Family life

The screen-time debate: My kid used up our data plan

After her toddler contributed to the family's data plan overage, one mom realizes it's time to address the screen-time issue in her house.

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Photo: iStockphoto

The other night, around 3 a.m., I got a service text message from Rogers: “You’ve exceeded your data plan and incurred overage charges.”

“Hmm, weird,” I thought, and rolled over. (Yes, I know I should turn my phone off at night, but with no home phone, it freaks me out that my family can’t get a hold of me easily.)

The next morning, I looked at it again and asked my husband, Blaine, if he’d received the same message. He checked, and sure enough, he had the depressing text, too. “How did that happen?” he said, since we’d just upgraded to the highest shared data plan on offer.

We looked at each other and sighed: “Sophie,” we said, nearly in unison. (Of course she didn’t do it entirely on her own, but I’d say she was the deciding factor.)

Our two-year-old is an iPad/iPhone junkie, to the point that, the very night before, we had decided on new ground rules for digital usage. Funnily enough, she’s not really interested in TV at all—she’d rather tuck her dolly into bed, convince her dad to play in her toy kitchen or practise riding her new trike outside. The only thing that makes her stop and pay attention to the television screen is Ace, the Blue Jays mascot (and the love of her toddler life). But if there were an iAnonymous, for people who have an addiction to their various devices, our kid would have to go. Whether she’s watching music videos on YouTube, playing puzzle games online or attempting to download apps on iTunes (we have to be careful about entering our passwords or she’ll make in-app purchases), she could wile away the hours swiping and scrolling and knowing far too much about tablets and cell phones.

Read more: 13 fun apps for babies and toddlers >

OK, fine, sanctimommies: Go. Unleash your very worst on us. Tell us we’re rotting her brain or impeding her creativity or creating a child who can’t entertain herself. We’ve heard. But we also know that our two-year-old spends a lot of time in the car commuting to and from daycare every day, sometimes in wall-to-wall rush hour traffic, and an electronic puzzle makes that a little less painful for all of us. We know that she’s bright and chatty and has learned many, many things partially from the apps she plays with—she astounds us every day with her counting skills, she practises tracing letters, and she has learned songs about primary colours, how fruit and vegetables grow, and what to do when a stranger approaches. Of course we reteach and reinforce everything, but it’s not like she’s watching Bubble Guppies on loop.

Read more: Is using a tablet to keep your kid occupied lazy parenting? >

I realize the fact that she managed to burn through (at least in part) our monthly data plan is a serious sign, and we are definitely curtailing the digital activity. We are limiting the usage to an amount of time each day, as per guidelines from every health agency out there. But I guess I just can’t figure out if screen time means all or nothing—is time spent on an educational app the same as time spent watching cartoons? We’re assuming so, and setting rules accordingly. (Which probably means a lot of “I Spy” on the 401, but that was the car game of my childhood and I turned out alright.)

Read more: 5 car games we love >

Today’s Parent managing editor Katie Dupuis likes structure and organization. A lot. Now, imagine this Type A editor with a baby. Funny, right? We’re sure you’ll love Katie’s musings on life with Sophie and husband Blaine. Read all of Katie’s Type A Baby posts and follow her on Twitter @katie_dupuis.