"I'm Not Judging You": Replacing Judgment with Curiosity When it Comes to Screentime

from “start close in” ~david whyte

“Start close in,

don’t take the second step

or the third,

start with the first

thing

close in,

the step

you don’t want to take…”

Deciding what to write as my first blog post as The Screentime Consultant has been a challenge: I have much to say, and don’t know where to begin. Then I came across this poem and decided, well, let’s start with The First Thing.

On the advice of a wise friend, I hope for these posts to go deeply (but briefly) into the questions and comments I hear most from parents, teachers, and kids when it comes to the issue of screentime.

Perhaps one of the things I notice most often when I give talks or tell people what I do for work is how quickly adults (usually parents) move to defensiveness about their (or their family’s) use of screentime: “My kids don’t get that much screentime”; “My spouse and I are not ‘that bad’ about screentime”; “We set limits for screens”; “My partner works in tech so he/she has to be available.” Then they usually shrug sheepishly, hands upturned, as if to say, “Yeah, this stuff’s hard.”

I often make the joke that I need to wear a sandwich board that reads: “I’m Not Judging You.” Parenting is definitely a field sport. I was shocked when I first had babies at how so many people had so many strong opinions about feeding, diapering, or responding to my infant. Ten years into parenting, I realize now that so much of that came from our own insecurities about “doing things right” and trying to filter all the information we get about what it means to be a “good” parent. But at the time: wow, it was tough.

Now, I think this same wave of panic and fear of judgment takes hold when, as parents of older kids, the topic of screentime comes up. Intuitively, we know that Some Screentime is fine, but factors like quality, quantity, and context can matter a lot. And as parents, talking about our kids’ screentime means having to take a closer look at our own usage (a different blog post altogether).

I have worked with middle school students for over fifteen years, I am an imperfect parent myself, and I am married to someone who literally works at a startup in the tech industry. Because these experiences shape the work I am doing now, I know that I can bring empathy and compassion to this topic.

In my talks, I like to share the story about the time my husband and I took a Mindfulness Meditation class. (This was in the time period Before Children when we *had* time to take a Mindfulness Meditation class.) One thing the instructor said really stuck with me: “Replace Judgment with Curiosity.” Since one of my personal challenges is not leaping to criticism when I feel upset or threatened, this notion of Getting Curious struck me as a bridge between reacting and responding. In fact, I liked the quote so much I decided to have it engraved on a keychain as a gift for my husband. When I went to pick it up at the engravers, I proudly showed it to my cousin, who was with me.

She looked at it, paused, then peered at it again. Then she said: “Emily, you spelled ‘judgement’ AND ‘curiosity’ wrong.”

If there were ever a moment for me to Replace Judgment with Curiosity (or “Curosity”), it was now.

I took a deep breath...and started laughing.

***

Welcome to this blog!

Raising kids to be good humans in the digital era will take a group effort-- from parents, friends, family, neighbors, teachers, and community leaders. No two families are alike, and no two approaches to screentime are identical.

It is my hope that this blog will be a place to find humor when things get hard, share our highs and lows of screentime and parenting, return to our values when we feel unsure, and get curious when we feel judgy.

***

When it comes to the topic of screentime, what is one area where you could Replace Judgment with Curiosity?