Working from Home, Parenting, and Screen Time...A Psychology Expert's Own Struggle

As a professor of media and psychology with a 3-year-old, I struggle every day with screen time issues. I know the benefits of television and what she can gain from the music, the language, and the novel stimuli... However, I know there is a side that comes with a warning. In my years of study, I believe the best thing for a work-from-home parent is providing an environment that promotes learning and exploration. Some exploration comes from television. It provides a way to see things that are not readily available. It employs the notion of vicarious experiences.

I want to give you some insight into my life - my little one LOVES music. At such a young age she dances in circles and spins with smiles when we play anything related to a melody. I, however, cannot sing to save my life (ask my husband and the DJ at a karaoke bar that once told me “Wow that was the cutest and most awful thing I have ever heard!”). So, what did I do when she just passed two years to keep her musically entertained? Well, we play the radio, she had musical toys... and I let her watch some Sesame Street song clips on my iPad. Yes, a professor is admitting something serious here - I let my child watch television before the age of two [insert your wide eyes here], contrary to the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations.

I want her environment to be enriched, and one of the ways is to present fun and creative songs to her - through the medium of television. When she was much younger, I would limit this to only 2-3 shortly three-minute clips twice a day. Another thought may come to mind – won’t that shorten her attention span? Well, even in play, she moves from one thing to the next well before we did this and I believe this is her energy drive.

I had made a lot of enemies in my family asking them to keep the TV off when we visited during this time, pleading my husband not to put the Sunday game on, and beg my in-laws when they watch her not to put Barney on because they think it is cute. I will tell you often they did, and that is all she wanted to do all day. She got upset when it was on; she was frustrated because she wanted to watch something but couldn’t tell them which program and then cried… Even when I said, over and over “This is my field! I know what I am doing!” To me, the real learning at this age comes from genuine social interaction, which I have provided to since her first day of life. I think in most cases, I am “preaching” what I am “teaching” but I am also a mom in the real world, with a real daughter who wants to sing and dance…and have fun.

And to be even more practical for parents who strive to work from home and raise their children - it gives me 15 minutes to 30 minutes or so to sit down. You often don't hear about that in most research circles – we only read the facts, the statistics, and the outcomes. Nonetheless, my daughter gave me another lens through which to view my years of researching children and media. Today, I do let her watch a few episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, so I can grade papers, prepare lessons and review curriculums for CoHatchery!

As she gets older, I let her watch full-length episodes. It is my area of expertise... and I will be there with her to sing, respond and, of course, laugh as I make red marks on midterm exams, but mostly when I am free - to pay careful attention... And this, my fellow work-from-home parents, is a more enriching experience. 

What I do isn't easy, and I don't think work and life will ever be in perfect balance, but I found a way to make it better for me and my family. I am hoping to open a dialogue with other families.

 Adapted from Jamie's original blog post on Psychology Today

About the Author:
Jamie is CoHatchery's Chief Learning Officer. Jamie holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology: Cognitive Studies from Teachers College, Columbia University.  She also holds three Masters degrees in developmental and cognitive psychologies as well as a Bachelor of Science in Art Therapy.  Jamie leads the “Children & Media: Analysis & Evaluation” area of focus at Teachers College, Columbia University, which focuses on research and theories relevant to learning and the development of educational materials for children. She is also a Media & Curriculum Consultant for Maker Studios (overseen by Walt Disney Studios). Her research interest includes cognitive media processing, creative preschool curriculum preparation and culinary cognition.

References:  Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1986.; Bandura, A. (1994). Social cognitive theory of mass communication. In J. Bryant & D. Zillman (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research (pp. 61-90). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.; Bandura, A. (2002). Social Cognitive Theory of Mass Communication. In Bryant, J. & Zillman, D. Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

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