How my screen time parenting guilt led to a very messy afternoon | #parenting


Stephanie Ockhuysen is a Stuff reporter and columnist based in Taranaki.

OPINION: When my son was tiny I’d feel so guilty every time I put the TV on and he could not take his eyes off it.

“Oh, he just loves the colours,” my mum would tell me.

I think what he actually loved was Bradley Walsh because he’s been drawn to The Chase early doors. Can’t blame the lad, it’s a great show.

As he’s got older, though, I’ve come to rely on the TV more and more to get some downtime in the day. Only educational shows, I try and justify to myself. Sesame Street, nursery rhymes, and videos of zoo animals are currently on rotation.

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Watching TV was a huge part of my childhood. I bloody loved it. So surely it can’t be that damaging for him?

Dr Alex Müntz, a University of Auckland research fellow in Ophthalmology, compares screen time to sugar, saying if children have a balanced lifestyle a bit of screen time won’t hurt.

The Platinum Jubilee has been packed with unforgettable moments, but it turned out the real stars of the show were the royal children.

“Parent guilt is unavoidable, and we’re not going to get rid of screens,” he adds.

“For the average parent who tries their best to have a balanced and rich life for their kids in terms of activities, and learning and cognitive development, and emotional and social connections, and food and outdoor play and all of that stuff, a bit of screen time here and there is fine.”

He said if parents co-use the screens and engage with their kids and what they are consuming, there can be some real benefits.

“So it’s about not leaving children to their own devices for extended periods of time day in and day out.

“I think that’s where we’re seeing some problems arise, but I think, overall, there’s no need for major concern.”

So in an attempt to give my 17-month-old son a balanced and rich life, and to try and rid the guilt about how much YouTube he had been watching, I decided to hop on Pinterest and look for inspiration.

It has become clear I am not a naturally creative parent. I’m not great at imaginative play or coming up with activities. It’s a real struggle.

A DIY pour station caught my eye on my search. It seemed easy enough – a bunch of different containers with some water and a bit of food colouring.

Bish, bash, bosh. I can do that, I thought.

My version of a DIY pour station included beer pong cups, an empty milk bottle, and other miscellaneous kitchen items.
Stephanie Ockhuysen/Stuff

My version of a DIY pour station included beer pong cups, an empty milk bottle, and other miscellaneous kitchen items.

And for the most part it was easy. I gathered some classic red beer pong cups, a plastic measuring jug, an empty milk bottle, a glass jar, and some other bits and pieces from the kitchen.

I did complicate things, though, and improvised away from the original Pinterest post by adding in some chia seeds and mixing some yoghurt with food colouring. For texture, I told myself.

While my son was napping, I set it all up on the deck in a big storage container with some towels underneath and waited for him to wake.

I was so excited to show him what I can do other than finding the goods on YouTube.

As I swung open his bedroom door I proclaimed, ‘Are you ready for some sensory play, my boy?’

He didn’t respond, but I could tell he was just as excited as me.

I watched patiently to see how he would tackle my creation.

Stephanie Ockhuysen/Stuff

I watched patiently to see how he would tackle my creation.

On went his grotty clothes, the ones that don’t matter if they get ruined, and off we went outside.

I plopped him down in front of this DIY sensory play station and looked on with pride.

He loved it. He was pouring and splashing and smiling, and it was great. What a success!

But it got messy real quick.

Once my son had poured all the liquids into the big storage container, he decided it would be a good idea to sit in it.

You’ll remember I said I improvised and added some chia seeds into the coloured water.

Now the thing with chia seeds is that when wet they expand. They also have a glitter-like ability to get everywhere and not come off.

So now my son was soaking wet and had chia seeds glued to his clothing like barnacles.

Safe to say he loved it and got involved with all his senses.

Stephanie Ockhuysen/Stuff

Safe to say he loved it and got involved with all his senses.

Next he decided he wanted to experience what I had created with all of his senses, so he started dunking his head in the container like he was bobbing for apples at a carnival.

The true sign the DIY sensory play station had been a success was when I took my son out, he threw a full-on tantrum.

Usually I would avoid a tantrum at all costs, but this one was like kudos.

My pride soon diminished, however, when it came time to clean up.

I’ve still got a sink full of clothes soaking in Napisan, knowing damn well the food colouring is probably not going to come out.

And that Napisan was scooped off the floor because I dropped the glass container it was in, sending glass and stain remover everywhere.

It serves me right, though, for recreating a Pinterest laundry and putting my Napisan in a trendy glass canister.

Was it really worth all of this aftermath?

Well, it meant when my son was clean and warm again I could put him in front of YouTube with a snack guilt-free.

Stephanie Ockhuysen is a Stuff reporter and columnist based in Taranaki.



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