After I had Trix in fall 2010, I spent a lot of hours planted in the glider, on account of having an infant who refused to be put down for more than a few seconds. (At left, the typical result whenever I put the baby down for even a diaper change.) Since I was a tad wary about the effects of cortisol on Trix's plastic little mind, I figured, what the hell, I'll just hold the baby until we figure out how this works.
(Oh, that cortisol/brain-damage business. As KJ Dell'Anotonia writes, it's "the headlines and the easy takeaways that stick with sleep-deprived, anxious parents.")
ANYWAY. Baby stuck to my side 24/7 + nursing on demand every 90-120 minutes = the most profound sleep deprivation I've ever experienced, with an unsurprising drop in my ability to concentrate on anything. I'd try to read something on my Kindle and words would literally float around. But I needed something to entertain the bored jibbering monkey in my forebrain.
In 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics was sticking to its recommendation that children under the age of 2 watch no television, and that was one of the few parenting ideals I was determined to put to into practice. Since I had grown up on half hour chunks of television doled out on a daily basis, I reasoned that my kid would be well off with an equally disciplined media diet.
So I crafted a compromise between my ideals and my boredom: I'd watch TV only when the baby was asleep with her head burrowed into my chest, and I'd watch on mute with closed captioning.
(On a side note: the most harrowing weeks of Trixie's infancy coincided with the season three run of Sons of Anarchy, and that whole season is like a hilarious fever dream in my memories.)
Eventually, as with many other parenting ideals, the no-TV-before-2 rule got bent. Around six months, I began showing Trix Signing Time videos of my iPhone; around 13 months, she was introduced to the iPad; by 19 months, we'd let her watch one 22-minute DVD of Signing Time per day. Soon after, we relaxed the "No TV on while the kiddo is up" rule & Trix got in the habit of watching Premiere League footy with her daddy on Saturday mornings.
Now, at two-and-a-half, she gets a daily choice: Would she like to snuggle with us on the couch and watch Sesame Street or Yo Gabba Gabba? Or does she want to sit on a lap and get 30 minutes on the iPad instead? We make screen time a social ritual, and we always encourage Trix to talk about what she's seeing and what she thinks of it. The goal is to help get her in the habit of incorporating media into a larger back-and-forth exchange about her world.
I don't think screen time, media literacy or app fluency are evils. A piece in the Atlantic revealed how many app developers don't even give their older kids screen time, and that triggered the reflexive query, If you're not feeding your kids your dogfood, why are you shoveling it to mine? It's hard to buy into any kiddie developer who can't provide a thoughtful context for their product, or who bows to the societal notion of a neglectful parent as one who shoves a screen at the kiddo, then walks away.
But I do worry about the proper role of screen time for my daughter, not only from the O! The impact on her fragile eggshell mind! perspective but also the perspective that she will need to master a level of technological fluency that was not even available as a sci-fi ideal during my childhood.
I tell myself that Trix has the advantage of youth on her side, and she'll pick this stuff up as she has to. Meanwhile, I'm struggling with my own tech changes: In the same week that Google Reader announced its imminent demise, I made the mistake of upgrading my old-school Tweetdeck app. I'm now bereft of two tools I relied on to do my job, tools I had optimized, and the adjustment to new tools and new ways of working has not been smooth.
Maybe if I had any screen time as a kid, I wouldn't be so crabby about it now.