own tablet. I felt tremendous guilt over it. “I’m rotting his poor little brain with all this screen time!” I thought. As much as I wanted to be the mom that could devote all of my time to entertaining him, I simply couldn’t. I needed to work and get things done around the house and I didn’t have help.
My son is now four, about to turn five. I enrolled him in pre-k over the summer. It’s the first school or daycare experience he’s ever had. To my surprise, his teacher stopped me at pickup one afternoon to gush over my son. “I can’t believe he can read already!” She exclaimed in disbelief.
“Neither can I,” I thought. Could my child really be reading already and I had no idea? I read to him and I helped with the alphabet, but I’ve been less than great about sitting down with him with a book and encouraging him to sound the words out by himself.
We got home after school and checked the mail to find a new Highlights Magazine waiting for him. I sat with him on the couch and flipped through it. We found a short story, one I know he’s never seen before, and I asked him to read it to me. He read every word flawlessly. I was so proud of him, I got a little misty-eyed, but then I felt that familiar twinge of guilt. I knew I wasn’t the one that taught him to read. It was the tablet. I don’t feel great about not being as hands on with him. I don’t feel great about all the screen time he’s gotten, but I do feel great that my child entered his first year of formal education already knowing how to read; something most kids won’t learn until they’re about six.
I still believe too much screen time isn’t good for any of us, myself included, but I can’t deny that this technology has actually been a gift. When I think back to my own childhood with a single mother, I can’t even fathom how challenging it must have been at times. The tablet has given me a break when I’ve been at the end of my rope, and bonus! It’s actually taught my kid something valuable.