I never planned to be the parent who said judgey things like My kids don’t watch much TV or I don’t really let my kids play on electronics but here I am.
Even though I believe strongly in limiting screen time in any form, saying it out loud makes me feel gross. I know all too well the shame or defensiveness that comes up when someone shares a different parenting or household philosophy than yours. I want to argue about it even though I know that’s not going to help anyone.
Also, so much of parenting is evolving and learning new ways of doing things as your children mature and grow. So this post can be tricky to write, because I don’t want to demand you live this way with your own kids or say it’s the only way to do it. Plus, how we’re doing electronics at our house didn’t just suddenly happen one day. Where we’re at right now–with our two daughters who are six and eight–has been a process and is still ongoing.
With all of that said, here’s how we do electronics, how we got to where we’re at right now, and some ideas to get your wheels turning on what this might look like in your home (now or in the future).
A typical week of screen time at our house follows this pattern:
-Sunday night family movie with dinner in front of the TV after the girls have had baths. I think Sundays are for resting and a quiet evening at home is a great way to reset before our week starts.
-Wednesday is early release day at our school so the girls are home about an hour earlier than normal. I still have work to do and so they’re allowed to watch about an hour of Netflix before we turn it off for homework, dinner, and playing.
-Saturday morning cartoons in their pajamas; I think it’s the right of all Americans to be lazy on Saturday mornings, to be really slow to get out of your pajamas, and to watch animals with human characteristics fight crime.
And that concludes our TV time; that totals about 3.5-4 hours a week.
We have a TV/DVD player in our SUV but only use it when we travel long distances. It’s one way we’ve been able to travel for days on end and survive; it’s a privilege and super-special to get to watch TV in the car so the girls are excited and engaged when they’re actually allowed to do it.
I feel pretty strongly kids shouldn’t be watching TV (or playing on electronics) as we run errands, drive to school, or head to church. Or even as we drive across town. My kids get to bring books, color, play with small toys, sing songs, listen to audiobooks, listen to music, gaze out the window at their surroundings, or…wait for it…SIT AND DO NOTHING while passengers in a car.
Being bored is part of being a kid. Kids NEED to be bored sometimes.
I’m not here to entertain them or to keep them entertained. It’s not my job–it’s actually their job! as kids! to figure out what they like to do! what they don’t like to do! what they enjoy!–and too much screen time for my kids dulls their sense of what they are capable of doing, thinking, creating, learning, enjoying because they don’t have to use much brain power in front of the TV.
But I had to learn this, not just hear it or read it. When Ellie was little, she watched a lot of TV. She watched TV in her high chair while I made dinner. She watched a show every night before bed as part of her bedtime routine. When I was pregnant with Harper and tired, it was easy and convenient to turn on the TV to get a break. Sometimes it was actual for her safety I turned on the TV because if she asked me one more question, I was going to hold my hand over her little mouth and probably put a tiny bit too much pressure on her cute little face.
I get it; it’s hard and more work for parents when you limit TV and screen time.
I picked this hard eventually, over time, but not from the get-go.
With electronics, my kids get about an hour a week. That’s not a typo, I said a week. My girls spend about an hour a week on iPads or tablets. Sometimes less. They don’t have their own devices (again, they’re six and eight), and I believe they have no business having their own technology at this point.
Our house (please don’t rob us…) contains many iPads, laptops, tablets, and iPhones. Way more than we need. But none of them are Ellie’s or Harper’s. They are Mommy’s and Daddy’s and we share with them. You know what kids need to own? Bikes, toys, some good markers, and clean underpants. Maybe a toothbrush.
They don’t need to own electronics unless it’s a super-awesome boom box with dual-cassette player.
Or something like that.
At restaurants, my kids have to wait for their food–hungry and impatient–just like everyone else. We don’t pacify them with apps or movies. They get to color on placemats or play with Legos they brought in from the car. They also get to talk with the adults at the table, listen to how people interact with each other, engage in conversations with people who are (hopefully) modeling how to treat people, listen to others, have a dialogue.
It’s hard to hear adults complain about “kids these days” when no one is actually paying attention to kids these days. They’re learning from whatever is in front of them, and I’d rather it be me than a screen.
I am fully aware my kids use electronics at school to learn, and I think that’s awesome. I’m sending my children to a public school I trust and I believe will make wise, informed choices about my children’s learning. I’m not against education software and apps, and we have them downloaded on our tablets at home. BUT.
Always a but, right??
Nothing they’re learning at this age is dependent on an app. It’s a bonus, not a requirement. So when Harper’s kindergarten teacher requested 20 minutes of Star Reader every night, we recognized the value of that app reading stories to our child. The bottom line was my five year old needed to be read to at least 20 minutes a day and we chose to do that with actual books in our hands, sitting on the floor in the living room.
For some parents, their season doesn’t allow this and the app is a way to make sure their kid gets read to. Awesome. For other parents, especially ones who aren’t good readers themselves, modeling critical thinking skills while reading is hard and the app is just better for their kid. Super. Great. This reading teacher approves.
But for us, that’s not the case. For us, it would have just been easier and more convenient.
I buy my groceries online, because I like the convenience. I don’t want to miss out on reading to my kid due to being inconvenienced. I have the time.
So we pickup groceries we ordered online, and we sit on the floor reading books with our kids even when we have other things we’d like to be doing.
(I think it’s important to admit I don’t always enjoy being with my children, reading to my children, or playing with my children. Yes, I know time is fleeting and I need to “soak up every minute” [NOTHING MAKES MY EYES ROLL HARDER THAN WHEN SOMEONE SAYS THIS ON INSTAGRAM. IT’S ANNOYING.] but sometimes…most of the time, there are other things I’d rather be doing. Being a parent means sometimes…most of the time putting my children first. They’re not a burden even though sometimes I act like they are. It’s actually just me being selfish. I acknowledge that. I am a selfish parent. [And do NOT get me started on “self care” and “me time” because that’s now what I’m talking about right now. Stop being dramatic.])
When the girls do play on electronics, it’s always out in the open family areas and never in their rooms. They have to tell us exactly what they’ll be doing and not venture to another app or website while they’re on their device. We’ve started conversations about internet safety and talk about what is appropriate to look at and what is not. We’re also starting to discuss how permanent the internet is; what we post will follow us for-ev-er. (Obviously, these are age-appropriate conversations for their current levels and will get deeper as they age. But it’s never too early. Let’s assume at some point, our kids will find something on the internet that is questionable. How they react to it or handle it is up to us at this point so we can’t ignore that reality.)
We went almost TV-free a little over two years ago. Until that point (when my girls were four and six), we had been unrestrained in our TV time. I wrote about that first summer with no TV here if you’re interested in my initial thoughts and struggles.
If your kids have been uninhibited in their TV or screen time, the first few weeks (…months…) are really hard. I know it sounds silly, but I suggest making a long list of things kids can do when they’re bored to combat the impending whining. It’s coming. For sure. When kids wants to turn the TV or iPad on and are told no, their little brains don’t even know how to come up with something else to do. In the beginning, help them out by giving them some specific options. Just saying “go play” doesn’t always work for my kids. Have options ready! The best defense is a good offense! (I don’t even think that makes sense here but I felt it was encouraging nonetheless.) Eventually, they’ll be able to do this on their own, but if they’ve been relying heavily on screens for entertainment, this doesn’t come back immediately.
If this post or our family’s routines are something that interests you, I take no credit for it. I’ve read tons of books on parenting, technology, raising kids, etc., had lots of conversations with friends/fellow parents, plus lots of trial-and-error that have all combined to give us this narrative. I know eventually the things I described above will change because my kids and their needs/maturity will change.
Books (some related to technology and some not) I’d recommend if you want to start processing through changing your kids’ screen time:
Bringing Up Girls by Dr. James Dobson (or Bringing Up Boys if that’s your gig; it’s not mine so I haven’t read that one)
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel
Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy
Bringing Up Geeks by Marybeth Hicks
The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell (not about parenting or technology, but about our culture versus others)
And a few I hope to read soon to continue the conversation on technology and screen time in our family:
Battlefield of the Mind For Kids by Joyce Meyer
The Gift of Enough by Marianne Miller
Irresistible by Adam Alter
What do you think? Have you read anything lately that changed your screen time thoughts? What works for your family?
I absolutely love this!! My 3 kiddos are somewhat limited to “screen” time but my teenage stepdaughters aren’t really. Unfortunately in that situation I don’t get a lot of say. But I make my kids go play, read a book, listen to music, ride bikes, etc…
we actually had our wifi shit off to limit the kids access to internet, etc the only access is through mine & my husbands phones. (Or my stepdaughters phone, which we don’t pay for and I don’t believe they should have)
Screen time with stepkids is, I’m sure, quiet a difficult thing to handle. I don’t envy that struggle.
I really love this. I am not yet a parent, but we are venturing into the world of foster care, and it is really important to me to be fully present with these kids and help them to get back some of their childhood. I fully intend to keep screen time to a minimum, but I know it’s easier said than done. Thank you for the book recommendations, I look forward to adding them to my list!
Raising a tech-free toddler and it isn’t easy. But it will be worth it. Hopefully.
Maria Muscat says
This is great article Mary. It is an eye opener to parents who have been battling with technology. As a mom of four girls, managing their screen them is really a challenge. Being involved with their daily activities is also an effort that should come from us – parents. Using Screen Time Rewards on Tipsticks helped me a lot in managing the kids at home. It gave us a different approach on how to encourage the kids to be responsible on their chores and at the same time limit the use of screen time. You can check this website https://tipsticks.com.au/screentimerewards . It will definitely help a lot of family members in creating memories and be more well rounded at home 🙂