Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Screen Time: Considering the Good

Benefits of Screen Times

Screen time. Such a sensitive, hot button topic. We all let our kids have way more screen time than we feel they should, and we all feel super guilty about it. Or we don't let our kids have any screen time and get completely worn down by the fight of it.

I've been thinking about the topic recently because my husband and I have been discussing just how much screen time our kids should get, and we disagree. If you guessed that I'm on the side of "the less screen time the better, and we should really try to not let them have any at all" then you'd be...


Surprised? Me too actually. But here's where the disagreement stems from. My husband has fully absorbed the cultural truism that less screen time is better, and he recently installed a lock on my phone so that the boys can't access it without my permission. Now that our oldest can read and write, he's fully capable of typing in searches and finding things on the web on his own, and this scares my husband to death. He doesn't want him to have access to any device (Netflix, internet, etc.) where awful stuff can just be stumbled across through fairly innocent searches. We're to the point where we really need to sit down and figure out filters and other safety locks, but right now the easiest solution seems to be just outlawing screens in general.

And I totally get these concerns. I'm not brushing them off at all. Thinking about all the dangers lurking on the internet, on phones and computers, that my children could stumble into is the stuff of nightmares and keeps me up nights worrying about their futures. Even a simple image search ("Mom, what does earth look like from outer space?" "Let's find a picture!") can bring up things not meant for a five-year-old's eyes. And beyond just content, screens can be dangerous in other ways. Most screens are used to provide kids (adults too) with mindless entertainment, which is probably fine in small doses, but becomes a real problem when it triggers addictive pleasure-seeking. Addiction in any form is unhealthy, but kids seem particularly susceptible to screen addiction. This is a real and serious problem for some kids. And the types of entertainment they become addicted to, from TV shows to any kind of game, can have negative effects on mood and attitude.

Believe me, I understand when most parents (my husband included) want to throw their hands in the air and just outlaw all screen use.

But where I disagree, or at least what I'm trying to argue with my husband, is that not all screen time is equal. Not all screen time is bad, and not all kids respond to screens the same way. Because here's the thing. Our oldest is a fairly bright, surprisingly responsible little rule upholder of a person. He knows he is only allowed two hours of screen time a day, and he self-regulates, choosing when and how he wants to spend that time. He has a few favorite TV shows he watches while I shower or during quiet time in the afternoon, but for the rest of his screen time he likes to type stories on my computer and watch YouTube videos on my phone about the solar system or geography. He's currently obsessed with memorizing all 194 countries in the world, and so he watches these songs over and over (he's pretty nearly got it down).

And so every time my kid asks me if he can watch the geography video one more time, or type one more story on the computer, and I have to remind him that his screen time is up, I just can't help thinking, "Wait, don't I WANT him to learn these things? Isn't it AMAZING that he's trying to memorize all the countries in the world? Don't I LOVE that he's writing stories? Why am I telling him he can't do this? Oh yes, because all screen time is evil and bad and must be restricted."

This is where I feel a no screen time stance falters. Because I can't help feeling like all those mothers from two hundred plus years ago who thought that books were evil and idle and would ruin their children. Today we laugh those old fashioned mothers to scorn. What mother in her right mind would pull a book out of child's hand today? Two hundred years from now, will people look back on us and laugh for the way we restrict our children from screens? After all, it's pretty clear that screens are the future of our species. Books aren't going anywhere (of course they aren't) but screens provide remarkable learning and creating opportunities, and sometimes it just feels ridiculous to restrict my child from learning and creating simply because it takes place on a screen.

I still definitely believe in restrictions. I still believe that kids need plenty of active play outdoors, plenty of time using their imaginations, playing with other toys and reading books. And I know there will be plenty of time later in life for them to pick up all the computer and screen skills they will need. But I also believe that screens can be tools for good, for learning, and for creating, and I don't want to be the one squashing my child's curiosity or drive to create.

What I want to encourage, above all else, is a healthy, positive relationship with screens. Screens will be a part of their lives, and I would like it to be a healthy, self-regulated part of their lives. I would like them to be able to use screens for good things, then turn those screens off and do other things. Maybe this healthy relationship comes through parent modeling (don't we all need to evaluate our relationship with screens?). Maybe it comes through rules and restrictions. But maybe it comes through a little bit more freedom (always with parent monitoring, though).

Like so many other things with parenting, it depends on the child. I think my oldest child has the natural personality already to interact in a healthy way with screens. Sure, he spends some of his screen time on silly entertainment, but he's also extremely motivated to learn and create, and capable of some self-regulation (as in, he follows our rules and limits without me needing to fight him for it). It might be different with my other children. They aren't quite old enough yet, but perhaps they will show a stronger tendency to mindless entertainment and screen addiction, and I'll feel the need to restrict entirely. I think that rules and restrictions should be set based on the child's personality.

All of this anxiety and debate is just about how my preschoolers interact with the screens in their lives (namely, the TV, my phone, and my computer). We're not to the stage yet of dealing with them owning their own phones or computers (which opens a whole new can of worms), though I have a feeling that question is going to face us so much earlier than I want it to. So much about raising children in our new modern technological world is downright scary. But other parts of it are wonderful and amazing and so, so good.

Those are the parts I want for my children.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

On Re-Reading Anne of Green Gables as an Adult

Anne of Green Gables

I first met, and fell in love, with Anne of Green Gables when I was twelve. My sister received the whole series of eight books a few years earlier as a birthday present or something, so after devouring the first book I was able to race through the rest of the series in one go.

They made a huge impact on me. I loved, loved, loved those books. I related to Anne like no other. I used the term "kindred spirit" in an essay I wrote about friendship for my English class. I tried to sunburn my face to get freckles like Anne (not joking). I even considered dying my hair red. But, I'm not a huge re-reader, so while I watched the classic TV series a few times over the years, I never re-read the books.

Until now.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Easter/Spring Book Page Crafts (Am I Still Talking About Decorations?!?!?)

Easter, Spring, Book Page Crafts, Easter Decorations, Book Page Flowers, Book Page Eggs

Okay guys, I know I have no business talking about holiday decorations and crafts. Martha Stewart I am not. But considering I couldn't shut up about my fall decorations last year (a post here, and here, and here, and I would've subjected you to even more posts about my Christmas decorations beyond this tutorial if the end of that pregnancy hadn't been so terrible), let's just say I'm a little obsessed with the topic right now.

It's just, I've come to realize in recent years how much intentional design and decor matter to me, and how much decorating for holidays seems to add to the festiveness and fun of celebrating. In a word, it makes me happy. It was kind of a light-bulb moment for me when I realized my style and criteria for holiday decorations, and then I also realized that I have a bit of an inner crafter in me (shocking!) who actually likes creating and making these holiday decorations, and so this is something I'm getting a lot of satisfaction from right now.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Magic of Babies

Babies, Infertility, The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey, Books

In the past few weeks, I've read two books by Eowyn Ivey: The Snow Child and To the Bright Edge of the World. There are three themes which both of these books share, and about which Ivey writes with eloquence and genius: the majesty of cold and wintry Alaska, the heartbreak of pregnancy loss, and the mysterious magic of the inexplicable.

Maybe you remember last year when I wrote a post on Magical Realism and how I just did not get this genre. Everyone in the comments recommended checking out The Snow Child (and then I kept seeing it recommended by practically nearly everyone who's bookish taste I trust), and so I put it on hold at the library (and yes, it took nearly a year for me to actually get that book off the holds list, it's that popular... or my library just has that one copy and someone lost it for a while). And you guys were totally right. You were all exactly, wonderfully right. The book is amazing. The writing is exquisite. The characters and the story are beautiful. But also, don't hate me if I think I might like To the Bright Edge of the World  just a tiny bit better. Not that it's a contest. It's not. Basically, they are both incredible books that I highly, highly recommend. And while reading both of them I just kept thinking THIS IS WHAT I WANT MAGICAL REALISM TO BE! THIS IS WHAT IT SHOULD BE! THIS IS AMAZING!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Books I Read in March

Well, not only is my baby getting much more efficient at nursing, in the past month she's started sleeping longer and dropped a couple of feedings, so I lost a lot of dedicated reading time. But I still managed to get six books in this month, which is ahead of my book-a-week goal, so still very much a win. Let's jump in!

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

This was very good, if a bit heavy and sad. The main character is eleven, but I'm not sure if this makes it more middle grade or young adult. The main themes center on bullying, and it's disturbing stuff, but I do think it's would be worth handing to kids and talking with them about. It's definitely not my favorite book ever, but a very strong recommend. Read more of my thoughts about it here.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Book Blab Episode 12: The Joy of Reading Aloud

Yay! Time for a new episode of The Book Blab! This month, we talk all about reading aloud, mostly to our kids. Amy's the expert on this topic, so most of the episode is me asking questions and gleaning from her wisdom. But even if you don't have kids, we still talk about how reading aloud is a great relationship builder with anyone in your life. Thanks for watching! (Oh, and don't forget to tell us all about your favorite books to read aloud in the comments.)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Well Behaved Women Seldom Make... Great Protagonists

Heroines, interesting girls, YA lit, Children's lit, strong female protagonists

I finished a middle grade/YA book at the beginning of this month, Wolf Hollow, that's been getting some buzz lately (I think it got a Newberry Honor award). The number one thing I'd read about this book before starting it was some variation of: It's being touted as a new To Kill a Mockingbird, but it's no To Kill A Mockingbird! And after reading it, I understood both sides of those sentiments. I can see the comparisons to TKAM. It's about children getting wrapped up in some very serious adult politics, and the choices one girl makes to fight for justice. It has some heavy stuff to it that is handled in a very compelling way. Things don't necessarily end happy. But the material and themes of that book is a post for another day.

What I've mostly been thinking about since finishing that book is the second half of the popular sentiment I kept reading about: this book is no TKAM. I agree. Despite the heavy material and seemingly similar set-up, Wolf Hollow simply does not live up to To Kill A Mockingbird. I've been trying to pinpoint just exactly why that is, and for me it boils down to this: Annabelle is not Scout.