Is there no end to the oppression that American mothers face?
Now, in addition to the lack of government-funded child care, the “pay gap” in the work place and being forced to clean up after their Neanderthal husbands, mothers are being shamed for giving their kids too much screen time. When will this societally sanctioned indentured servitude end?
Writing on the Web site JSTOR Daily, Alexandra Samuel notes, “When we worry that parents are shirking their duties by relying on an electronic babysitter, we’re really worrying that mothers are putting their own needs alongside, or even ahead of, their kids’ needs.”
Well, maybe that’s what Samuel is worried about, but most of the mothers I know are worried about their kids’ screen time for other reasons. That too many hours on iPads or phones will affect their toddlers’ attention spans. That their elementary-school kids seem to get cranky when they try to cut off screen time, that siblings fight over technology and that kids of all ages may inadvertently be exposed to inappropriate material online.
But Samuel suggests that the concerns about children being overly dependent on technology for their entertainment are actually part of some kind of conspiracy to keep women down. “Our anxiety about making mothers’ work easier is rooted in our profound reservations about liberating women from the demands of the home,” Samuel writes.
Samuel invites us to imagine that “with a smartphone or tablet tucked into her purse or diaper bag, the mother of young kids no longer has to fear going to a public event, restaurant or café: if Junior gets restive, Mom can hand over the device. Armed with that digital security blanket, the world of un-disruptable public spaces once again becomes accessible to mothers and children, presenting the horrifying possibility that a table of business dudes may actually have to endure the nearby presence of small humans during their power lunch.”
Mothers would happily have their toddlers tag along to the Four Seasons with iPads were it not for the glaring eyes of judgy onlookers? Perhaps not. Perhaps these mothers believe that their children would be better served by going to restaurants where they’re welcome.
Or maybe they think if you’re going to bother to take your children out, you might want to have a conversation with them. Or spend some time teaching them how to use utensils correctly, or how to politely order a dish from the waiter.
We all feel the temptation to hand over our phones when the diner takes longer to make a hot dog than it’d take us to prepare a gourmet four-course meal from scratch. But the fact that many of us resist has little to do with what others think of us and much more to do with what happens afterward.
If I give in now, I’ll be asked to give in every time there’s a two-minute lull in activity — the line in the supermarket, the car ride to school — and pretty soon there will be no lulls, just the constant noises of Subway Surfer.
It’s true that there’s a gender gap regarding how dads and moms see technology. Most fathers I speak with are much more likely to resort to the iPad when their kids are impatient or bored. These fathers grew up playing video games themselves and are more likely to see them as a relatively harmless distraction.
But no 40-year-old man ever experienced the kind of constant access to games that his kids can — thanks to our phone-in-every pocket world. Also, sexist as it may seem to Samuel, fathers don’t have to deal as often with the consequences of kids who are cranky from too much time on screen.
Writing on the same theme in Slate, Elissa Strauss argues that there’s also a class divide here: “If you’re a single mom or can’t afford a nanny, letting your kids play with your phone or watch a TV show can be the only way to buy yourself time to work, run errands, and do chores.”
There’s some truth to the idea that electronic babysitters are just a less-expensive alternative. But somehow parents (even single ones) managed to run errands and do chores before the invention of iPads. Sometimes kids actually helped with those things.
But kids also learned to be entertained with crayons and paper and glue — or a book. Their expectations for entertainment were a little lower and our expectations of them were a little higher.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.