Parenting is such a heavy undertaking. In no other role have I felt the gravity of every decision. Every choice I make for my family has the potential to drastically impact the direction of my children’s lives. What I feed them, what books we read, what we do together as a family, and how much screen time I give them.
I try to keep my kids unplugged as much as I can. Don’t get me wrong. We own a TV. We watch it, daily. My kids love shows like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Paw Patrol. TV lets me do things like make dinner, fold laundry, and take a shower. YouTube Kids is directly responsible for allowing my family to eat at restaurants. But when my kids and I spend time together, quality time, I try to keep screens out of it.
The Screen Time Problem
Today’s world is much different than it was when I was a kid, and even more when you look at how our parents’ generation grew up. The main difference, of course, is the prevalence of technology. This is a digital age and the way our children are growing up is reflective of that.
I believe that the simplest, truest aspects of childhood transcend generational differences and are bigger than things like smart phones or Alexa. Childhood to me means bed time stories, bike rides, and staying outside til the lights come on. I want a 1980’s movie childhood for my kids, a childhood where they have secret tree house meetings with their friends and play lots of board games.
Until my son was around two years old, I used to allow my him to have YouTube open on my phone without filtering, or even paying attention to what he was watching.We used to just have Nick JR on the TV all day long. I didn’t like the effects that much screen time had on my children’s behavior. My son was irritable and unfocused. He didn’t want to engage in imaginative play.
The Dangers of Too Much Screen Time
I do recognize that technology is now a part of our world, and that my children will need to learn computer skills in the way I needed to learn English, there are so many studies that show that technology has negative effects on our kids as well.
While technology can sometimes aid in education, too much exposure causes kids to have a hard time focusing and can lead to a delay in the ability to read emotions and small vocabulary. Psychology Today states that overuse of technology in parenting young children can even lead to actual delay in brain development, more specifically, the frontal lobe, the part of the brain that helps us relate to other people. It makes sense – this part of the brain develops by interacting with other people, and if a child is always watching a screen, they are not exercising that part of their brain.
The Correct Use of Screen Time
Listen, I am not hear to bash on technology. I am a blogger, after all. This wonderful platform does not exist without laptops and smartphones and high speed internet. And let’s be honest, for most of our kids, career success will be somewhat dependent on their ability to navigate a technology saturated world. But I think its important that we filter out the noise and make sure we are mindful about our kids’ screen time.
I think the key is to save technology for short breaks during the day and make that time meaningful. Of course, watch a movie together as a family, and let Curious George babysit while you fix the kiddos lunch. But instead of handing them YouTube to navigate on their own during dinner, maybe download an educational, interactive game instead.
The Mayo Clinic gives three guidelines for kids ages 2-5 in regards to screen time:
- One hour a day
- No unsupervised use
- High quality programs or games
Now, I realize that we are real mothers in the real world – these are standards to strive for. If you go over an hour a day, hell, if you go over 3 hours in a day, don’t beat yourself up. Just make a goal to be mindful about screen time from now on.
Extra Tip – The Kindle Fire has features like parental controls, built in time limits, and doesn’t require an internet connection. It makes a great educational tool for young kids!
Technology Free Quality Time
I think the best thing I can do to raise children who are not addicted to screen time is to show them all the fun to be had away from a screen! Encourage them to have free play time, exploring, adventuring, saving the kingdom from the evil dragon that wants to destroy the playground. Get them outside and allow them to learn the way kids are supposed to learn – by playing!
In my home, I make sure that when the kids and I are spending quality time, it does not involve a screen (for the most part). I aim to show them that the really important things in life are EXPERIENCED and not just watched on a screen. We do things like going to the park, or out for ice cream. We play in the back yard, take walks, and catch lightning bugs. One of my favorite things to do with my kids is cook. Every night, we read a few books and sing our favorite lullaby. I talk to them and ask questions about their thoughts and feelings. And we play, a lot.
I’m no expert, but I think the solution to the problem of screen time and kids is the same solution to most parenting problems: love them, spend time with them, make them feel they are important and interesting.
Here is a great list of educational apps for preschoolers :