Simple Ideas with Profound Impact
Our Take on the Great Screen Debate
People will often ask our kids what their favorite television show is and get a blank stare back because they don’t really know any. They are certainly big fans of the various Disney characters, but that is because they know them from reading the stories. Screen time can be one of those polarizing parenting topics these days but it doesn’t have to be. As we have always said, we believe that each parent needs to make their own decisions as to what is best for their kids and what works for their family. We continue to stand by that. We also want folks to know that even though the use of screens is quite common with young children these days, that doesn’t have to be what you choose for your kids. Just because most people are doing it doesn’t mean you have to. We always encourage folks to make these types of decisions from a place of understanding with regards to effects on the brain, health, emotional wellbeing, etc. As with most parenting decisions, it can be an evolving process and what you think is going to work out in a certain way may not and you may decide to adjust. For those of you with babies or very young toddlers, perhaps today’s post will give you some ideas as you think about how you want to navigate this particular area with your children.
So what does this look like in practice for us?
When we first became parents we had talked about how we planned to avoid screens in the first two years because we knew that screentime isn’t great for a very young and developing brain. Beyond that, I don’t think we really thought more specifically about what our approach would be. There was even a Saturday morning shortly after our little dude was born that Jack sat down on the couch and decided to see what “Saturday morning cartoons” were on these days. He quickly realized that “Saturday morning cartoons” isn’t really a thing anymore. We can all have access to watch whatever we want whenever we want to and we can watch it wherever! That’s when we realized that keeping a child screen free would be a completely different scenario for us as parents than it was for our own parents when we were kids. When we were children you could only watch something at the time it aired and on the TV that was in your living room. If you missed it, you missed it. Now screens follow us (and our kids) everywhere. So once you open up that can of worms it’s a battle you have to be prepared to fight anywhere and at any time.
We never really set out to have a 5-year old who doesn’t watch TV. We did decide that we wouldn’t use an iPad with our kids because we didn’t want them to get used to the idea that one could have access to a video anywhere. What we were comfortable with was allowing them to watch a few short learning videos in our house while they learned about whatever topic interested them on a given weekend morning. Yes, only on weekends. It became a fun tradition and even now our son will come up with ideas throughout the week of something he wants to learn about. On a Monday he might say, “Hey Dad! Can we watch a video about how marbles are made next weekend?!” – in fact, he asked this very thing on Monday. This tradition started when he was about 2.5 years old.
At 3 we allowed him to watch movies with us every now and then. Movie nights became a special treat with homemade popcorn, sometimes a bit of candy, his favorite blanket and some quality one on one time (staying up later than his baby sister!) with Mom and Dad. We’ve also made an exception for a certain college football team and other special sporting events like the Olympics / World Cup / Superbowl. Because this is about #parentingwithapurposenotperfectparenting. 😉 So the game will be on when the kids are around. And they will usually watch some of it and then get bored and start playing their own version of football or building a football stadium with Duplos, etc. Outside of that, they really don’t watch videos. Our TV is used to play music FAR more than it is to screen any other content.
A lot of people say they limit screen time to travel. This is also something we have resisted. You can check out our #TuesdayTravelTips on Instagram and Facebook for lots of ideas on how to keep kids entertained while traveling without resorting to a screen. We travel A LOT with the kids. We have done international flights and LONG road trips and the kids have never asked to watch something on an iPad or phone. Why? Because it never even occurs to them to ask. For a bit, we felt like we were trying to hold off because we didn’t want to start it and then have it be something we’d have to regulate. One more fight to avoid. But now it’s just a non-issue. This isn’t to say that we haven’t had travel troubles. Of course, we have! They are inevitable. But because they’ve never known a screen as an option for distraction they don’t ask for it and instead have other ways of keeping themselves busy.
We do a lot of story-telling, we listen to podcasts, we sing songs, they color, we play Uno, they play together and come up with random games. Does this mean that they have never ever seen a TV show? Of course not. If we are visiting with friends and all the kids decide to watch a show for a bit, that’s fine. If we’re at a restaurant and there are TVs everywhere they will get hypnotized like any other kid if we let them. But it’s just not something that we turn to at home or on the road. And I truly don’t think it’s something they miss or that they’re missing out on. They have great imaginations and are really able to entertain themselves for good amounts of time. And we have yet to have an argument over screen time! Something for which I am very grateful.
Screens are everywhere! If you have a baby and are trying to decide what your approach to this topic will be I strongly encourage you to hold out and work to keep your little ones screen free for as long as possible. It may seem like a challenge at first because it’s just so prevalent now. When you find yourself tired and impatient and about to reach for that remote or grab that tablet to distract your young toddler, take a pause. Think of what your mom or dad might have done instead when you were little. Try one or two other things to get you through that moment. Over time you’ll start to realize that your kids will have other go-to’s for distraction and it will be easier and easier as you (and they) won’t think of a screen as the necessary distraction piece.