Let’s screen in for screen time

In response to Sarah DeWitt’s Ted Talk

It feels like ages ago, but when I was pregnant with James, my second child, I had a bad case of fatigue. I felt like it plagued me all throughout the pregnancy. Day in and day out, I was tired. Perhaps it was because I was working nights at a local grocery store, often flopping down onto my bed at half past midnight that contributed to the tiredness. Or perhaps it was because I had an energetic two-year-old toddler in tow, who constantly needed me and who constantly chatted, that I fell prey to the lovely technology piece called an iPad.

If the nights go well, then I’d be in bed by 12:30 am and passed out by 12:45 am. Then, approximately six hours later, between 6:00-6:30 am, Lily would wake me up. Her father is usually long gone by then. In the early afternoons while my husband was working, my fatigue settled in and told me that it wasn’t going anywhere. According to my time clock, I still had another three hours before my husband got off work, and another 9+ hours before I could go to bed. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time counting down the hours and minutes until I could go to bed. Unfortunately, my toddler was out of the napping phase at the time, so I couldn’t put her down for a nap and then take one of my own. Thus, my solution was the iPad. I gave it to her often in the early afternoon, so I could have an hour or so of quiet time. When she started playing, I’d immediately lay down on my bed, often staring at the ceiling, eyes wide open, and wondering to myself why I wasn’t asleep already.

My inability to take naps is another story. The point is, the whole time I laid there staring at the ceiling, sometimes crying (because, you know, pregnancy hormones), I felt incredibly guilty at having to use a technology device as a crutch for relief. I felt guilty at not having more energy to spend on her. I felt guilty because I wanted to do things, like clean the house, or even get out of the house, but my body couldn’t face it. The baby was draining all the energy out of me.


Even now, as I’m writing this, I’m allowing her to play on the iPad so I could write. I can hear her mumbling through the door of her room, the sound of her voice inquisitive. I know what she’s playing—a bubble pop game designed after the movie Inside Out.

This small level of parental guilt never quite diminished…until recently, while browsing the TED app on my phone, I came upon Sarah DeWitt’s Ted Talk called “3 fears about screen time for kids—and why they’re not true” and felt prompted to watch it immediately. In her 12-minute engaging talk, Sarah outlined the fears and perceptions about screen time for children, then weaved in her research and work at PBS to demystify the fears that a lot of parents face. Finally, she related the research on children with a very important idea—that what we should do as parents is engage with our kids about what they’re watching and playing.

Such insight on parental engagement in relation to children’s media has been validated through a study done at Vanderbilt University. In this study, researchers found that in order for children to learn best with media, such as television, parents need to engage in a dialogue with their kids. It makes perfect sense, because as Sarah had put it, engaging in conversation with your kids about what they’re watching opens up opportunities for discussion, thereby developing the child’s communication and critical thinking skills.


Fears about how screen time might be a waste of time and how it takes away children’s educational opportunities are valid. Fears about the content of videos being inappropriate to a child are also valid, given the recent criticism of Google’s Youtube Kids web site. Somehow Google allowed a few videos “slip through the cracks” and as a result, a myriad of videos with adult content circulated the web site, causing a lot of uprising amongst adults and parents around.

Look, I get it. Sometimes we can’t stop videos from appearing on our feeds. I recall awhile back, Lily was obsessed with Youtube Kids. It was an app on her iPad, and she was always watching. I saw a few videos that I thought were strange on the app, but never gave much further thought, until the issue with adult content on Youtube Kids came to the surface. From that point on, my husband and I decided to delete the app from the iPad.

When Lily was approximately eight months to 20 months, she was completely obsessed with Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, a TV show based on Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. Mr. Rogers, as we know, have gone away to a better place, but his legacy lives on in the lives of Daniel Tiger and his friends. Sarah mentioned in her talk that what Mr. Rogers did was revolutionary—he started talking to the children as if they were there, when in reality, they were behind a screen watching him in front of a TV. He paved the way for other shows to follow, besides Daniel Tiger and the lessons about life that a child can learn by watching TV.

I wish I had shows like Daniel Tiger to teach me about life when I was a kid. Growing up, we had a small black & white television (this was, after all, a third world country in the early ‘90s) and we reveled in the television and what it offered. Then, when my family came to America, we stayed with my uncle and his family, who owned a large Panasonic television that was about as heavy as construction equipment hooked up to a video game system for their kids to enjoy in the basement on hot summer days. It was there that I realized televisions can be in color! (oh the excitement!) and how much of an entertainment experience that was.

IMG_5872The point is—whether we like it or not, we live in a world filled with technology today. It’s part of our every day lives. The truth is, many of us check our phones as soon as we wake up in the morning (myself included) and can’t stay away from checking emails on our commute to work daily. I often see many people, from all ages and ethnicities on the train with their headphones on, either watching a video or listening to music or checking social media. Technology is embedded in our every day lives, and it would be ironic if you are a person who is a frequent user of technology who revokes the same privilege to your kids. After all, what are you teaching them by doing so? That perhaps it’s something forbidden, or something that carries a certain level of excitement simply because it’s forbidden?

These days, Lily likes to play the drawing game on her iPad. She also likes to play the bubble pop games. When I’m sitting there with her, she often turns to me and gives a sports anchor’s minute-by-minute play on what she’s doing on the game. I’d often nod, smile, and listen to her words, amazed by her inquisitiveness and curiosity.

I really believe that when used appropriately, technology can be our friend. It can teach us a lot of things. Learning apps are aplenty nowadays, and as a parent, I try to choose games or apps that have an education component so that Lily gets the best of both worlds—to have fun and to learn something.


Issues with raising kids in a technology-driven world

Let’s face it – not all babies are cute. Except for mine.

Just kidding.

No really, I may be biased, but like thousands and thousands of parents out there, I do feel like MY children are the prettiest, most photogenic children out there…so much that they can be baby models if I want them to be. I call my son “The Mixed Gerber Baby” because he’s half white, half Asian, although he looks more white to me. (Both of my kids took after their dad’s side, physically speaking).

But let’s be real here – I am not going to be one of those pricks who always claims that their child is the cutest or the best of anything, because I’ve learned in the four years that I’ve been a parent that EVERY.SINGLE.PARENT feels the same way about their child. But does that mean that every parent is biased?

“Here, Mom. My love for you.” *by yours truly*

Once upon a time, before you had children and an active Facebook account, you were spammed with baby pictures of your friend’s babies – from the time they were born (those “first moment” photos from the hospital usually gets the most likes, despite their dark, bleary, sterile environment) to their first birthday parties to outings at the park, playdates with other children, etc… you see them all! And you like ’em, right? Or so it seems. But since you don’t have any children of your own, you start wishing that you had children so you can spam YOUR friends with cute baby pictures. Over time, you start developing a sense of jealousy, a certain level of resentment, because it seems like their kids and your friends (the parents) are having fun – everyone’s smiling for the camera, even on those blurry photos. And suddenly, you’re in a zealous pursuit of a child yourself.

Little do you know that all those smiles are the “good” days, masked by the cries, screams and freak-outs on most days. The good days and good moments may be small, but they are worth their weight in gold, because what the parents want you to see is the happy moments of parenting. It makes you want to be a parent yourself.

Then, when it FINALLY happens, you start spamming your friends with your baby pictures, exclaiming how cute they are, and how wonderful they are. That usually happens within the first few hours of them being born. When you finally get home from the hospital, you discover that the first few nights are a killer. The first few weeks are a killer, filled with a multitude of wake-up calls every few hours, cries more piercing than anything that you could’ve imagined, including a mountain of dirty diapers and more stained clothing than you’ve ever experienced in your whole life.

The sleep deprivation sets in and that is when you go online and start Googling “How to…” questions.. such as, “How to feed my baby in a football position,” “How to burp a baby” and “How to tell whether or not my baby is eating enough,” or “How to sleep after you have a baby.” But of course, you don’t share these with your Facebook/Instagram friends right?

That’s what I mean, my friends. In a technology-driven world that we live in today, we are inundated with images of what parenting should be, not what it actually is. I remember seeing a million pictures of a kid whose parent I went to high school with every single day. From the time that he woke up to the time that he went to sleep, it seemed as if his parent took pictures of him at every moment in time. And she shared them a lot. It was okay at first, but after awhile I started getting annoyed… mainly because this kid was just kind of ugly. I thought to myself, “If I wanted to look at an ugly creature, I would just go to the zoo and look at some orangutans.” He was no Gerber baby, that’s for sure.

When I finally had Lily, I also started spamming people with pictures of her. I wouldn’t be surprised if those “friends” of mine secretly hated me and blocked out images of my daughter every time she appeared on their feed. I don’t blame them. I was so incredibly obsessed with my firstborn, and how beautiful she is that I started posting a bazillion pictures of her.

Of course, I still think she’s beautiful these days, but at the age of four, I’ve learned a thing or two about parenting on social media. I learned that there is a time and a place for such sharing. I’ve learned that there’s a limit on how much you should share, and that you should not give a shit about what other people think of your children, but you should be mindful of what your children might think of you. Sometimes, when I’m taking pictures of Lily, she would say after awhile, “Okay, that’s enough.”

And I’d stop.

It is a universally acknowledged truth that once you have a kid, you live your life through your kid. Because why else would you feel resentment and possibly hatred for those who spammed you with images of their children but at the same time you do the exact same thing when you have kids of your own? Also, because once you have a kid, your social life is pretty much nonexistent..or over, for that matter.

But back to my own kids – within the past year or two, I’ve become more aware of how I share pictures of my kids through social media. I decided to put myself in their shoes and asked, “What would they think if they were to see these pictures in the future? How would they feel about me posting all of these photos? Would they be comfortable with it or would they be seriously annoyed with me?” These are important questions to ask yourself, I realized. Not every child wants to be advertised on their parents social media accounts every single day.

These days, I still post images of my kids on my Instagram account, but I’ve slowed down a little. When I was pregnant with James, I definitely slowed down a lot. There were perhaps two pictures related to him – one announcing that I was pregnant, and one right after he was born. I felt that this was plenty. While you yourself may be inclined to post images of every single month of pregnancy (to track your baby bump), I don’t personally believe in doing so, because all my kids need to know is that I did indeed carry them to full term in my belly, hence that is the reason why they are alive in the first place.

Do I think that it’s wrong to share pictures of your kids and your life? No, absolutely not. In fact, I follow a lot of mamas on Instagram, and find them quite lovely. But at the same time, I also feel a pang of jealousy because damn, the fact that they can actually do this on a regular basis means that they either have A) a lot of time on their hands, AKA they’re a stay-at-home mom, thus their husband makes enough money to live on, or B) they’re doing it to make money while being at home with their kids, hence a commercial inspiration, such as product sponsorship.

As for myself, I have the luxury of my husband being able to stay at home with the kids on the days that I work (we have opposite days off) and he’s not a big sharer, because he’s not obsessed with photography like me, and that is perfectly okay. Secondly, I don’t believe in using your kids to make money on Instagram or any other social media platform for that matter. I won’t judge you if you do, but I also believe that if the kids want to make money with their looks then it is their choice, not mine. If my kids ever choose to be a model, then I would be okay with it, as long as they’re not modeling naked.

In the meantime, I do think that it’s our job as parents to be mindful of how our children will perceive us in the future. I want my kids to know that I took the effort to preserve their childhood through pictures, and I’m a big fan of photo books (especially the ones from Artifact Uprising – NOT an ad here! They didn’t pay me to say that!), and I want them to see what our lives were like when they were little, but I also want to keep it mainly in our family. I don’t want them to think that I overshared (“Mom I wish you hadn’t shared that!”) Because the world wide web is what it is – a giant web of information and sharing, who knows where your stuff will end up? Many images are shared across multiple platforms and a lot of times you’d lose credit for it, and it can get altered by whoever gets their hands on the image.

Think about that the next time you share a picture of your baby.