It happens to every new parent, no matter how many times they insist before the child is born that they’ll never use an electronic screen to narcotize their child. “I’ll never use the TV to babysit my child,” you’ll say!
I used to say that. I was self-righteous about it. “The hell I’ll let my kid watch TV before she’s 8! She can occupy herself with a painting project or her toys or she can go outside and run around in the street. It was good enough for me!”
I had no idea how much energy it would take from me for my kids to play by themselves. Sure, there are those moments — those beautiful moments that go up on Facebook walls — where my children will sit quietly and flip through a book while singing songs or chase each other around the house while laughing gleefully. But how long does that last before someone runs into a table or falls? Until someone wants something to eat, or for me to read the book, or for me to play a character in their game, or for me to help them do a puzzle, which is to say: Do a puzzle while they watch?
Parenting means being a manservant to demanding prima donnas with no self-impulse control. “I don’t like this water, Daddy. Can you get me some different water?”
It’s the same fucking water!
“Oops. I spilled it on me. Can you change my shirt, Daddy?”
“It’ll dry. Just wait a minute.”
“No, Daddy. It’s wet. I need a new shirt.”
“Daddy, I need to go potty now. Can you help?”
It’s funny how they don’t need water or to go potty or a snack to do a puzzle RIGHT THIS SECOND while they’re staring into the iPad abyss.
I’m still embarrassed to admit in public that I let my kids watch TV, and even more embarrassed to admit how much they watch (it’s not that much, but it’s not that little, either). But to the parents that continue to insist their children never watch TV: Fuck you. To the parents that are actually being honest about it? Fuck you even more.
It happens. It’s a goddamn slippery slope, is what it is. One day, after a particular hard day at work, or a particularly fussy afternoon with your child, you’ll let her look at your phone. Just for a minute, you’ll say. Maybe you’ll show her a YouTube video of something you remember enjoying when you were a small child. Maybe you’ll let her watch a Sesame Street clip, or an animated nursery rhyme. Or you’ll show her an animal video on Youtube because you’ll convince yourself that it has some educational value.
Just one, you’ll say. Just five minutes, you’ll say.
But in that moment, your child’s face will change. All the pent-up energy that’s been driving you insane for the last two hours will subside, the thousands of questions will cease, and a sense of relief will wash over your child. You’ll see in her face a sense of serenity. Her muscles will relax. She will be transfixed. The world will go quiet.
That’s the moment you know you’ve lost.
If you can muster any strength in that weary body of yours to remove the phone from her hands and put it back in your pocket, do so. Before it’s too late. Before the addiction takes hold. The temporary peace you’re experiencing while your child is glued to the screen is fleeting, and ultimately, you will pay for it. A moment’s peace is never free. It will always come back to bite you in your broken ass.
Try and resist the temptation to show her just one more YouTube video while you rest your eyes, because when you wake up 20 minutes later, your two-year-old will own you. She will have completely mastered your phone. She will know how to find insidious things you’ve only heard about from parenting articles.
A child absorbs more information from the ages of 2-5 than any other time in her life. Their vocabulary expands, they learn how to put together sentences, they sing songs from memory they’ve only heard once six months before. They’re little sponges, and when those sponges come in contact with something as intuitive and user-friendly as a smart phone, it’s game over. By the time they’re three, they’re basically the house IT person, and you are their bitch.
The thing about knowledge, and that ultraviolet light bouncing off those screens, however, is that your child will want more. “Daddy, can I see your phone” will become their new mantra. And you’ll say yes, because you can’t get over how adorable it is that your child is so easily navigating a 21st century piece of technology. You’ll wake up in the middle of the night and find that your phone on the nightstand is missing. You’ll startle awake, look under the bed, around the table, and wake up your spouse looking for it, before you find it in your child’s room, lighting up her face at 2 in the morning. “Hi Daddy! I borrowed your phone!”
You’ll marvel about it with your other parent friends, “Can you believe it? She’s only three, and she already knows how to use the iPhone better than me!”
Every parent will say this. It’s the opposite of a humblebrag. It’s a shame brag.
Also the quiet. Oh God, a quiet that feels like the first sip of beer, or a bed after a long day of manual labor, or a bath after a 12-hour workday.
Soon, they’ll be so adept at YouTube that you’ll have to download the YouTube Kids app to ensure they don’t stumble upon something they don’t need to see at their age, like everything on this list. You’ll soon find out, however, that YouTube Kids is just as insidious, with their pre-roll ads right before their YouTube toy infomercials.
You might show them how to use Netflix, or Amazon Prime, or you might download a few of those books that read to them while they swipe through the pages. They’ll get bored with them. They’ll still want you to read them books. And you will, until one night you’re making dinner and trying to watch a grown-up show on your laptop while you’re peeling apples and your child grabs at your leg and asks for a snack. “Daddy, can I have some Cheerios?”
“No, sweetie. I’m making dinner. I don’t want you to spoil your appetite.”
“But Daddy! I want. a. snack!”
“No, you can’t have anything to eat. I’m making dinner!”
“But I’m hungry NOW. NOW NOW NOW NOW.”
She’ll be saying this while you’re trying to pay attention to an HBO show while you’re peeling apples, praying that your daughter doesn’t hear any of the language being spoken on the show or see what position that woman is in on Game of Thrones.
You’ll finally relent.
“Would you like to watch a show on my phone while Daddy makes dinner?” you’ll ask.
Because the only thing more tantalizing for a two-year-old than a handful of Cheerios is the opportunity to hold a phone and manipulate the world in front of her with her cute little fingers.
You’ll put down the apples, and you’ll pause your show, and you’ll go over and look for an app that might limit the choices for her to something manageable and educational, something the other parents might not judge you for (fuck those parents).
You’ll download the PBS Kids app.
It’ll be the worst day of your parenting life.
Oh sure, there’s Sesame Street and Elmo, and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (“Groooown ups come baaaaack!”) or Dinosaur Train, harmless television shows with a modicum of educational value. They might even watch Wild Kratts or Bob the Builder, too.
But eventually, they will find their way to the the little bald boy on the side of the screen, they will tap his face with their cute little fingers, and a sing-song voice will chirp, “I’m just a kid who’s four, each day I grow some more,” and something deep inside you will break. You won’t understand it then, but that high-pitched nasally voice is actually the sound of Satan himself.
Growing up is not so tough, except when I’ve had enough but there’s lots of fun stuff I’m Caillou, Caillou, Caillou, I’m Caillou. That’s me!
You are so fucked.