We are not a ‘screen free’ family, however I do believe in being mindful about how much we expose Althea and ourselves to digital media. Rather than striving for zero screen time I prefer to work towards finding a healthy balance. I believe this looks different for every family, there is no one size fits all. What works for one child or one family does not necessarily work for another and therefore it is up to us as parents/carers to find what works best for our individual children and our own unique set of circumstances at any given time.
I am always curious about how other families approach screen time in their homes and what works for them. Mainly because it is such a controversial topic shrouded in parental guilt. I feel guilty every time the TV goes on even though I feel like there are a number of benefits to using screens. I’m not here to rehash the research and try and convince you one way or another about the impact of screen time. I am also not here to judge or preach. I am just here to share an honest account of what screen time looks like for us right now and hopefully you’ll take something positive away from it.
Somedays we get to the end of the day having not watched a single TV programme. And I am always surprised. We do play Spotify through our TV so when this is the case the screen is on and showing an image of the album cover. We got into a habit not so long ago of watching our music on YouTube but I noticed that Althea got extremely impatient during the videos and constantly wanted it changing, whereas with Spotify she is quite happy to let a whole album play through.
On the days when we do watch something, it is usually for 10 – 20 minutes whilst she sits and has some snack (around 9am or 2.30pm). But we have gotten into the habit of eating snack at her small table and we will read books instead. When she does watch something I try to take the time to sit with her and talk about what is happening on screen.
We have a list of ‘pre-approved’ programs that she can choose from. These are all children’s programs that are slow paced such as animated versions of the Eric Carle classics ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ and ‘Papa please can you get the moon for me’, have minimal scene changes like ‘Mr Rogers Neighbourhood’ and cover simple concepts (Twirly Woo’s), I also prefer shows that have real people in such as the 1990’s series ‘Come Outside‘ which covers lots of outdoor/nature topics like butterflies, snails and growing.
We try to only use apps on the IPad when we really need to such as on a flight or a rainy day on holiday (although we did just make it through a 2.5hr flight on stickers and play dough alone!). The ‘Peek -a…’ series (available on ipad and iPhone only) is an animal vocabulary app and the only ones she currently uses. We decided that these are most suitable for her right now at 18 months as they are simple to use and therefore foster some independence as well as build vocabulary.
We skype family and friends as we live on the other side of the world and keeping in touch is much more important than any possible negative effects of screen time in my opinion.
We have days, even weeks where the screen time gets ramped up. I suffered from HG for the first 18 weeks of this pregnancy and although I am feeling a lot better, pregnancy with a toddler is HARD, so we have off days where I need some screen time. When this is the case I will usually choose a Disney film to watch together our favourites being Moana and Tangled. I have fond memories of snuggling down under a blanket on the sofa with my own mum and watching a film. I feel that this is more about connection and recuperation than anything else and besides, she usually only watches for a short while before she goes off to do something else.
We try to limit our own screen time. It’s hardly fair or realistic to expect Althea to minimise her screen time when we are constantly on our phones. I’ll admit this is still very much a work in progress but a few house rules have helped, which include no screens at meal times, no adult shows on in the background, no sitting on ours phones whilst playing with her. During self directed play I try to read a book or doing something with my hands,
Here are few things we do instead of screen time
We have a strong daily rhythm which means there is usually not much space in the day left for extra screen time.
We read books at meal times when she needs a little bit of extra encouragement to sit and eat
We listen to audiobooks or music
We get outside first thing after breakfast. I take my cup of tea into the garden and she looks for snails and flowers.
We do chores together. For example, we clean the bathrooms on a Monday and she will ‘help’ by ‘reorganising’ the box of toiletries
We have a bath in the morning, usually after some time outside in the garden. This takes up a good 30 mins.
We always have a selection of Althea’s work/toys accessible on her low shelves so that she can choose something to do with ease. In montessori we call this the prepared environment. Her favourites at the moment are duplo, play doh and jigsaws.
We have play dates, visit the library or the park, go swimming or for a bike ride with Daddy. I make a conscious effort to make sure she has plenty of time outdoors. However, I am careful not to over-schedule our days, we tend to keep it to just one outing a day and we do have a day or two a week where we just stay at home and bake or make.
Oh and we hide the remotes!
If you are looking for evidence based information and a more balanced argument surrounding the topic of screen time I recommend reading Unplugged Parenting: How to Raise Happy, Healthy Children in the Digital Age by Dr Elizabeth Kilbey and Screen Time Studies Parents Should Know About by Meghan Owenz, PhD
As always I am keen to hear about your approach to screen time, what sort of shows and apps make it on to your approved list and anything you do in place of screen time…