After doing the research for last week’s blog about the harmful effects of too much screen time for children, I decided to challenge myself to a full day without electronic media for me as well as my kids.
It was a painful decision, akin to choosing natural childbirth when an epidural is available, but the research had me a bit frightened.
In case you missed it, screen time for children less than two years old has been linked to language delays.
More than two hours of screen time per day for children has been associated with things like attention deficit, sleep problems, social problems and aggressive behavior.
Reducing screen time looks good on paper, but how does it play out in real life?
One of the reasons parents are encouraged to limit screen time is because it decreases interaction between parent and child.
During our day without electronic entertainment, there were definitely a lot of interactions, albeit not all positive.
I spent a lot more time during the day saying things like, “No! You can’t run around with an open jug of milk! You have to wear pants outside! Dog food is for dogs! Please, please, please don’t hit your sister one more time!”
We didn’t need to watch cartoons to see an episode of Curious George play out right before our eyes.
Not watching screen media turned out to be much more difficult for me than my son. I was thoroughly surprised at how easily I could redirect his attention when he asked to watch cartoons.
Maybe it was the fact that instead of turning on the TV and walking away, I was grabbing a toy and sitting down to play.
I don’t need electronic media when my children are entertaining themselves. I need it when they are not, which is when they really need me.
The most challenging times without screen time were preparing meals and putting the baby down for a nap. I just needed to keep my son occupied long enough to get those things done.
Here are a few things that worked: nesting toys, arts and crafts, and “special” toys that he is only allowed to play with at specific times.
As we neared bedtime, behavior declined. I craved a break. I grew weary of giving constant instructions and discipline.
I needed to get some things done like, ahem, write my blog.
As I stood in the kitchen cleaning up dinner while my son screamed, I decided it was time to give in. I couldn’t take it anymore. Surely we had had enough interactions for one day.
I turned around to tell him he could go watch cartoons. Instead I found that he had given up and was lying on the kitchen floor reading a pile of books.
I’m not going to lie. When my husband finally came home that evening, I told him that deciding to go a day without screen time was the stupidest decision I ever made.
I was never going to do that again. I was in the middle of writing last week’s blog and considered scrapping the whole thing.
Surprisingly though, the next day was much better. Although I didn’t eliminate screen time completely, I limited it to half an hour, which is one cartoon and just enough time to cook a meal or put the baby down for a nap, but not both.
My son’s behavior was pretty good all day long. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but maybe all of the time I spent instructing and disciplining and, well, parenting, the day before had made an effect after all.
The statistics about the amount of time children spend in front of a screen sound alarming, and it is easy to think, “Oh, we aren’t that bad.” But are we?
A Mickey Mouse in the morning, a Curious George while making lunch and a Super Why! (which teaches letters, by the way) while putting the baby down for a nap, and there’s an hour and a half before evening.
Without a concrete plan to manage screen time, we were falling into a bad pattern. Not to mention the fact that a child my son’s age is supposed to watch zero to maybe half an hour of television and no screen time is recommended for my daughter.
It is taking a very intentional effort for us to limit screen time. We had to put passwords (which I’m sure we will have to change frequently) on all of our devices. At times I have had to hide the remote control.
Despite the extra work, it is satisfying to do something good for my children. Let’s change the statistics and help our children learn to enjoy real life, not just screen time.
Without a concrete plan to manage screen time, we were falling into a bad pattern.