You probably think I’m crazy to limit screen time, but I’m just going to put it out there and say that screens scare me. The more I see little eyes glazed over as they stare at mom’s phone, the more I want to stay away from screens altogether. My daughter is now almost four years old and she doesn’t own an iPad, is not allowed to touch my phone, and is under a pretty strict “diet” of TV (sick days don’t count).
People think I’m strange, but I have watched the erosion of social skills in my classroom over the past decade. I have watched toddlers staring vacantly into screens with no awareness of what’s happening around them. I have watched tweens and teens retreat into a virtual world of their own blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. I can hear you shouting that this is the 21st Century and that my child will need to know how to use technology. I couldn’t agree more. Responsible use of technology is very different from handing my child an iPad so I can shut her up for a few hours. We both know that’s the truth.
Birth to Two – None for us, thank you!
While my little peanut was still learning to eat solid foods, I had made a commitment to avoid screens altogether until the age of two. Yes, ALL screens. Yes, ALL the time. It wasn’t easy, but I kept thinking about some of the addictive behaviors I had seen throughout my experience as a middle and high school teacher. All the books I read about brain development in children and behavioral issues clearly indicated that screens were of no benefit to children under the age of two. Even the AAP discourages the use of screen time under the age of two. Check out their recommendations here on their TV Viewing Guidelines.
Two to Three – 30 Minutes with Supervision
When my daughter turned two, I decided that it was time she have the opportunity to enjoy some TV time. I didn’t simply flip on the TV and let her sit and watch, I screened all of the programming out there and determined that the show should be at least educational. Our very first show was Daniel Tiger. I loved how Daniel worked through his frustrations, his feelings of jealousy, and even his feelings of sadness and anger. He tackled potty training and going to the doctor and incorporated friends who were both alike and different from him.
It was very tempting to get things done while my daughter was entertained for 30 minutes, but I spent some time sitting with her and talking about what was happening on the show. We began a dialogue and found that she began to enjoy our TV time. I felt that she was learning about different experiences and had me there so that she was able to ask questions and get clarity when she needed it.
Three to (almost) Four – One Hour with Supervision
Over the last year, I have introduced some additional shows including Curious George and The Bernstein Bears. We typically watch in the morning and the evening, but there is some room for a movie on a rainy or snowy weekend, or when she’s bedridden with illness. The best thing about it is that I let her navigate the choices (pre-approved, of course) and she knows that there isn’t an unlimited time frame. When the show is over, the TV goes off. While I think choice is important, I do want her to understand that our routine is always the same and that getting lost in the TV for hours at a time is not something I want to encourage.
Trading Screen Time for Imagination
Over the past four years I have seen my daughter grow and blossom into a pretty great kid (yeah, I’m definitely biased). She creates her own games, speaks in her own language, laughs, plays, and enjoys her play time. I’m not sure if I would have seen the same personality had she been glued to an iPad for several hours each day. While I won’t say that my daughter will never have an iPad, I can safely say that we aren’t in any rush to get one. Kids, just like parents, have a hard time setting limits. I often find myself checking my phone well after I have determined that I should be sleeping.
Kids left with no supervision or limitations will fall into the same trap we all do-waking up groggy, grabbing our phones next to our beds to see what we missed between midnight and 5 a.m., and possibly ignoring those around us. Let’s bring back conversation, hugs, and play. There’s one thing we all need and that is human contact and interaction. No TV, iPhone or iPad and replicate that!