by Elise Velazquez
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Originally Published: August 2017
I never have enough time to fit in all of the pieces of each day, yet I inevitably find myself sitting on a little stool in my kitchen binging on my Instagram or Facebook feed every evening. What started as a way to cope with the loneliness and isolation of the months of breastfeeding on the couch and taking three hours to get ready to leave the house for a playdate, only to get spit up on in the elevator, has turned into something more closely resembling an addiction.
I have carefully ensured that my three-year-old son has only minimal, age-appropriate amounts of screen time his whole life, but I have not extended the same caution and discipline to myself. Like me, many parents find it hard to control their screen time, often to the point of causing damage to themselves and their relationships with their families.
A recent tally of the time I spent on my device during a normal evening at home revealed how serious my problem has become. A quick scan of likes and comments while the water boiled for my tea, a quick email response between bites of dinner, a one-thumbed response to a text message while walking to the park, added up to roughly two hours of time spent on a screen between 5:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. Not only did this mean that I was multi-tasking and providing divided attention to my son and husband, it also meant that I had less time for self-care or fun things. By 11 p.m., I was still folding laundry, and I didn’t end up having time for the pre-bedtime yoga practice that I used to do quite regularly.
Much has been said about the dangers of unchecked screen time for children. Much has also been said about the impact that a parent’s focus on their device can have on children, but my experience has led me to also explore the effect my reliance on my device has on me.
Parents of young children already have many demands on our time from lengthy breastfeeding sessions, to load after load of laundry, tying little shoelaces, betimes routines, endless meal prep, and those recurring sticky stains on our floors and walls. In my case, my undisciplined use of my devices means that I am using my time inefficiently, to my detriment.
Despite the negative impact that my unbridled use of devices has had on me and my family, social media has been a valuable part of my experience as a parent. Whenever I was in need of information, support, and even cheerleading, my virtual community was there for me. When I experienced problems with breastfeeding at 2 a.m. in the first month of my son’s life, I turned to kellymom.com and realized that a simple adjustment to the position that I was holding my son in would alleviate our problem. As my son grew older and I experimented with different baby carriers, local and international babywearing groups became my source for information and camaraderie. This week, after a failed attempt at weaning my three-year-old, I found advice and solidarity in a local parenting group hosted on Facebook.
As I reflect on the balancing act that screen time and social media use are for me as a parent, I am impressed by the simplicity of the solution: parent yourself. I consult multiple trusted sources and create appropriate screen time restrictions for my son at each stage of his development. Then, I enforce them firmly and clearly at all times. When my son whined for a show while we were getting ready for preschool and work the other morning, I was able to say, “no my love, you can never watch TV in the morning.” He let out a last little whine but had to assent. He knows that he can only watch a limited amount of TV in the evenings because I have been clear and consistent in setting that limit.
Along with setting clear and consistent limits, I realize that I will have to make space for more self-care in my life. My screen time has become a substitute for real face-to-face conversations with other adults, reading grown-up books, and doing things that allow me to feel like an autonomous and independent adult. If I add up all of the time I spend on my cellphone every evening, I could fit in a lot of glasses of wine with friends, date nights with my husband, and yoga classes. Heck, I might even be able to get back to the gym if I cut my screen time down by as little as a quarter.
Creating good screen habits can be simple, with a little bit of self-discipline. I am not ready or able to completely cut my screen time, but even the exercise of tracking the amount of time I was spending on my device during the precious hours I have with my family each evening helped reduce my urge to binge. I have also set a few new ground rules for myself: I won’t spend more than five minutes at a time on my device in the evenings; I won’t interrupt a game, conversation, or meal to check or respond to my device; I won’t multi-task when using my device, recognizing that it is actually more efficient to just get digital and real life tasks done separately; and I will set healthy limits ahead of time and adhere to them.
I have written these guidelines down and taped them to my fridge, close to that little kitchen stool. Wish me luck, and maybe I’ll see you around at a yoga class or the gym.
Elise Velazquez is a communications professional, mother, feminist, and over-thinker of all things. She lives in Gordon Head.
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