How We Deal with Screen Time in our Home, and How We Deal Without it

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The effects of screen time for kids

The effects of excessive screen time for children have been well documented. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not mince words in their guidelines. Many Montessorians recommend remaining screen free until the age of 3, or even as old as 6.

Watching TV?
Photo Credit: Eje Gustafsson

How do you limit screen time?

That really depends on how much screen time your children currently get, and what your goals for screen time are. Not everyone wants to be completely screen-free. But, even if your goal is to be screen-free, there is something for you in this article.

The first thing you need to consider is when you begin to limit, or eliminate screens, your children will probably be very upset. It is not going to be pleasant for a few days, most likely. Your kids might cry, scream, tantrum, ect. Be there for them. Tell them, “I know this is frustrating for you. You feel angry, and I understand, but this is the new rule of the house.”

It’s also a great idea to let your children know ahead of time that some changes are coming; maybe even mark the days down on a calendar and make it and exciting thing…something they will look forward to. If your plan is to simply limit screen-time, I recommend purchasing an egg timer. Let your kids know that when the timer sounds, that means it’s time for the TV to turn off. You could also just say, “We will watch one episode of Daniel Tiger, then I will turn the TV off.” Same thing with computer time and iPad time. Again, it won’t be pleasant at first, but they will get used to it, I promise!

Or your goal may be to be completely screen-free for the first several years of your child’s life…and that is surprisingly easier that limiting screens! In that case, you can just turn the TV off and say, “We won’t be watching TV anymore.” Again, a meltdown will ensue, and then they will completely forget about the TV after 2 or 3 days. Some people even put a blanket over the TV or hide it in the garage.

You may not believe me that screen-free is easier and totally doable, but just follow me here for a moment.

How can I be screen free

We are (Almost…my 4 year old gets a special movie with her dad about once a month.) completely screen-free at the moment. My children are young, 4 and under, and I simply don’t see the usefulness of screens right now.

I get asked this a lot. “What do your kids do all day?” When I give the answer, the response I get are usually something along the lines of, “That sounds boring!”

And I guess it does sound boring, when all you’ve been exposed to is kids watching TV and playing on iPads…I mean, they look like they are occupied and having fun, right?

So, how do we do it?

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Room to play, a comfortable place to read (with blankets in a basket for comfort), a bookshelf to the left, and plenty of beautifully displayed toys! Note: This worked amazingly, but we have since moved and have a setup that works as well. I will show that in another blog!

You prepare a space, special for your kids; child-size chairs, tables, shelves that make it easy for them to access their toys and activities. You involve them, when possible, in the household chores, like cooking and cleaning. You provide them with open-ended toys, stools all over the house so they can wash their hands, keep their dishes in a low cabinet, so they can help set the table, keep handy for them a “crafting box” full of glue-sticks, pipe-cleaners, and colored tongue depressors. Have a CD player accessible to them and show them how to use it.

It will be a challenge at first; you will have to demonstrate how to safely climb stools, how to wash their own hands, how to set the table, ect. But after you take the time to do that, it’s done. Your kids will be able to exist a bit on their own. They will feel special, because they have their own space. They will feel useful, because they can help. And they will feel a sense of pride in their independence!

Are there any TV shows that aren’t harmful to kids?

I want to add, I am not against screen-time unilaterally. I think TV has something to offer children of appropriate ages. There are some quality programs out there, after all. And television can expose kids to all sorts of things they might not otherwise be exposed to, like different expressions of art, for example. Some children won’t ever get the opportunity to see a live ballet performance or an opera. TV can give them that exposure.

Screens, no screens, whatever you choose. Just know that a TV-free or scree-lite life with little ones is totally doable!

For screen-free travel tip, click here!

And here is a link to our Limited Screen-time Families  Facebook Group!

I’m open to feedback on how you feel about screen-time! How does it, if at all, affect your little ones!?

Cheers!

13 comments

  1. Excellent points. Ours are mostly screen-free. Age 5 twin girls. We did set up the playroom so they can access anything – except paint. That challenge is next. (Most likely a corner outside.) We allow about 20 minutes of screen time on Sunday. And most weekends they never even ask. If they ask for it any other time (and most of the time they DON’T ask) I say “Yes. Oh – wait – can we do this first?” “This” being fold their laundry or tidy-up playroom, take a walk, wash the dishes, or bake something, or write notes, or paint, or read books, or draw, or build with blocks or puzzles, or games, or stencils, or piano, or sew, or lace stuff, or playdough or hunt for treasures in the yard, or go shopping or visit the neighbors or make beaded necklaces and bracelets, or have a tea party or ANYTHING else. And they usually say, “Sure, Mommy.” And they usually forget about whatever they asked to watch. (Peppa Pig and Fancy Nancy are hot right now. The last time they asked for Paw Patrol we told them we really just don’t like it – that it’s too noisy for them and too noisy for mommy and daddy and they haven’t asked for it since.)

    Sometimes I structure it with “princess points”. When they earn enough “princess points” then they can watch for 10 minutes.

    We do sometimes watch nature youtube videos on ipad at random moments when they want to learn something about nature that I simply don’t know. BUT soon we will have encyclopedias in the house and we will pull out the encyclopedia instead of the ipad. And I really look forward to that day.

    Our girls aren’t in Montessori school, but I read as much as I can and structure their home environment by Montessori principles as best I can. MANY people, even strangers comment on their curiosity, their ability to focus, the stunning quality of their artwork and their wild imaginations. We will take that as signs that we are on the right track.

  2. It does sound like you are on the right track! We’ve been shopping around for a set of encyclopedias, ourselves. Recommendations are welcome! Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. We raised our daughter without screen time so she never missed it in the first place

    Her kindergarten teachers thought she was a genius because their baseline for 5 year olds was zonked out TV babies She’s a smart kid, of course, but she just had normal intellectual curiosity of a screen free child.

    Now that she is 20 years old, she has initiative and drive to succeed in life unlike her TV baby peers, who sit at home in mom’s living room watching TV and playing vidya, just like they’ve been doing their whole life.

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