In this age and time, when we talk about screen time, it is not limited to just watching television. We are surrounded by screens everywhere and, in fact, I was addicted to the computer screen once upon a time. In our home, each of us has a laptop, ipad and iphone. If that is not bad enough, some lifts are equipped with screens showing advertisements on loop! I mean, seriously, how long can a journey in the lift be?
Before we had Umar, when we were out on dates, we would have a no-screen rule which simply meant no iphone or ipad could be used unless it was to answer calls. It was pretty tough actually when you were trying to keep up with your “social” network. But, it is an excellent rule which we practice till today because it keeps both of you engage meaningfully.
When I was pregnant with Umar, I read a book that even now, I look at when I need any reference regarding Umar’s growth and development. The book strongly discourages screen time until a child is 2 years old as his interaction with the world is key and screen time only allows a one-dimensional view that lacks sensory input and feedback. Plus, a child is not able to put two different scenes together, thus, his senses might be overwhelmed. Mu husband and I thought about it, read a few more articles online and books and decided to extend it till 3 years old. More importantly, we did not want to delegate our babysitting duties to Barney or the folks from Hi-5.
But, Umar was not entirely kept away from screens until he turned 2. There are screens everywhere and in everyone’s home and occasionally, he plays with our iPhone and iPads. While we exercise the no-screen rule at my parents’ and our home, it is pretty impossible to do the same when we are at someone else’s homes. So he does watch some television when we are out and about. (Don’t get me started on the BIG advertisement billboards they have in Orchard Road.) We broke the rule once while we were on a long vacation. We were rather lucky that on the shorter vacations, we could keep him occupied and did not have to resort to iPad.
Through experience, I have found out that I need to control Umar’s screen time as much as possible. He is easily attracted to the iPhone or iPad. He will smile with glee the moment he sees an iPhone or iPad lying around. He has probably seen us using the gadgets and knows that it is something that he can play with. Amazingly, he knows how to unlock the iPhone, scroll to the photo folder and flip one photo or movie to another, remaining glued on it for at least 15 minutes before he gets bored. He will have a meltdown if we try to take the gadget from him. So we tried as we might and constantly remind each other to keep the gadgets out of sight. Out of sight, out of mind.
Especially when both of us are working, the last thing I want is for him to be glued to the screen during the little time we have with him. Yes, I do get tired, especially, on days I leave home for work at 6am and only reach home at 7pm. Then again, all the more I should spent the few precious hours I have with him meaningfully; talking to him, cuddling and kissing him.
When he just turned 2, my husband and I talked about the no-screen rule and decided to introduce him to the big black box in our home. Since I am doing theme-based activities, I thought having themed screen time will benefit him even more. We were toying with the idea of subscribing to Starhub (that will be another $$$ out of our pocket) after hearing good reviews about Nat Geo is. At the moment, we are already paying for MioTV for the husband to get his soccer fix and that, too, is probably utilised once a month or less. Otherwise, the television, MioTV set-top box and DVD player are pretty much another furniture in our home. So we scrapped the pay-TV option as we did not want to be paying for something which we will probably not use. And, what time are the good shows? Will it be bedtime for Umar by then? I certainly do not want him to watch it the moment he wakes up or just before he goes to bed.
On my recent visit to the library while I was scouting for books for his new theme – Polar Animals, I came across shelves filled with media resources. I know the library stocks these DVDs all along but it did not occur then that to me that it will solve my subscription issues. I can control the content by watching it first. The best thing of all is that it is FREE! To add icing to the already delicious cake, their catalog is up online which simply means I just need to do my research online, reserve the item (if the library is not within reach!) and collect them (with a small fee of $1.55).
Our first rent for Umar is Penguins – Spy in the Huddle. There are a total of 3 episodes showing the life cycle of 3 distinct penguins – Rockhopper, Emperor and Humboldt. Humboldt is the only type of penguin we are not covering in this theme but I let him watch anyway.
It has been two weeks and I am only at my first episode. The first episode showed how the penguins persevered against all odds – the rough ocean waves, the sea of sealions and extreme cold weather – just to get to their breeding grounds. It showed Rockhopper penguins will keep on trying to climb back to the rocky mountains despite being dragged back into the ocean by the strong wave currents. Each penguins are design uniquely to fit the environment that they are living in. For the Emperor Penguins, besides their thick coat of fur to keep them insulated for harsh cold weather, they used their beak like an axe when they slipped into the cracks of the ice. While you think loyalty does not exist in the penguin’s dictionary, you will be surprised to realise that the rockhopper penguins will try their very best to go to the exact breeding SPOT they mated in the previous season. Not only that, they will also mate with the SAME partner. I mean, all the penguins look pretty much the same to me (HAHAHA!!) but hey, they are able to identify their partners in the crowd which is A-MAY-ZINGGGGGGGG!!!
There are ALOT of things to talk about with Umar while watching with him and it is not limited to Polar Animals alone. Some of the topics we talked about were Allah’s creations, life-long values like loyalty and life-cycles.
Having said all that, during our first screen time, midway, he said in a sad tone, “Mimi. Mimi. Off TV. Off TV.” He was asking me to switch off the television because the Humboldt penguins had to maneuver their way through a sea of sea lions. A few of the sea lions were actually snapping with their sharp teeth and big jaws at the poor penguins. The sea lions meant no harm. They do not eat penguins but are playful in that sense (that could actually hurt the penguins!!!). I guess the image were too distressing for him. I did switched off the television soon after. The next day, we played it again to see if he has an adverse effect on the show but Alhamdulillah he did not. We role-played as penguins after that pretended to hatch some eggs.
Only now that I realized Umar’s Peggy the Penguin is an Emperor Penguin’s species.
If you ask me if I will still be strict on screen-time, my answer is yes. At the same time, I am definitely looking forward to our screen-time together. Frozen Planet here we come next! 😉