Sarah Simpson Column: Screen time offers more than meets the eye

This column is going to make it seem like all my children do is watch screens

This column is going to make it seem like all my children do is watch screens. They do not. We spend lots of time outdoors and we do read actual paper books. (Right now we’re reading the BFG). My children play with all sorts of all kinds of toys. For the Judgy McJudgersons out there, I feel like I am somehow obligated to say that right off the top. To be honest though, since the whole COVID-19 thing, they have been using the screens more often and I am alright with that. And let’s be honest, the iPad helps me make dinner in peace.

If you know, you know.

I feel like teaching my kids about the technology around them — including its pitfalls and dangers — at a young age will only benefit them. I want my kids to understand the evolving world of tech and I don’t want them to feel intimidated by any of it, like so many adults tend to be as they age. I want my children to figure out how it all works, what they can make work for them, and what to avoid.

It seems they are well on their ways.

The other day we caught our four-year-old talking into the Apple remote. “Main menu” she told it and just like that the Apple TV’s main menu popped onto the screen.

My husband and I started laughing. She turned to us and said “I know! I’m so impressive!” That made us laugh even harder. She’s learning that giving clear, concise directions is a useful tool to have in her toolbox.

Another day, I was cleaning the kitchen and heard my daughter say “Search for videos of dogs with no front legs”. You’d think I would have been shocked at such a specific request but after a short “What the heck!” moment, I remembered. Earlier she’d been watching a video about a small pooch named Turbo who had a special set of wheels for his front end and I guess she wanted to watch it again. She loves dogs.

Following that, it was “Search for videos of dogs with no back legs”. That’s how we met a Boxer pup that had no back end and walked on his two front legs like it was no big deal.

“He refused to use his wheels,” she told us matter-of-factly. Clearly she’d watched that one more than once as well.

A while back my daughter didn’t believe that it was possible to cut an entire house in half and move and move it to another location so we sat and watched Massive Moves or Huge Moves or whatever it was, online, just to prove Mommy knows what she’s talking about sometimes.

That sent us down the wormhole of YouTube videos though and we ended up watching U.S. Army paratroopers do static line jump exercises from C-17s and then Navy Seals jump from smaller planes into the water.

You know, normal four-year-old viewing. She’d paid attention too, I know, because she told the rest of the family all about it that night at the (no technology allowed) dinner table.

I’m continually amazed at my children’s information retention. My son loves to sit at the kitchen table with his dad for a “midnight snack” at 7:30 p.m. and watch NASA videos of the astronauts at the International Space Station. My six-year-old already knows more about space than I ever will. I’m OK with that.

I’m proud to tell you the father of my children is quite a lot like an encyclopedia. He knows a lot of random facts, and let’s be honest, much of it from internet research. It’s actually really useful but on the odd occasion, their dad doesn’t know the answer. Our children usually ask him first but if Dad isn’t too sure, the kids know how to find the answers themselves.

Need to know how fast cheetah’s run? Ask Siri. Need to know how more about the Great Wall of China’s alpine slide? YouTube’s got videos. How tall is the Burj Khalifa? Google knows.

Lessons are everywhere. Some, more important that others.

We’ve seen too many hamsters running through homemade obstacle courses and we’ve watched our fair share of unboxing videos. At one point the kids even kept reciting, “Bounce WrinkleGuard! Guaranteed or your money back!”


But that last one did give us the opportunity to teach them commercials are company’s ways of trying to get us to spend our money to buy their products but we ultimately get to decide what we buy. Although that hasn’t stopped my daughter from begging us to buy her a “Happy Napper”, the under-sized over-priced stuffed animal that pulls apart to magically become a sleeping bag. For only US$39.99 it’s a heck of a deal.

So yes, screens are an integral part of our life. Not just to help Mom make dinner in peace, but to help our children understand that it’s OK not to know everything because if you know how to use technology to your advantage, there’ll always be a way to satisfy your curiosity, there’ll always be an answer to your questions, and you’ll always find the information you’re looking for if you know how to search for online information and how to consume it critically. Ultimately that’s our goal.

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