Welcome, Baby Boy
As I await the birth of my first grandchild, a boy, due on the scene any day now, I can’t help but wonder. I wonder who he will look like. Will he be docile, gregarious, athletic, artistic? What gifts will he bring to our family and the world? Will he be deeply compassionate like his mother or insanely organized like his father?
Imagining a new person arriving in our family brings wonder, excitement, and joy. But, like many new grandparents, I also worry. My daughter, Kate, and her husband are completely on board with a screen free childhood for her baby, with no coercion needed from me. Kate and her friends are part of a generation who grew up with screens, but they were eased into it. As our oldest, she got her first cell phone at age 17, along with her driver’s license.
That’s positively ancient by today’s standards. (Her twin brothers got theirs at 13.) She could have driven earlier, but she was too busy acting in school plays, drawing, painting, reading, volunteering, and socializing. She wants all of this and more for her own child. She tells me that her friends who already have young children are saying no to screens. They are concerned with developmental delays, like low vocabulary, speech delays, and large-muscle coordination problems. But she’s more worried about the other end of childhood – social media consumption, influencers, materialism, and Big Tech defining her child’s dreams, manipulating his life’s path, derailing him from becoming a responsible, contributing citizen.
When I think about welcoming Baby Boy (name to be revealed upon arrival), I can’t help but scan my daily work agenda for the things I’d like to shield him from altogether. While Kate intends to be diligent, she’s human, and the manipulation is pervasive. “Why do I have to deal with this, Mom?” she’ll say. “It’s not a fair fight!” She’s absolutely right. Parents and caregivers can do absolutely everything to delay, monitor, and balance, but the societal pressure and digital socialization will seep through the cracks of friends, family, and school. And when it does, it will come complete with the addictive design features we are fighting to remove. There are apps that will try to exploit his trust in characters like Clifford and Curious George for profit. There are faster and faster frames per second that will keep his eyes staring mindlessly but causing him to easily lose focus and be bored with bugs, caterpillars, and butterflies.
Kate's friends, many whom she met in her 6 years at Boston University, are well-informed. But other informed young parents see the digital landscape as something inevitable, even progressive. Our advisor, Dr. Patricia Cantor, has an 18-month-old grandson, Jack. Jack’s mom, Becky, finds her peers are asking, “What shows does he watch?” When they say “none” they feel perceived as extremely protective or outdated. Imagine what less aware parents are facing.
Don’t get me wrong, I want Baby Boy to experience the wonder of The Wizard of Oz, E.T., and maybe even Thomas the Tank Engine. I’d like him to “visit” with me over Zoom when I’m away at a conference or just too tired to drive the hour between my home and his. I’d like him to learn things online, the way I learn the soprano part in a choral piece or how to properly cook lentils. Child development comes first. If Kate and Becky focus on what children need, full multisensory experiences, eye contact, serve-and-return responsiveness with loving adults, a range of social interactions with people of all ages, and plenty of time for free and outdoor play, they will be way ahead of the game.
The term “screen time” is still relevant and popular all these years after its coinage because time with all of these developmentally-appropriate activities can inherently reduce time on screens. Making family digital wellness as important as physical wellness will raise Baby Boy in a culture of awareness and balance.
Can’t wait for you to arrive, Baby Boy. We’ve got your back!