I had strong thoughts about how we'd handle screen time with our kids even before I was pregnant. I'd love to share an update on how we're handling screen time with the boys.
In short, they get very limited screen time and our approach is essentially as I imagined it would be. Among my in-person and online friend circles my sense is that our family is among those that have the most restrictive screen time rules with their kids. I wanted to share our approach to screen time not to make anyone feel guilty about the screen time their kids have. Just like anything parenting related that I share, my intention is to be honest about how we're handling something that can have many options. This is how we're choosing to approach screen time right now, and it will surely change as the boys get older.
Our approach to screen time for the boys is based on how I grew up (no television was allowed on the weekdays), how Chris and I currently consume media via screens, what I've read about the importance of active versus passive activities for kids, and also just my own parent gut feeling. Trying to synthesize the different articles, studies, and recommendations about screen time for kids leads me to believe that there are wonderful, age-appropriate programs and games for kids. And that allowing them to watch or play these within reason* is not detrimental to their development. However, I haven't read a study that says that it's MORE beneficial for a child to be using a screen versus not using a screen. For us the conclusion is we'd rather create an environment with very limited screen time. It's certainly not the only conclusion.
But the boys don't have a completely screen-free life. Here are the ways our boys do get screen time right now at ages 2 and 4:
+ During haircuts.
Chris cuts the boys hair every 4 - 8 weeks at home. So far the most reliable way to get the boys to sit still is to let them watch something on the computer. During haircuts Dash has watched part of The Incredibles movie and parts of Lego movie. More recently we have put on episodes of Sesame Street for them and I'd love to show them Reading Rainbow, which I still have vivid memories of watching and loving.
+ During airplane flights.
We fly about once a year with the boys, usually a two-hour flight to Austin. We pack lots of activities and snacks but queue up a couple shows and games as plan B. Cedric is only just now getting to the age when watching something might hold his attention.
+ To see pictures of themselves or friends.
When we take pictures of the boys they usually want to see the picture we took so we'll show them. Sometimes that leads to swiping through pictures but it'll only be for a couple of minutes.
+ At school.
In Dash's preschool class they occasionally watch short videos related to what they are learning. Dash is also enrolled in a preschool computer class that is offered through his school. He attends once a week for about an hour. I don't feel it's essential that he learns how to use a computer at this age but he really enjoys it so we've been happy for him to go. Cedric gets very limited screen time at school.
+ At grandparent's houses.
When we visit my parents in Austin or when Dash has a sleep over at Chris's parents we let the boys watch a movie or show.
By limiting screen time our intention is to teach them to be resourceful about entertainment and inspiration. When they are old enough to choose how to live their lives and how much time to spend watching screen-based programs I hope we've given them a foundation for being more likely to choose a book or to be outside or to hang out with friends rather than passively consuming via a screen. I am not saying that letting your kids use screens means they won't read or be outside or have friends. But I do feel concern over the amount of television Americans watch on average (5 hours PER DAY) and also the effects that it can have on health and happiness (a blog post that Chris wrote but with some great references linked). We're biased, of course, because we chose to ditch our television. But then what is parenting if not instilling the values you deem important in your kids?
I'll admit that at times I have thought, "It would be so much easier if I could let them watch something right now!" Although ultimately allowing regular screen time actually feels like it would be much more difficult rather than essentially never allowing screen time. In instances where we've shown the boys pictures on our phone or when they have been able to watch a video they has asked for more pictures and more videos. Usually a "no" from us leads to whining or a melt down. So in our house no screen time also means one less thing that might cause a melt down. This feels significant!
I remember when Dash was around 18 months or 2 years old when he first started noticing our phones. We would show him a picture occasionally or a Blue's Clues episode. This was around the time when Cedric was born AND when Dash was waking at 4 AM most days and sometimes we really did need a way to get Dash to sit quietly in one spot for a few minutes. However, this led to Dash being even more interested in our phones and getting upset when he couldn't hold it or watch something. It reinforced our thinking that essentially no screen time is just easier to manage than some screen time.
* The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends no screen time except video chatting for children 18 months and under. They recommend and hour or less of high-quality programming watched with a parent or caregiver for children ages 2 - 5.