Before I get into limiting screen time, I just want to preface. I get it. We all get it. Screen time is convenient. It’s an easy resource to reach for when parenting. And at times, it could potentially be a valuable learning tool. And I am in no way passing any judgement on those who use screen time (we aren’t completely screen free after all)! It’s such a hot button topic, that I’ve avoided this post for a long time. But it’s been requested. And requested some more. So I’m finally going there.
We were avid users. Tablet time almost every day. Cartoons as soon as we woke up, buying me an extra half hour in bed. Cartoons when we got home, easing those heated moments during the post-work/pre-dinner rush. Every day, I filled in the gaps with screen time. I think partly because I was new to parenting I just didn’t know another way. I didn’t know what to do when my kids got bored, or when parenting got hard. It has so easily become our cultural norm now. Screens and tablets are a give-in for any house hold. It wasn’t until I took a hard look at the consequences of our decision that I knew we needed change.
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Reasons to Limit Screen Time
“Children who use electronic media at night are more at risk for sleep disturbances and symptoms of depression.” Healthline
“Parents’ background television use distracts from parent–child interactions and child play. Heavy parent use of mobile devices is associated with fewer verbal and nonverbal interactions between parents and children and may be associated with more parent-child conflict.” AAP
Regular use of screen time can cause the brain to release Glutamate and Dopamine, both chemicals linked to cravings, addiction, and seen in those addicted drugs (a scary comparison). Not to mention the additional damage done to multiple areas of the brain (gray matter, white matter, cortical thickness, etc). PBS & Psychology Today
And if you’re looking for more reasoning, a simple google search “effects of screen time on children” will get you plenty of additional reasons to cut back.
That all being said, there were a few main contributing factors as to why I chose to limit screen time in our own home.
- Tablet withdrawal. Or any screen withdrawal for that matter. The reaction my oldest child would have whenever we took the tablet away or turned the TV off was down right scary. It left me wondering if there was an underlying behavioral problem. Little did I know, screen time withdrawal is a real and serious issue for many kids. Mainly because they don’t know how to handle and transition from all of the overstimulation.
- An excerpt from Simplicity Parenting. In reading a chapter of this most awesome and amazing book (if you haven’t read it, I highly suggest you do!), the author Kim John Payne paints a picture of an uncle you allow into your children’s lives. He’s fun mostly, but sometimes he’s unpredictable, exposing your children to dangerous or harmful situations and information way beyond their age. Would you keep this toxic uncle in their lives, every day even? Or would you limit your child’s exposure to him? Most people would limit (or cut out completely) a toxic and dangerous adult from our child’s life. Replace the word uncle with TV, why does our answer change? I read that and I was like, whoa!
- A message from Risen Motherhood, Episode 117 “Mommy Can I Watch a Show?” One of the co-hosts suggests looking at the why behind turning on the screen. “Are things just feeling a little too hard in parenting right now, and I’m just wanting to use this crutch instead of pressing into a parenting moment?” Um, hello! How many times have you flipped on the screen to take the heat off? I know for myself, it’s almost every time.
Recognizing the why behind my screen time choices, and also recognizing how it isn’t always a ‘safe choice’ for my kids were some huge factors in feeling the need to cut the cord.
How We Cut Back
Standing Firm. I had to make the decision that we were entering a Zero Screen Time Zone for the first few weeks. When it came to screen time, an inch turned into a mile and before I knew it my toddler would be three episodes deep in The Clubhouse (hot dog hot dog hot diggity dog!) I chose to start the cutoff on a Monday (my husband wouldn’t be home to cave), and I stuck to it.
Let Them Be Bored. So many childhood educators and researchers rave about boredom! It is one of the best tools for growth and development in children. We often run from boredom because it can be UNCOMFORTABLE! But from discomfort comes growth. Letting my kids sit in that discomfort, while a really hard thing to do, has definitely been one of the best things I’ve done for them!
Invite Them In. Invite them in to your daily activities. Ask them to help unload the dishwasher, help make the bed. Help wash the dishes. Help fold the laundry. Help sweep the floor. You’d be amazed how willing your little ones will be to lend a hand if you give them the time and patience to join you. (I do realize older children won’t be quite as eager to help, but for toddler and preschool aged kids, this is such a great tool!) Our first summer of no screens was filled with a lot of mommy’s little helpers. And a lot of those moments turned into habits. Now I have professional dishwasher unloaders, table clearers and bed makers. A few less tasks on my to do list!
Morning Basket. This is a trick taken from many homeschool families. A morning basket is a simple way of laying out some quiet and independent activities for your kids to engage in as soon as they wake up. It’s name derives because often people organize the activities in a basket, but you don’t necessarily have to ;-), I didn’t. For me, it was simply leaving out crayons and coloring books at their morning eating spots. As soon as they woke up they had an easy and quiet activity to slip into. No decision overload to start their day. It allowed them to warm up their minds and gave their little hands something to do until this mama could get breakfast on the table. Other great options we’ve used are sewing kits, magnetic doll sets, and their Boogie Boards. Boogie Boards would be a great transition item for the tablet depended child. It’s the same size and shape in their hands as a tablet, but promotes creativity without overstimulation.
Heading Outdoors. I know, it’s a lot more work. Especially with a baby on board, or on your hip. And sunscreen is so annoying to apply. But taking your kids outdoors is a great distraction from screen time. With no TV in sight to tempt them, they’ll be more likely to engage in play and imagination. If you walk outside and are all at a loss of what to do next, here’s a great starting point. Grab a shovel, dig up a small (very small if your husband likes his manicured yard) patch of grass. Expose some dirt. Give your kids a pail of water. Let them get dirty. Mud is your child’s new best friend. Welcome it with open arms. That’s what hoses and bathtubs are for, right?! I guarantee if you let them get muddy, they won’t be asking for a screen any time soon.
Expose Them to the Elements. On the note of outdoors, don’t be afraid to get wet, or cold, or anything else. As they say in many European cultures, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!
Bake. And bake we did. I may have gained a bit during our firm No Screen withdrawal period. I was also in my third trimester/postpartum phase, so who’s counting! But bake some chocolate chip cookies. Let them do the work, the scooping, the mixing, the dumping. Or try out this easy homemade bread recipe, let them kneed the dough!
Play Music. Sometimes it’s as simple as needing background noise to settle their minds. And sometimes it’s all about building that white and gray brain matter, increasing brain connectivity and growth. Music can be so great for development, and it is also a great way to take the heat off of those harder parenting moments.
Find Your Thing. I suck at play time. I hate it. I’m not good at imagination and I have a hard time wanting to even try (I think that’s why Dad is the fun one). But there is one thing I am good at and enjoy doing. Reading. I can read them stories for an hour. So that’s my thing. I take them to the library. I pick out some books. They pick out some books. And we leave with a tote full every time. I read to them most afternoons, and every night before bed. It’s one consistency we’ve built into their day that they can always count on. Find your thing, and be consistent with it. Maybe it’s an evening walk, kicking the soccer ball, coloring together. Whatever it is, I know you have one, you just need to find it!
Clear the Clutter. I can’t get away with making a list and not adding a clutter clearing suggestion. But often, our children choose screens because it’s an easy choice. If their toy/room situation is cluttered and overwhelming, of course they’ll lean to the easy choice of screens! The steps we took to clear the toy clutter can be found here, in our toy purge and rotation post!
Go easy on yourself. It’s not just an adjustment for the kids, it’s an adjustment for you too.
To go screen free, you do not need to fill their time with Pinterest activities and outings in public. Our first summer screen free was very much spent at home. I was wildly pregnant/healing from birth with a newborn. So we weren’t out and about at every park and free community event. These are great resources to utilize as well, but don’t feel like you have to! You can go screen free easily from the comfort of your home.
And as for where we’re at now? Our screen time clocks in at less than one hour a week. My kids don’t spend all day whining or asking for a show. They don’t even ask for the tablets anymore (honestly, I hid them somewhere and haven’t seen them in over a month!). They have grown so immensely in independent play. Their imaginations are endless. Their desire to grab a book and submerse themselves willingly into quiet time still blows me away. It’s so amazing to see, considering we were at 3+ hours of screen time daily just a year ago.
I’m so excited to finally share our journey to screen free living (by the way we’ve since sold two TV’s, and are down to only one operating television in our home (the husband is still holding strong to the basement TV, but it’s never used). I really hope this leaves you inspired to make a change. Please share your questions or progress in the comments below, you know I’d love to hear from you!
Current Screen Time Recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- For children under 18 months old, no screen time.
- For children 18 to 24 months old, parents should choose only high-quality media and watch it with their child.
- For children 2 to 5 years old, less than one hour per day of high-quality programming is recommended, with parents watching along.