Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Motherhood and More: Screen time piles on guilt*

I feel like a failure as a mother.

I mean, that’s really nothing new at this point. But specifically, now, I feel like a failure as a mother because I allow my son to spend entirely too much time parked in front of a screen.

As many mothers do, when I first found out I was going to have a baby I spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of mother I would be. And I settled on the cloth diaper-using, breast-feeding, no-television-watching hipster mom who would eschew any form of cartoon-character marketing on principle alone.

I know. I want to slap me, too.

And I did OK for awhile. I nursed both my kids for 13 months, and we did use cloth diapers, but supplemented with disposable. I made a lot of my own baby food.

But where I ran into trouble was the television.

I tried. I really did. But when my toddler son sat still for the first time and watched a program, it was like I’d been given 15 minutes of freedom that I hadn’t had before.

We started with public television. Because it’s public television — it has to be educational and hipster-approved, right? “Thomas the Tank Engine” led to “Barney,” which led to “Dora the Explorer,” which led to “Wonder Pets,” which for some reason led to any and all “fighting shows,” as my son calls them.

I honestly don’t know how it happened. One minute we’re learning about dinosaurs on “Dinosaur Train,” and the next I’m running to the television to turn off a Batman cartoon that shows Bruce Wayne losing his parents. All the sudden my son is too big for the nice, educational shows, and the only thing that piques his interest includes light sabers and/or the good guys fighting the villains.

And here’s where I show even more of my failure at parenting and tell you that I don’t preview everything my kid watches. It’s just, I don’t think I can sit through another “Ninjago” episode without smashing my head into a wall, you know?

So my own personal mothering rules have relaxed considerably over the last five years. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty about it. I think about whether I’m permanently scarring him by exposing him to so much non-educational screen time.

But then I think about me.

I watched “Jaws 3” when I was a few years older than my son is now. I mean, sure, I had some nightmares and have a horrific fear of the ocean and all the teaming masses of killer fish that are swimming along, just waiting for my shadow to cross their paths so they can bite off my leg.

But am I affected, really? Has watching that damaged my psyche irrevocably? I mean other than my inability to swim in a pool without convincing myself that a shark is chasing me, of course.

And so I allow my son to watch shows that sometimes give me a twinge of doubt. I do try to force some educational programs on him occasionally, and he still likes “Wonder Pets,” though he won’t actually admit it, but will sit and watch it whenever his sister does.

But the epic battle of good versus evil is what occupies his mind these days.

But there could be worse obsessions than “Star Wars,” right?

*This column originally published in The News-Enterprise on May 22, 2013.  

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