Over the last year we have really buckled down and tried to minimize the amount of screen use for our kids.
It is all too easy to use screens as a go to when tired, bored, or trying to get something done. It started with our second being born and she really didn’t sleep for about 16 months until we sorted out allergies and intolerances. Tired, barely functioning parents equals way too much tv for the older sibling! As we got out of survival mode, we were so used to having a show in the morning, when we needed to get something done, and before dinner time. It is easy to make excuses for why ‘just this once’ we’d throw a show on. But as parents we of course know how kids (adults probably too) really shouldn’t spend too much time in front of screens. And besides that fact, too often after letting them indulge in some screen time we were noticing behaviours and trouble sleeping.
It started with YouTube. I don’t know what it is exactly about YouTube and I have some unproven hypotheses about how the fast moving, unlimited choices affects little brains. We noticed even if our kids were watching she appropriate videos, songs, etc the aftermath when we turned it off was horrible. Double the time spent on YouTube was tantrums, whining for the toys they’d seen in videos, or claims they were so bored their lives were pretty much over. So an all out YouTube ban happened at our house. There is a rare exception when one of us as the parents will show them 1 video (especially with trying to do French immersion it can be helpful) but they are not given full control and it’s shut off right after the short video.
Overall screen time had been harder to cut down on. It’s so sneaky and when life gets busy it is such a tempting device. It has been slow going but we now try to keep their screen time under 2 hours a day. There are some days they have next to none and one days they do go over. How did we go about this?
1.Set limits involving screen time.
When we all get home from work and school, we have been in the habit of letting the girls watch tv while we make dinner and hopefully take a few minutes to relax. Instead of taking this away completely, we started by making sure the tv was off at 6 at the latest and when we eat dinner, it does not go back in afterwards.
2. Changing routines.
My oldest daughter gets home earlier than our youngest as my husband usually works from home so he picks our oldest up from school. She hangs out with him while he finishes up his work day. As she is getting more independent now, we decided to set a timer when she gets home. She can have a snack, play with her toys, draw, etc until the timer goes. Once the timer goes she can watch a show. Now that she is in this habit, often she is so busy in whatever she decided to do first that she won’t even want a show.
3. Be better role models.
It’s so easy to just sit and scroll on my phone. Texting, reading articles or being in social media. However, I realized it is pretty silly for me to tell them they need to get off of screens while being on mine. I am putting my phone down more often and trying to be more present.
4. Find or rediscover hobbies.
I love runnin and am now training for a half marathon. Lately I have gotten back into reading, and we are going to be attempting to grow some plants this spring. My husband has picked up his guitar again after many years of neglecting it. He has gotten back into singing, and continues to love working on his car. I think it’s important for our kids to see us enjoying other things away from screens so they can realize it is not always necessary to be entertained. We try to do activities as a family as well. Our go tos are a short hike and swimming at the pool.
While sometimes I do think my kids need to be bored do they learn to find they own interests and use their imagination, there are those times that it is necessary to provide some ideas. Those moments when they are fighting, driving me crazy, or need some down time-it is so easy to want to go to tv. I have started putting out toys or activities that they haven’t used in awhile, offering a podcast to moisten to, put on music, or when we can we change the scenery (go outside, different room, or go somewhere). And sometimes instead of trying to keep them busy while I do something, I now include them. They are getting older so are more helpful but not always enthusiastic with this plan.
We aren’t perfect and some days we go well over the recommended amount. Morning time is still tough as we got into the habit of letting them watch a show when they wake up. I think we will eventually cut that out, but for now we just limit the length. Weekdays are easy as they need to get ready for school anyway and on weekends we just turn it off after about 45 minutes to an hour.
It has surprised me to see our kids start playing better, generally have better moods (we still have some moments), and sleep much better.
Each family is going to have different ideas about how much and when to use screen time. However, if you think you want to cut back as a family, I highly recommend it as it has only been a positive experience for us!
Share your experiences with us! What has worked for you to get a break from screens? Have you noticed any positive or negative effects from cutting back on screen time?