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Image / Editorial

“Before having a baby, I was a woman who knew her children would be screen-free”

by Dominique McMullan
05th Jun 2020

Dominique McMullan was determined her infant’s life would be screen-free, but she soon discovered she also wanted her own life to be scream-free

When Kai is upset or difficult, there is one foolproof way to soothe him… handing him an iPhone. It doesn’t even need to be unlocked – just holding it calms him immediately. He only needs to see a phone in his periphery, and he will reach and reach until he has it. He is a baby, besotted. Gradually, the phone has become the go-to if we need five minutes’ peace. No matter what earth-shattering event is taking place in his little life, the phone is a guaranteed pacifier. It is both frightening and impressive to see how he already swipes at the screen, imitating movements he will no doubt perfect over the next few years, like watching a cave man pick up tools for the first time.

I know what you’re thinking, because I’m thinking it too. That’s terrible. Screens are damaging for children. Too much time in front of them affects sleep, language skills, cognitive skills… the list goes on.

But sometimes, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. Yes, the choice weighs heavy on me when I think of it in the macro; but in the moment, the choice isn’t even really a choice.

Before having a baby, I was a woman who knew her children would be screen-free. But now, hands up, I’m a woman who sometimes prefers her life to be scream-free. The problem, of course, is the amount of time we (the parents) spend with our devices, not the fact that we occasionally give them to our child. The poor little lad is only imitating what he sees. He is built to watch and learn, and that’s what he is doing. From first thing in the morning to last thing at night, he observes us gazing into our little glowing bricks. No wonder he is already so amazed by them; and he doesn’t even know the power of “hashtag content” yet.

We’ve decided, on a few occasions, that we must do better for him, and for us. We have experimented with treating using the phone like something akin to a cigarette. If we are going to use it at home, we must go into the other room and hide. No surprise here – the experiment failed.

Like breathing, I would find myself phone in hand, fingers moving with speed through the same three apps (Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp) right in front of him. Often, this would happen mere seconds after I had just put it down. In the course of writing this article, I think I’ve probably checked my phone every four minutes. It’s my son’s infatuation that has highlighted my own. I spent long days at home during maternity leave, with my baby and with my phone. I have written here about how social media was a lifeline to me during those days, and it was.

But now, as I look back, I can see that there were moments I must have missed in the beginning of his little life because I was looking at Instagram. And that, dear reader, kills me. This is not a problem exclusive to our family. But I am afraid this is not a column in which a revelation is reached. After years of trying, all I can admit is that I do not have a solution. Technology is a wonderful thing, and it can be used in so many positive ways. Our son will have an intimate relationship with the digital world throughout his life, and we will continue to. What I can only hope is that as he grows, he will remember to look up when it really matters.

Digital illustration by Sophie Teyssier.

This article originally appeared in the Volume 2 issue of IMAGE Magazine.

Read more: Childcare and Covid-19: ‘So much energy is going into pretending work is happening as normal. But it’s not.’

Read more: Digital devices are a lifeline for a new mother

Read more: Women are gathering in online circles, now is a time for real change

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