Last week I made a throwaway comment about the amount of screen time my son is currently enjoying. It was a tongue-in-cheek reference because, to be honest, I don’t really have many qualms about screen time. But since then I’ve had conversations with several parents who really do, not least because newspapers, blogs, and extended family members (crucially, never currently looking after toddlers themselves) have made them feel guilty about the fact their child is spending more time with screens right now.
It made me angry, to hear the same tedious patterns of shame and judgment, wielded against parents who are just trying to get by as best they can.
Aside from how much this puritanical scolding bothers me in principle, I also call shenanigans on its actual claims. The longitudinal effects of screen use are still unknown, and unlikely to be known by the same people who peddle tabloid-friendly memes in which ‘studies show’ entirely dubious conjecture. Articles like ‘Men Think About Muesli 46 Times A Day’, which are always funded by dark money from the UK Muesli Advocacy Council.
When I was growing up, the papers assured my parents that video games were evil. This was mainly due to jealousy, since my parents’ generation grew up at a time when the only excitement in their lives was getting a glimpse at the pond in the Blue Peter garden, or playing that one game were you push a metal hoop with a stick.
Mario and Sonic, it was said, would turn me and all my friends into sociopaths. Now we’ve grown up, and those same papers revile my generation as touchy-feely snowflakes.
Sometimes the same amateur educationists who claim screens will turn our kids into brain-dead zombies also say we should be teaching children to code as soon as they can speak. Which raises the question of where, precisely, they’re going to learn computer programming if they’ve already used up their allotted eight minutes of screen time for the day. Scrawling ones and zeros into the sand with a stick?
Perhaps, since it’s a bit tough to provide the time and energy necessary for non-screen parenting right now, we can agree to an armistice until things shake out. You can forgive us for subjecting our children to Hey Duggee, Sesame Street and that Netflix cartoon about talking motorbikes which has all the educational value of a canned chicken.
And, for my part, I’ll stop fantasising about strapping these nags into a 15th-century trebuchet and blasting them into the side of Television Centre, with the intention of landing them in the soupy murk of the long-abandoned Blue Peter garden pond.
A truce settled, we can get back to dealing with the here and now. My son can have some Netflix as a treat, and my thoughts can once more turn to muesli.
Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats