We Used to Be Anti-Screen Time for Our Kids. It’s Become Our Lifeline in This Outbreak

My husband didn’t grow up watching much TV. In fact, his parents took away cable for his final two years of high school to get him to focus. I don’t think he had ever even heard of Xena: Warrior Princess until he met me.

He’s also not a morning person. Not that I am, either, but on pre-pandemic weekends, when our kids, 4 and 7, would rise at 6 a.m., I would drag myself up with them, letting them watch Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, and whatever else they could self-surf through so I could pass out on the couch.

After having slept in, my husband would barrel into the room shouting, “No more TV! No more shows!” Wrestling the remote out of my kids’ hands, he’d add: “They are addicted! Addicted!”

“TV is fine,” I would shout back, waking up in a start, almost rolling off the couch. “Look at me, I watched so much TV and I can still pay my own bills!”

I grew up on TV. And not just some TV. A lot of freaking TV. And that’s putting it politely.

Saved by the Bell. A myriad of Lifetime Movies. Family Matters. The Simpsons. Full House. Oprah. Home Improvement. Star Trek. Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Boy Meets World. Jerry Springer. And yes, Xena: Warrior Princess.

And then there was General Hospital. My mother, who moved to this country when she was 20, swears that soap operas helped her master the English language. Some of my earliest memories include Luke and Laura, a famous pair of star-crossed lovers on the soap.

No one cared about all of this “screen time,” or rather, “TV time,” back then. My parents never monitored what we watched—although my dad did put his foot down when he found us watching Beavis and Butthead. In the summers, we did lots of math assignments courtesy of my Tiger Dad. But we also watched TV, played outside, watched more TV. Ate lunch and dinner while watching TV. Rode our bikes, played freeze tag in the dark, and came back and watched even more TV.

Many years later, I am still watching TV. And I am an equal opportunity TV watcher: CNN, FOX News, HGTV, Hallmark Channel, TLC, Food Network, Lifetime and HBO. I watch it all. All of it.

But in the several weeks leading up to COVID-19, we had almost cut out screens. I was too tired to argue about it. No TV during the week, no more Momma passed out on weekend mornings while they watched shows. The iPads had disappeared. No using Momma’s phone for Ryan videos on YouTube. When I could escape, I hid downstairs and devoured TV in 10-minute increments. It took me over a week to get through a single episode of 90 Day Fiancé.

The COVID-19 era has ushered it all back. Our iPads for a multitude of school Zoom and Google Hangout calls, and ABC Mouse started up again. And TV, well it has become our lifeline during this pandemic. For some moments of much-needed quiet. More for us than the kids. And our rules around watching TV are ever-changing.

We select and agree to the shows they can watch. Our 7-year-old understands what he can and can’t watch. And he listens to the rules. He knows if he ends up watching something PG/PG-13 the TV will be yanked out of the wall, iPads tossed out, never to be seen again. My 4-year-old doesn’t get much of a say on what she gets to watch.

We select and agree to the shows they can watch. Our 7-year-old understands what he can and can’t watch. And he listens to the rules. He knows if he ends up watching something PG/PG-13 the TV will be yanked out of the wall, iPads tossed out, never to be seen again. My 4-year-old doesn’t get much of a say on what she gets to watch.

We take breaks in between. Shows can’t go on all day. Well, they could, but my husband won’t allow it. We set timers; we say only this episode (which generally ends up being two episodes). We say you can watch half of the movie (pause at the part where Elsa pushes Anna and Olaf away in Frozen 2), and then it’s bath time. We then stop and go back to coloring, reading books and pretending to homeschool.

We reserve movies for “special moments.” We used to do movie nights only on Friday nights. Special moments now include Saturday nights, sometimes Sundays as well. When my husband and I have important work conference calls at the same time. And during the weekdays; if they’ve had a really good day (which means no punching or kicking each other) they can watch Brave (for the 10th time.)

So I shout proudly: Let them watch TV!

Let them watch TV. Let them eat an Oreo or two or three at 7 a.m. Let them sticker the walls, have apple juice for lunch, and eat a chocolate croissant before dinner. We are in a pandemic. And hey, at least my kids are watching TV at home, right where they should be.

Watching too much TV just might be the least of our problems.

Mita Mallick is head of diversity and cross cultural marketing for Unilever, and loves living in Jersey City with her husband and two young kiddos.