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I don't mind giving my kids screen time. But teaching them how to find what they want is time-consuming and frustrating.

Evan Porter   

I don't mind giving my kids screen time. But teaching them how to find what they want is time-consuming and frustrating.
  • I used to judge "iPad parents." Now, I understand that technology can be a valuable parenting tool.
  • However, giving my kids unfettered access also has its issues.

I'll admit it. I used to judge the "iPad parents."

When I first became a dad of one very well-behaved girl, I'd scoff at the parents who were using cartoons to keep their kids happy at restaurants. Didn't they know how simple it was to pull out a coloring book for your child and enjoy your meal in peace? Didn't they know you could actually engage your children instead of ignoring them? Why were they rotting their little ones' brains with their lazy screen time shortcuts?!

I am not that dad anymore.

A few years later, our now-3-year-old daughter came along. Now, mealtimes are no longer picturesque moments of togetherness. They are war. There are high-stakes negotiations to take even a single bite of food, threats and pleading to keep her in her seat. There are tantrums, throwing things, and tears all around.

So — I get it now. Sometimes, you just need a break. And putting on a show your kid loves is often the only way to get them to sit still. It might be the only chance you get to take a breath and eat your own food. It might be your only chance to look your spouse in the eye that day or take a shower.

I've realized that screen time and other tech can be great tools for worn-out parents. But at the same time, for me, it's starting to become more trouble than it's worth.

On-demand access isn't always a good thing

It's amazing that we have on-demand access to any music or children's show we could want, at the drop of a hat. But too much access has officially become a problem, in my eyes.

I can't be the only one who's experienced a scenario like this:

I'm driving my kids to school in the morning. From the backseat, my youngest yells that she wants to listen to a Peppa Pig story. I turn one on via Spotify, and away we go. "Not this one!" OK, that's cool. Skip to the next. There's a handy button on the steering wheel for that, or I can ask Siri.

"NO!" she insists. We still haven't found a story that suits her. "Which one do you want?" I ask. "Lost the key!" What? "Lost the key!" I only vaguely know what she's talking about. There's an episode where Daddy Pig loses his car keys, but I can't for the life of me remember what it's called. "SIRI," she shouts, going over my head. "PLAY LOST THE KEY!"

Siri begins playing an obscure and profane heavy metal song, and we have to start this process all over again.

YouTube is worse. There are ads that must be skipped, pop-ups that must be exited. A parade of related videos that must be supervised lest the rabbit hole get too weird.

Some of the other platforms we pay for are at least commercial-free. But they, too, bombard kids with choices the second you log in, colorful thumbnails of unicorns and cartoon animals popping up all over the place. All the options cause decision paralysis or, once a choice has been made, buyer's remorse — where I've got to get up and help change to a different show the moment I've settled into another task.

It felt easier when there was less to choose from

Even just a few years ago, when my oldest was little, things seemed simpler.

Streaming was around, but less prevalent. She was happy to just watch "Frozen" on DVD over and over again. There wasn't as much hopping around. We didn't need to referee the screen time so much.

Popping on a Disney movie was a great time to go finish up the dishes, prep dinner, or just sit.

And I won't even get started on "when I was a kid," but suffice it to say that my brothers and I were just happy to get my dad to turn off NPR and switch to regular radio on long car rides. There was no Spotify, no in-car Netflix, and we didn't know what we were missing.

I'm not sure which generation has it better.

I love what we listen to and watch, I just wish we'd foreseen these problems

In all seriousness, there's more great kids' programming out there than ever. And it's become easier and easier to access.

I actually get a kick out of "Peppa Pig." I adore "Bluey." And we have a blast listening to silly nursery rhyme songs that come on randomly via Spotify. We're lucky to not be confined to whatever cartoon happens to be on network TV on Saturday morning.

I just wish we would have anticipated the problems that might come from handing unfettered access to everything over to fickle children. With our little one, maybe we could have held off on introducing her to the short-form content machine that never ends; maybe not told her about the magic of the 'skip' button.

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