I Use the TV as a Babysitter


By Amy and Adena

There. I said it. I said the thing that most mothers do every single day but that we’re too afraid to admit. You can thank me later for taking one for the team, ladies. I stand before the jury and plead guilty on all counts of recklessly jeopardizing the lives of my children by exposing them to harmful radioactive rays.

Not only that, but my crime goes beyond the lesser misdemeanor of doing so in the name of  housework or necessary tasks. No, I confess to the full felony of exposing them to braincell-killing screens masquerading as harmless animation for no other reason than I NEED TO GET A GRIP. And it hasn’t been just under rare and extenuating circumstances either. Wait…rare? No. This has been happening almost daily for years. Extenuating circumstances? I’m gonna go with yes. The extenuating  circumstances of motherhood have been at the crux of what has driven me to commit this crime.

I began with the best of intentions, researching and diligently following the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for appropriate screen time use. I remember when my first child turned two, which is the scientifically-consented safe age of exposure to a screen without guaranteed brain damage. At that point, I hesitantly allowed a maximum of 20 minutes exposure a day of solely educationally-based programs. I’d occasionally slink away filled with guilt to do the dishes, making sure to check in every two minutes to ensure she was properly engaged—giggling, alert, singing the songs and doing the hand motions. I eventually broadened my horizons to the not-so-educational Wiggles and Kids Songs, resisting the constant nagging urge to put in earplugs. I’d even sing along with the songs I wanted so badly to block out, ensuring “Fruit Salad…yummy, yummy!” will forever haunt my dreams—and any picnic where fruit salad is ever served.

But my resolve began to weaken when child number two came along. From the time he started walking at 12 months to the safe exposure age of two, I struggled. I found that allowing child number one her 20 minutes of screen time without child number two inadvertently being exposed was nearly impossible. The second I heard the pitter-patter of his little feet heading in the direction of the extermination chamber, I’d jump the kitchen counter with soap suds flying or skillets simmering—all in a desperate attempt to save him from a screen-addicted life of sedentary waste and intellectual mediocrity. But one fateful day, I was unable to stop him in time. And even though his encounter with the radioactive rays lasted a full 30 seconds before I could get to him, something amazing happened. He remained active, healthy, loud, and as intelligent as I might expect any toddler to be. I felt the betrayal of a child just discovering the truth about the toothfairy. This was the day that my seed of screen time rebellion was planted.

It all went gradually downhill from there, until eventually I arrived at this point where I stand before you today, in full child-endangerment glory. We now almost always exceed my previous strict time limits, with content ranging anywhere from the innocence of Leap Frog Letter Factory to the more blatant corruption of Barbie’s Dreamhouse. Even my underage children sporadically view as they please, slowly whittling away their acceptance letter to Harvard one fizzled braincell at a time.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, I have also digressed to the point where I use this brain candy to manipulate my children’s behavior. Apparently they look forward to their electromagnetic high just as much as I do. Chores and homework that would otherwise take hours of painful coercion are done in a fraction of that time when their “minutes” are on the line. Yes, it is the most effective form of blackmail I have stumbled across as a mother, blowing sticker charts out of the water and beating dessert bribery by just a hair.

As for me, I’m usually off on some scandalous adventure while they’re occupied—like lying down, or huddling in the pantry with chocolate and my cell phone, or exercising with earbuds in, listening to adults speak of adult things. I revel in every moment of their screen-induced coma, because I know the second I mandate the screens be turned off, they will descend upon me like vultures on their prey.

I am here to tell you that the children have survived. Not only have they survived, but they still explore, interact, imagine, read, and frolic. And what’s even better: I am healthy and thriving, always far more capable of savoring the joys of motherhood after being given precious moments of calm each time that glorious, magical screen is turned on.

From Inside-Out Minds

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