I'm sure many parents struggle with this in the technological age we are living in, and even more so if you're a work at home parent of a stay at home only child that no longer naps. This is my current dilemma and the fact that I am somewhat addicted to technology and the work I do involves technology probably doesn't help either.
It was so much easier for our parents when we were kids. Perhaps it was because I grew up on a street with other kids my own age, we played at each other's houses and only came home just in time for dinner. Of course I grew up in the suburbs in the Midwest on a dead end street with a park right across from my home. I can't say that where we live is really that much less "suburban," but it definitely doesn't have that same feel and with that comes less freedom for my child to explore and discover on his own. Some of that may be attributed to his age, but neighborhoods don't feel as "neighborly" as they once did.
So if I can't send him out on his own and if I can't be connected to the internet at the local park, what's a work at home parent to do? While I'm writing this he's actually interrupting me repeatedly for help with an art project that I thought would keep him occupied long enough to get this post done...wrong! Trips to the Dollar Store for art supplies are a regular occurrence just to get him away from technology and keep him occupied (somewhat anyway). I recently read an article that kids should not be allowed any technology before they turn one (oops!) and after that they should only be allowed up to an hour a day (another oops!). Ultimately we are all doing the best that we can, but there is an alternative to mind numbing toy review and surprise egg videos if we parents need some uninterrupted work time......
I am very happy to say that since attending a PBS SoCalKids event that focused on programming curriculum and their Ready to Learn Initiative, I know that if I do choose to turn on the television, then PBS Kids shows are the way to go. So much time, energy, and thought goes into make their shows that my son's brain is continuing to expand and he is actually learning life lessons and various subject curriculum while watching. I had the pleasure of learning about "Ready Jet Go!" and the fact that there is an actual JPL Astrophysicist on staff that not only contributes to the show's curriculum, but she is making sure that the science represented is scientifically based. I learned that the whole production process for an eleven minute episode takes nine months from outline to finished product! In order to create an entire season, they are working on multiple episodes at one time throughout the year.
While I was learning all of these cool things, my son was in the back of the room with other kids on tablets to keep quiet and occupied. But when I found that that he was actually exploring various PBS apps that taught him new things that he was so excited to share with me after the event ended, I was looking forward to downloading the same apps for his tablet when we got home. The most interesting moment, however, was when we were watching a clip from "Ready Jet Go" and all of the kids stopped what they were doing to watch the scene and listen to how it was made, showing that they were not completely zoned out in the tablets.
Another cool element I had no idea about was that PBS Kids also has home based curriculum that kids can do to accompany what they learn in an episode. The activities can be found through their lab on their grown-ups site: http://grownups.pbskids.org/. I know that my kid learns better when he's doing it hands on, so that fact that the lessons in each episode can be reinforced with activities that we can do together is awesome.
Ultimately, I don't need a researcher to tell me that too much technology is bad for my child. I can definitely see for myself when he has been exposed to too much on any given day (or week): his attitude changes, he is more difficult to communicate with, his patience is very limited, etc. I have resorted to "technology cleanses" for up to two weeks at a time when I feel like it's something that will benefit him and our relationship. Now that I have learned about the PBS for grown-ups site, at least I have a go-to for activities I can have him do that will not only be fun, but educational as well. Since the event he has gotten really excited about Astrology and Science, so I do let him enjoy the "Ready Jet Go!" app as part of his daily hour and he's even teaching me some things too! And since we cut the cord with cable TV, it's awesome to know that he can stream any PBS show at anytime on pbssocal.org/kids or through their video app.