opinion

Lisa Wilkinson said parents are crazy for giving their kids iPads before the age of five. She's sort of right.

On Channel Nine’s TODAY, host Lisa Wilkinson had this to say in a segment about badly behaved toddlers and the terrible twos:

“If, as a parent, you allow your children time in front of a screen – you give them iPads, you give them phones – before the age of five, I’m going to be generous, you are crazy.

“Come back to me when they’re 14 and completely and utterly addicted to their screens. They have no social skills. That’s when you’ll realise what you did early has come back to bite you.”

I come to praise Lisa, not to bury her. This should be no surprise.

She’s one of my best friends in the world and I will always and forever have her back. It gives me no pleasure that she’s being attacked for what she said this morning about screen time for little kids, but I think I understand why some people are losing their minds about it.

Lisa and Mia. Image supplied.

It's because we're all really scared that she might be right. I'm not saying she is right, but the thought that she might be is scary.

And in my experience, when women feel scared they become angry. We come out swinging to defend our parenting choices as if the lives of our children depended on it. Because sometimes, it feels like they do.

Some things to consider:

Lisa's youngest child was born in the same week as my eldest. They're both 19. When they were little, mobile screens weren't an option for Lisa and me as parents. Cable TV was barely around and ABC Kids didn't exist. All we had were Wiggles videos. And boy did I give those a red hot go.

When my second child was born eight years later, our family went on an extended overseas holiday. Our kids were 10 and 18 months at the time and we bought a portable DVD to take with us. It was the single best investment I have ever made. We used it on planes. We used it on long car trips. On trains. WE EVEN USED IT IN RESTAURANTS.

Mia and her kids. Image supplied.

Because 18-month-old children are appalling a lot of the time. It's not their fault. It's their job to be appalling. That's how they test boundaries. But being with a boundary tester 24/7 is exhausting and I'm prepared to say I was a better parent when I got some breaks. Was it tempting to have it on all the time? Hell yes. But we didn't because the battery life of our portable DVD was limited. JK.

Was it tempting to have it on all the time? Hell yes. But we didn't because the battery life of our portable DVD was limited. JK.

Not kidding really.

When we returned home, we continued to use the portable DVD player sometimes when we went out to dinner. We did it as a courtesy to our fellow diners and a gift to ourselves. One night, we went out to dinner with another family who had slightly older children. Coco was the youngest so we brought the DVD player out of habit and the other parents were openly horrified when we put it on the table.

We did it as a courtesy to our fellow diners and as a gift to ourselves. One night, we went out to dinner with another family who had slightly older children. Coco was the youngest so we brought the DVD player out of habit and the other parents were openly horrified when we put it on the table.

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"We would never allow our children to watch screens like that," they said, not even trying to hide their judgeyness.

We brought the DVD player out of habit and the other parents were openly horrified when we put it on the table. Image via iStock.

My husband and I shrugged. Within minutes, their kids were crowded around my daughter's chair and pretty soon, they'd taken her DVD player over to their end of the table and sat glued to it for the duration of the meal while we tried to console our daughter who wasn't that thrilled. Their parents did nothing. It was all rather hilarious.

By the time my third child came along, iPads and iPhones were around and we made good use of them. Now, we have a few iPads and old iPhones lying around the house and it bothers me that my youngest kids who are now eight and 10, just use them freely. I should be stricter. I should police their screen time more closely. I should.

But jeez. There are so many shoulds in parenting. I also should probably cut their sandwiches into the shapes of characters from Frozen. And make them drink more water. And stop them watching The Bachelor. As a parent, I've learned, you've got to pick your battles.

Screen time is a battle for every parent, it's true. And Lisa is right that we shouldn't allow screens to become the default every time a child is bored or whiney or acting up in a way that's inconvenient to us.

It's a legitimate concern fear terror that our kids are becoming so reliant on the dopamine hit of stimulation on a screen (look how addicted their parents are!) that real life can't compete, that real interactions aren't enough and that any unoccupied, unstimulated moment is intolerable.

Nobody wants that. So let's maybe keep an eye on the screen time, while also giving ourselves a break.

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