Abusing the Babysitter

I am working out right now, and my kid is in front of the TV.

The AAP just updated their TV recommendations for 2017. The generalized “two hours of screen time for kids over 2-years-old,” has been modified quite a bit. Now they recommend just one hour for kids between 2 and 6-years-old, and after that it depends based on what the screen time is for. School-based screen time evidently doesn’t need to be restricted, or at least doesn’t “count” toward their goal amount.

And of course, the TV is not to be used as a babysitter.

Except that is the main way I use my TV.

Sure, I watch movies with my kids. Well, I watch movies with my daughter. The movie version of a book incentives her to listen to longer and more complex novels every day, and I love discussing how the book and movie are different after we’ve read and watched both.

When my son is older, and we can watch a movie together as a family, I will cherish that time together and I won’t cringe thinking that our 90 minute flick went over the one hour a day recommendation.

But right now, my kids get at least 45 minutes of TV a day (they each get to pick one 22 minute show when we get home)–sometimes more–and I absolutely use that time to make dinner, check my daughter’s backpack, start a load of laundry, and just generally get shit done.

My husband has been using screen time to get ready in the morning. Our son is in a very challenging period developmentally, and there are only so many battles of the wills one adult can have before 8am. (I totally support him on this, by the way, our son is impossible right now).

Sometimes I have to drag my kids to a meeting and I absolutely sit them in front of devices so I can participate in a meaningful way. Most days my kid are getting around the one hour of screen time that is recommended, and that time is almost always in a “babysitter” capacity.

It just makes me feel bad. As if there aren’t enough things that make me feel shitty as a parent, now I’m feeling bad every time I use the TV to get some shit done. Ugh.

I get it. I really do. I understand why they have these recommendations. I understand it’s their job to educate people on what is best for kids. I also know I’m probably doing better than a lot of people when it comes to screen time. But I’m surely doing worse than many too. I mention that not to tear myself down or build myself up in comparison to others, just to be honest with where I probably stand in the using-the-TV-as-a-babysitter continuum (which is probably somewhere in the middle, and so probably not something to actually be alarmed about).

I’m sure if I asked my kids’ pediatrician about it he would smile understandingly and tell me not to worry. So why do I? Why do I feel bad about something that I can’t see changing any time soon?

Maybe if I feel bad about it now, when there really doesn’t seem to be much other choice–my kids just cannot entertain themselves in the afternoon/evenings, especially not when they are together (they will fight and need constant refereeing)–I will be more inclined to make better choices in the future, when those choices are hard but still manageable. Or maybe I’m just a glutton for (self-imposed, totally unproductive, guilt-induced) punishment.

All I know, is I wish the AAP hadn’t amended their recommendations. I felt safe when I was under the two hours, and when I didn’t have to feel so bad about using the TV as a babysitter.


  1. Because I use screens in exactly the same way you described above, I’m going with “Or maybe I’m just a glutton for (self-imposed, totally unproductive, guilt-induced) punishment.” Yup.

    Give yourself some Grace, hun. I mean it!

  2. My kids probably use more, 2 hrs or so per day. About 30 min in the morning while I pack everything and they eat breakfast, and then more in the evening if there is time.
    We do turn off all electronics at 8:30, at which point the youngest one starts bedtime and the middle one has 30 min or so for writing/drawing/reading. Middle boy has daily restrictions on iPad time that varies between weekdays (1 hour) and weekends (2-3 hours, in chunks).
    They both go to afterschool so aren’t home till 6 pm, sometimes later. Kids need time to relax, too. Don’t worry too much, you are doing great.

  3. I use screen time the same way. How I justify it is that 1) most of their day is spent at school engaging in activities that do use electronic devices and 2) it allows me to get meals made and the family ready for the day/get dinner on the table. Also, the TV goes off. It isn’t always on. And finally we are very mindful of the content they are consuming during that time (one benefit of not having cable and streaming).

    I agree with Jos, be kind to yourself. You are being mindful and the data on TV use is still inconclusive. Besides, so many were raised on TV. I know I was very much outside the recommendations when I was a child.

    1. I know a lot of people keep the TV on a lot longer than we do, or have adult programming on when kids are around (we NEVER do this). Our kids don’t even really see commercials. So I guess that is good. And the definitely learn things from the shows we let them watch. But still, it feels like too much.

  4. Hahaha. If you can’t use screen time as a babysitter, why use it at all? I use it exclusively as a babysitter – while making dinner, cleaning up, or this weekend, calling voters in swing states. If I’m going to spend time with him, I’d rather to an art project or read books than watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. That’s just an absurd recommendation. Everyone I know who allows screen time, uses it as a babysitter.

    1. My husband refuses to leave them alone in front of it. He uses it as a break, and a way to kill time (mostly on the weekends) but he is always with them watching it. Oh course he has less to do around the house, so it’s easier for him to stay with them while they watch it. I almost never stay with them while they watch it, and if I do, I’m also grading papers or folding laundry or something else “productive.”

    1. Ha! Well, it goes over an hour a lot more than I mentioned. I think the “exceptions” (in my mind) are more like the rule really. Ugh. It’s so hard to keep it under control.

  5. We do more screen time than recommended but it’s the only way to get any time to ourselves because my daughter is incapable of playing by herself. I’m going with “whatever” – she’ll be fine.

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