I Was a Screen Time Expert. Then the Coronavirus Happened.

I Was a Screen Time Expert. Then the Coronavirus Happened.

An author reflects(rəˈflekt) on her pre-pandemic pronouncements(prəˈnounsmənt) about children’s technology use and offers new advice, like focus on feelings, not screens.

By Anya Kamenetz

Before the pandemic, I was a parenting expert. It was a cushy(ˈko͝oSHē) gig. In 2019, I boarded 34 flights. I checked into nice hotels, put on makeup and fitted jewel(ˈjo͞oəl)-toned(tōnd) dresses, strode(strōd) onto stages large and dinky(ˈdiNGkē), and tried to project authoritative(əˈTHôrəˌtādiv) calm(kä(l)m). I told worried parents about the nine signs of tech overuse, like ditching(ˈdiCHiNG) sleep for screens. I advised them to write a “family media contract” and trust, but verify, their tweens’(twēn) doings online.

While I was on the road, my two daughters were enjoying modest(ˈmädəst), cute little doses(dōs) of Peppa Pig and Roblox, in between happily attending school, preschool, after-school activities and play dates, safe in the care of their father, grandmother and our full-time nanny(ˈnanē).

Now, like Socrates(ˈsäkrəˌtēz), I know better. I know that I know nothing.

Parenting expert? Please. I took only 12-week maternity(məˈtərnədē) leaves, and for the second baby, I had both the nanny’s help and the big girl in pre-K five days a week. I finished my parenting book about screen time on that maternity leave, which was kind of like writing up lab results before the experiment was finished.

My point being: I have never, ever, spent this much time with my children, or anyone’s children, as I have over the past four months during shelter(ˈSHeltər)-in-place orders. Nor have I contemplated(ˈkän(t)əmˌplāt) working full time, while my husband also works full time, without sufficient child care, let alone while dealing with multiple weekly deadlines and 5 a.m. live radio hits, in an insanely(inˈsānlē) stressful 24-hour news cycle where it’s actually, kind of, my job to doomscroll through Twitter (well, at least it’s job-adjacent(əˈjās(ə)nt)). By the way, “zombie(ˈzämbē) fires” are eating the Arctic(ˈärktik) and they are as terrifying(ˈterəfīiNG) as they sound.

I want to take this moment to apologize(əˈpäləˌjīz) to anyone who faced similar constraints(kənˈstrānt) before the pandemic and felt judged or shamed by my, or anyone’s, implication that they weren’t good parents because they weren’t successfully enforcing a “healthy balance” with screens, either for themselves or their children. That was a fat(fat) honking(häNGk) wad(wäd) of privilege(ˈpriv(ə)lij) speaking.