Confessions of a far-from-perfect mom

There’s been a lot of discussion in library-land lately about whether or not libraries should be promoting screen time for kids by using iPads and other screen technology in storytimes and programs. Cen’s already made a strong case that we can use screen technology in a positive and educational way, and I agree with her wholeheartedly.

I’ve known Cen for a few years now. We attended the Eureka! Leadership Institute together in 2008, but we really bonded after the Institute, because we had our babies within a few months of each other. Now, I love being a mom, but it is HARD. Cen and I come from different family backgrounds and we have different parenting styles, but we commiserated over shared trials and tribulations of parenting, and a friendship was born. And although this isn’t my main point, I want to vouch for Cen: she is a woman who walks the walk. She has done an admirable job with her son of using screen time in a very limited way and not as a babysitter, and her son is reaping the benefits (seriously – his language skills are phenomenal). She wants libraries to be at the forefront of developing best practices in the use of technology with children because she recognizes that not every parent has the knowledge or skills to make the best use of screen technology, and there’s a lot of damage being done unintentionally. I’m in awe, honestly.  You see, I’m coming at this from a somewhat…different place.

I was flipping through a fashion magazine recently and saw a little feature where actress/singer Jennifer Hudson talked about some of her favorite things. She mentioned the iPad as an essential tool for busy parents, and I felt a rather large twinge of librarian mommy guilt, because OMG can I relate! I think it’s important for libraries to promote healthy use of screen technology because, even though I am a librarian and I know all the research about screen time and brain development and attention, I still struggle not to fall back on it as a crutch with my older son.

And I’m one of the lucky ones – although I work full time, I have a supportive husband at home and an awesome mom who lives within a couple of miles of me, so it’s not like I’m a single parent trying to manage on my own. But juggling parenthood with other responsibilities still overwhelms me sometimes, and as much as I would like to say that my son never uses the iPad without me or my husband sitting right next to him and engaging in the activities with him, that’s just not the case.

And yes, I admit it, my sons saw lit screens before they were two. 🙂

I have two boys – ages 4 and 14 months. We’ve been successful in keeping my younger son away from screens for the most part, but he does occasionally get a little bit of incidental TV exposure. He hasn’t shown much interest yet, which makes things easier. My older son has a varied media diet – we read a lot of books, listen to music, watch TV and use the iPad or iPhone with a variety of apps. We are selective in what he consumes and try to be vigilant about how much, but that’s where things get dicey fast.

I remember talking to my sister on the phone a couple of months after I had my second son. I was in tears because I was so overwhelmed, and my older son was acting out and the only way I could manage him while I was busy with the baby was, you guessed it, screen time. I felt so guilty, and yet I didn’t have the mental or emotional resources at the time to find other ways of coping.

My sister talked me off the ledge and assured me that the difficult season would pass, and it did. But there have been others, and every time things get hard I have the inclination to fall back on screen time to help me manage.

I know, I know, first world problems. Parents managed to get by for centuries without screen technology. Of course it can be done. But when the option is right there, well…it’s still by far the easiest way to make sure that our 4-year-old is safely occupied when we need to be doing something that requires our full attention, and that’s a powerful draw. Because he’s too big for one of these. (And no, I would never, although I can’t say the thought hasn’t crossed my mind).

I always check out app recommendations for kids when I see them on Pinterest or other sites, and it’s dismaying to see how often parents are recommending apps as a way to buy some quiet time away from their very young kids, and focusing on apps that suck kids in without regard for any quality or educational benefits. The stories people tell and the comments from readers are eye-opening (here’s just one example), and I would suggest them as recommended reading for those who think libraries have no role in educating parents about healthy use of various screen media.

For all my failings, it’s important to me to select quality resources for my son, and to develop tools that help me as a mom counteract my own worst impulses. I’m working to find healthy ways to keep my older son engaged and occupied when I need to without resorting to using the iPad or TV as a babysitter, and I’ve found that interacting with him when he uses the iPad and paying attention to what he’s drawn to has helped me tie in non-screen activities that are just as engaging and help minimize his technology exposure.

As a librarian, it’s important to me to share what I find with others. Tomorrow I’ll talk about some of the techniques and activities that I’ve found helpful as I muddle my way through, and I hope you’ll use the comments to let us all know about others that you’ve come up with in your library or family experience so we can learn and grow together.

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Posted on January 24, 2013, in Libraries and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I feel like the conversation about curating apps keeps getting sidetracked into arguments for three reasons: 1. Some people seem to be worried that curating apps is the equivalent of telling parents they have carte blanche to park their kids in front of a tablet all day. 2. The topic of apps in storytime keeps coming up, and everyone feels intensely protective of their own storytime programs because they’re so unique to each of us. 3. The pro-app people have maybe gone a little too heavy on the “wave of the future” talk, which makes the anti-app people feel that it’s a movement to wipe out wonderful things like physical books, physical toys, and one-on-one interaction, even though no one is trying to do that.

    I hope no one has made you or Cen feel that you need to justify your own parenting choices to the professional community, though. It’s not our place to judge you. Heck, I and many other youth services librarians are childless, and that doesn’t make us less qualified. If people don’t want to participate in the app world, then leave them to not participate. This technology is new and some of us are having trouble coming to grips with it. I myself am having trouble coming to grips with it, but rather than being for or against apps and their use, I want to be for educating parents on their APPROPRIATE use. I think anyone who clicks through your link to that blogger’s post about apps will realize parents need better education in this area. The woman called her tablet a “baby whisperer,” for Pete’s sake, and the comments on the post are no better. I personally know a woman who bought her child a tablet for her 2nd birthday. Yes, her 2nd birthday, and all that child does on that tablet is watch movies and play Angry Birds. Kids need people to speak to their parents about responsible use of technology in an educated, non-judgmental way.

    Educated and non-judgmental… Aren’t those prerequisites for librarians?

  2. You’re right, these issues touch on emotional hot buttons, which makes it difficult to have a reasonable, rational professional conversation.

    I honestly don’t know of a single “pro-app” person who thinks we need to change all of our storytime programs to incorporate digital media. We are basically just saying that we believe there is a role for libraries in helping parents navigate this technological landscape, and we need to start exploring so we can develop some maps. But I think it might be hard for people to hear that message if they feel that things they hold dear are being questioned or threatened.

    And no, no one has made me feel that I have to justify my parenting decisions. I wanted to be open about my choices and struggles because I think it’s important to realize that this is just one more area (think fast food) where the good choices are often not the easy choices. And that we’re not lofty librarians issuing edicts about screen time from a distant remove, we’re parents and educators in the trenches, slogging through as best we can, making mistakes sometimes, and hopefully learning from those mistakes and then doing a little better.

  3. Genesis I think you’re right that for some people this seems like a hot button issue and I understand that. We all love books and storytimes and we don’t want the digital age to make those obsolete (it won’t!). However, for me using apps isn’t controversial at all. I’m one of those “pro-app” people you mentioned and I don’t use apps in every one of my storytimes. Nor do I think they should replace traditional books. I see apps as just another tool we can use to promote literacy and a love of reading. I think a lot of the controversy comes from the “anti-app” people not really understanding HOW we are using them. Miss Jacki is correct that we need to educate parents about the appropriate use of apps but it seems like we also need to continue this discussion within our field. Thank you for your insight as a parent and a librarian.

  4. I think the professional conversation is critical, but it can be hard and I’m not sure how to fix some of the communication gaps I’m seeing. I’ve had a few conversations where I felt like I was saying “You know, it would be really nice if we could put a window into this wall over here and let in a little more light” and the person I was talking to responded as though I said “Let’s knock down this house and rebuild it from scratch.” I haven’t yet figured out a way through that.

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