The Screen Debate
You may not be surprised to hear that there is a lot of buzz and debate around screen time for kids. Screen time can be, but is not limited to television, YouTube, video games, apps on handheld devices, scrolling social media, snapchat, etc. With it being National Screen-Free week, I thought I’d share my stance on screen time for children and while I don’t claim to be any sort of expert, I’d like to share my personal anecdotes with you! So here is my personal opinion on the matter...I don’t think screen time is necessarily bad BUT I do think there should be healthy boundaries around screen time for developing children and I believe that screen time should be quite limited and this is how we choose to view screen time in our home. Screen time is occasionally used in our homeschool (educational videos/apps/television shows), and beyond that, screen time is a treat. You may be surprised to hear that several days can go by without my children asking for or viewing a screen of any kind.
It wasn’t always this way! 3 years ago, my daughter (only child at the time) watched TV ALL.THE.TIME. TV was (and still is) her vice of choice and mindlessly watching TV shows and movies was her favorite past-time. I worked full-time as a teacher, but when I was home from work or on school breaks/summer, the TV was usually on for hours a day and she was GLUED to it. The more she watched, the more she wanted to watch. She would literally demand and beg for “more show.” She had plenty of toys, but she rarely played with them. Sometimes she watched TV while we slept in, took a nap, or got a few hours of work done! I hate to admit that the TV sometimes babysat my child, but that’s essentially what was happening. It pains me to also admit that my daughter was ADDICTED to something and she wasn’t even 3 years old. Reflecting back on this time in her life, I would say that her attitude, mood, and behavior were terrible. You may be thinking, WOW, I do some of this too! I’m not here to bash you or your choices as a parent. I am here to share my experience and the things that I recognize in hindsight because these realizations are eye-opening and not something that I take lightly and I urge you to consider and reflect on the habits of those in your home and to make changes or adapt to what you feel is best for your family situation.
Along Came National Screen-free Week
I distinctly remember having a home visit with our parents as teachers volunteer and something she said stuck with me - “A child’s brain is more ACTIVE while sleeping than it is when watching television.” YIKES! Around this same time, I was working hard at my business and I remember learning about national screen-free week. I decided to take on the challenge with my family and to also set a challenge in my VIP group (much like what I’m doing this week in my VIP group, complete with prize opportunities!). I got a lot of people involved and shared hundreds of alternative activities to using a screen. As you can probably imagine, it was an eye-opening experience!
Some people made it the whole week screen free and shared their perspectives on it, and it was so eye-opening. While it was a challenge for many (and many couldn’t do it and dropped out), some reported that it was easier to go screen-free than they thought it would be. Others stated that they realized that a lot of the time, the TV was on in their home unnecessarily and they would like TV use to be a more deliberate decision moving forward. One person reported that with a little more creativity, her kids don’t actually miss the screen. Many seemed to realize how connected their families were to technology.
My Takeaways From That Challenge
That year, I also found it easier to go screen free than I thought it would be. I agree with the sentiment that with a little creativity (and distraction!), my child didn’t miss the screen. The first few days were harder than the rest but she was a toddler at the time and when presented with other fun activities to try, she gladly obliged. It was nice to see my daughter actually PLAY WITH HER TOYS that had been previously collecting dust. Family bonding improved, my daughter was more creative, and her mood and behavior improved, too! See some photos from our last 2 years' Screen-Free week challenges below!
Our Current Situation
Now that I work from home and homeschool, there WOULD BE the opportunity to watch television ALL day, but we simply choose not to. My children know the rules and the TV doesn’t come on during the school day (in MOST cases!), so they rarely ask for it. Sometimes we use educational videos to supplement our homeschool in limited quantities. In the evenings or on weekends, the children sometimes watch some TV as a “treat.” That’s how I would classify television in our home - a “treat and not the norm.” And when I pick television shows, more often than not, I opt for educational shows (think PBS kids, Super Why, Daniel Tiger, Octonauts, The Magic School Bus, Curious George, Little House on the Prairie, Clifford the Big Red Dog, The Berenstain Bears, etc.) versus mindless television. I will admit that even today, I sometimes see the addictive tendencies and behavior and attitude problems spring up from my daughter if she gets the opportunity to watch some TV and this is when the TV is promptly turned off and we prompt her to do something else. My 2 year old son on the other hand doesn’t pay any attention to the TV most of the time, and I think that’s telling. He hasn’t grown up with heavy television use during their waking hours. We know that many other children their age have their own tablets, but we choose not to get one for our children. We’ve thought about it, but at this time, we don’t see a need for it and we could see it being another addictive vice for our daughter. We do own a first generation iPad that the children use to watch movies for LONG road trips, but it’s not used for much else.
What Do They Do All Day?
You might be wondering, what in the world do my children do all day if they don’t use any screens?! We homeschool, so a lot of time is spent at the table working through our morning basket, reading and math lessons, and tea time in the afternoons. When we aren’t at the table doing schoolwork, my children can be super independent and really could get by without screens at all! They CREATE, make art projects using recycled materials, draw, color, entertain each other, read Usborne books, do activity books, play with toys (I highly recommend open-ended toys like wooden blocks, legos, and toys that allow them to use their imaginations like baby dolls and little people sets, as these are the toys that both of my children can occupy themselves with for HOURS!), or we are out and about for family outings, play dates, field trips, museums, library programs, parks, nature walks, and more! My kids have amazing imaginations and a strong bond with one another; they are super-creative, and they have great vocabulary, and a knack for storytelling. I don’t think my children would be this way if I had continued on the same path of letting them zone out in front of a TV for hours a day.
While you might not be ready to try a screen detox with your family, I urge you to consider and carefully reflect on your family’s screen habits to determine if there is any need to make changes and adapt. Here are some questions to get you thinking?
Ask yourself some of the following questions:
- Do your children display addictive tendencies when it comes to their tablet, video games, television, etc?
- What is your child’s behavior, mood, attitude like when/after they consume screens?
- How would you rate what your child is consuming on screens in terms of mindless to purposeful or educational?
- Are there any boundaries you could set around screen time that you think your family could benefit from?
- What times of day do your children struggle most with boredom when they ask for screens? Are there alternative activities that you could offer?