In the dinosaur days – otherwise known as the pre-smartphone era, there was Parenting by Trinket.
When a wee one would get antsy or fussy while shopping at the grocery store, you’d search your purse for something to amuse and entertain your child in order to avoid the dreaded full-on meltdown tantrum in aisle three. Maybe you’d hand them your keychain as a distraction. Or maybe you’d grab a box of animal crackers and have them eat a lion.
These days, the more common scene is to see a parent hand the child a smartphone to quiet him or her down. This happens in restaurants, too, — another hotspot for possible child disruption to what parents always hope will be a pleasant evening out.
As I was being escorted to my table in an eatery the other day, I walked by a child sitting so calm and still that it caught my eye. As the mother of three sons, I was impressed. He looked like such a well-behaved young boy. His young mother sat across from him, also calm. No high-stress scene there. “Isn’t that nice?” I thought.
Then I realized that the son had a small screen — a smartphone or some other gadget — propped up right in front of him, and mom had a tablet propped up right in front of her. No wonder they were quiet; they were both lost in their screens.
You know where this is going – the whole no-screen-time rant. But no, it’s really not about that, because the next day I was chatting with a work friend who recently became a grandfather.
He’s in his sixties, grew up in the New York area, and is a devoted, serious Yankees fan – always has been, always will be – even though he has lived in the Washington, D.C. area for the last 30 years. His daughter works in New York, and several years ago she got married, moved to a New Jersey suburb and had a son named Samuel.
Little Samuel is now 3 and he has not watched any TV, he has never been handed a phone in a grocery store, and certainly has never has had a screen propped in front of him at a restaurant or anywhere else. It’s important to his mom that he not get sucked into our society’s sick addiction to tech gadgets, Candy Crush or SpongeBob Squarepants.
And it’s hard to argue with that. But for his grandfather, the Yankees’ fan, it has been brutal. Grandpa and Grandma are often called to New Jersey to help with babysitting, and for a retired guy who loves to watch sports, it’s digital detox of the worst sort.
Sunday afternoons are prime times to relax in front of the TV and watch a good ball game. And furthermore, little Samuel needs to learn about important people like A-Rod and Derek Jeter and Babe Ruth. He has tried arguing with his daughter, pointing out that it’s tradition, it’s sport, it’s the all American pastime – and it’s good for Samuel.
No dice. She knows her smart, sweet Sam will have plenty of screen time in the years to come.
All of this is pointing to the fact that it’s a struggle. We know that. Parenting by Trinket is no better than Parenting by Screen.
Parenting by being an involved, caring – and completely present in the moment — mom or dad is what we’re all striving for. And you have to make the screen-time decision that works for you.
After all, even Mr. Rogers didn’t advocate no screen time. (If he did, he would have been out of a job.) The point is you can raise a smart, inquisitive child who grew up watching Yankees games with his grandfather. And you can raise a smart, inquisitive child who didn’t.
When I next talked to my friend about the Sam situation, he had good news to report: He and his grandson – and the rest of the family – had found a solution. They all went to a minor league game. It wasn’t the Yankees, but the New Jersey Jackals at Yogi Berra Stadium proved to be a fine substitute, and Sam now knows what real baseball is all about.