What shall we do about screen time? I don’t know. I am caught between it will rot their brains and it’s just something that we have to embrace because it’s ‘part of the world they are growing up in.’ I mean, I don’t want my kids to fall behind with the whole technology thing. But I also don’t want their brains to rot.
I should now cite some research to substantiate evidence behind the negative effects of screen time on young children. I am not going to though, because if I go looking for this information I will end up feeling like a horrible, failure of a mother. My children have been exposed to screens.
What I can tell you is that I do recognise the benefits to my children of spending time in nature, engaging with the real world around them over spending time in front of a screen. I would prefer that we read together, play together and even that they would just be plain bored rather than sit in front of a screen. I can tell you that my instinct as a mother is to desire another form of stimulation for them over sitting in front of a screen.
I can also tell you that I have chosen to be realistic based on the lifestyle that we choose to live. I have chosen to be realistic and I have chosen to be selfish. Sometimes I use screen time to keep them busy while I get ready in the morning. Sometimes I use screen time to keep them busy when I want to socialise with friends in the evening.
I’m okay with this, we have chosen to be okay with some screen time. For me, the challenge is to not be selfishly realistic (or realistically selfish) too much of the time, to establish boundaries and rules that work for us as a family and to try our best to stick to them.
So, these are some of the things that I consider when setting these boundaries. These are not based on any kind of expertise or research, but simply my findings and inclinations as a mother navigating this question.
1. Watch with them
If we just need a bit of down time, I watch with them. We are then engaging in a shared activity and it is not just them interfacing with a screen. I find that this is a good way to incorporate some ‘guilt free’ screen time. This applies especially as children get a bit older, a family movie night is a relaxing way to spend some time together as a family. We sit close together and journey through all the emotions evoked by a story, together.
2. Don’t create limits
When I was young, my mom limited me to one hour of television a day. So guess what I did? I made absolute certain that a fulfilled my screen time quota every day, and so did my sister. It was a thing. I have decided not to give my children a particular limit. The particular limit on any given day will depend on us, their parents. They will learn that screen time is not a given, it is something to be allowed if we decide to grant it. In this way, the privilege to sit and rot in front of a screen is not their right, it is our right as parents to control it. This also gives us the freedom to allow more screen time some days, and no screen time other days.
3. Set yourself up for success
I find that it is easier to choose an alternative activity to screen time when there is an actual alternative. As someone who does not have much experience (or aptitude) with young children, I am often not sure what to do with them. If it’s not reading a book (same old books) or doing a puzzle (same old puzzles), what can I do with my children that’s engaging and educational? I don’t have the aptitude, but I do have the desire.
I recently discovered Panda Post. I love the concept because it has been created by a mom who has identified a real need and is doing something about it. Nina is a Grade R teacher with a special interested in helping other parents to discover ways of spending time with their children that are interesting and engaging and will have a positive impact on their learning and development.
You subscribe to the service and Nina plans and creates an age appropriate activity (checked by an occupational therapist) which will be delivered to your door each month. Each month, a new theme is released. The current month’s them is #finemotorfun and is aimed at boosting fine motor skills.
There is no monthly commitment and you can select month by month if you would like to purchase the activities. But why would you not? For me, this is one less thing that I need to worry about, and even if I have an idea, I don’t have to run around looking for supplies. I can look forward to everything arriving in a neat little box, with instructions and everything we need. And can you imagine the excitement of this anticipation for the children?
This has really empowered me to choose a fun, educational activity over screen time (more often than before).
4. Know what they are watching
We actually do not own a television, or have internet at home. This makes it quite easy to control what they are watching. But regardless of our circumstances, I will always remind myself that just because content was created for children, it is not necessarily good for children. I provide my list of shows that we watch at the end of this article.
5. No screen time alone in their bedrooms
Okay, my children are not yet at the age that they would choose to skulk around behind closed doors interfacing with a screen, but I will choose to enforce this when we get there. While they are young, I will set the tone by establishing screen time as a social activity and not something that we disappear and do on our own.
6. Get into nature
Nature is so good for us. Whether it results in less screen time or it’s just part of the rhythm and ensures that our brains and bodies get to refresh and recalibrate, it’s always worth it.
7. Lead by example
It’s not only my children who need boundaries and guidelines when it comes to screen time. I find the urge to check my phone (for no particular reason) while my children are with me can get a bit out of hand. They can’t stand it (little hypocrites, don’t even look up at me when they are watching Peppa Pig). Having a phone to check when I am spending active time with them is very damaging and definitely an area that I am establishing boundaries (especially as I have recently become more active on Instagram). As a mommy instagrammer and blogger, this needs to be taken seriously. My children must never feel that they are competing with a device for my attention. I think that this topic needs a blog post of it’s own, and perhaps I will write one sometime.
WHAT WE WATCH AT HOME
Peppa Pig – we all watch this, with it’s simple relatable themes and little nuggets of adult humour
Curious George – a favourite at the moment. George is such a sweet little character and I love that the background music is all classical.
Cat in the Hat – simple, repetitive story structure and jingles (which I think kids enjoy) and each episode teaches children something about nature or science
Charlie and Lola – lovely imaginative world of a brother and sister
Both sets of grandparents have DSTV, and I restrict my children to only JimJam (I find all of the other children’s channels are full of shows that are so fast-paced and hectic and just pure entertainment without educational value).
Here are our JimJam favourites (some old classics here)
Thomas the tank engine
Guess how much I love you
Bob the builder
What other shows have your found that you and your children love?