Guest Post: Screen-time — A Happy Medium
As a mother who passionately embraces the slow parenting philosophy but also one who understands the reality of being a parent, I find I’m always walking a fine line. One where I am determined to give my children freedom, security, comfort, love, guidance and knowledge while still giving myself the sanity needed to survive this “longest, shortest time.” To embrace each and every single mandate of “slow parenting” often comes at the cost of convenience, privacy and a slew of other things.
I love my children dearly, but I am also a working mother and a woman who needs space, occasional quiet and fifteen minutes for folding laundry or responding to an email. Although we limit screen time in our home, we haven’t gotten rid of it altogether. Because over the years we’ve learned that no amount of toys, coloring books or snacks will entertain your child on a four hour flight or road trip. We’ve also found that with our extremely energetic son who often has trouble calming down before a nap or around company a calming and relaxing children’s cartoon can be very soothing for him.
We have two children – our daughter Valya who is almost 5 and our son Teddy who recently turned three 3. Valya has been exposed to “media” since about age two and the same goes for Teddy. We just find that they are not that interested before that age. Sometimes to make feeding time go by faster we would play them simple “baby shows” that were mostly songs and images. However, by age three, each of our kids would start to become interested in television. So over the course of almost five years we have tried it all and learned a lot of valuable lessons.
When Valya first turned three and Teddy was a little over one we had cable TV. Having two very small children so close in age was not easy and often I resorted to the television when I felt like I had ran out of hands, ideas or patience. It was mainly Disney Jr., NickJr and PBS. A few months into this “habit” we started to notice that our usually creative and excitable little girl was constantly bored. If she wasn’t watching TV she would whine and get very clingy. Gone was the child that could happily play or entertain herself independently for hours. It did not take too long before we put two and two together. That fall we went cold turkey with TV. Just got rid of it altogether. It did not even take two weeks before Valya was back to playing pretend, tinkering around her toy kitchen, reading to herself and drawing. We also noticed that she slept much more soundly.
However, as life would have it, the following year we had a lot of sickness in our house that started in the fall and remained all through the winter. My energy was very low and with the children struggling with the same issue we got tempted by the ease of Netflix and “fell off the wagon.” If we didn’t come in and turn off or remove the laptop the kids would have sat in front of that screen all day. By now Teddy was over two and his testosterone loving self couldn’t get enough of shows like “Animal Mechanicals” and “Octanauts.” Again we found our children easily bored, stripped of their imagination and very anxious, over-hyped and struggling with sleep both at bedtime and naptime. We also noticed something new this time – we found them to be very incorrigible and us having to discipline them more than usual. We wracked our brains for a cause and a possible solution. We weren’t sure if television could be to blame again but we decided to try something.
Instead of taking the TV option away completely, we decided to drastically limit their viewing time to two hours max for each (often Valya would watch while Teddy napped so that I could have time to work). But the biggest thing we did was limit which shows they were watching. We started with what we knew – Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and Little Bear. Mr. Roger’s neighborhood we would download on iTunes and Little Bear has a free channel on Youtube but you can also purchase all the episodes on iTunes. I also started to research other shows that we could add.
Our criteria when choosing shows for our children are that they must be first and foremost calming (no screaming, no ridiculous “effects” or language that if imitated by our children we would find annoying). There are several children’s shows we’ve found where there is a least one character that has a constantly defiant, angry or mean personality. It doesn’t matter if the show would illustrate that this is “bad,” if it’s something your child absorbs daily, it will come out. We also seek out shows that have story lines that mimic real life, that teach children how to play, how to interact with others or how to enjoy the world around them. We have discovered that shows with outlandish premises, constant “action” and erratic emotional curves have an awful effect on our children’s emotional wellbeing.
For the sake of full disclosure, I will admit that we received some push back when we started allowing only certain shows. There were meltdowns and begging and bargaining but over time they fell in love with these “new” and calmer shows. I will also warn you that these sorts of shows will not keep your children glued to the screen all day. They will usually lose interest by the time the third episode rolls around and retreat to their room to play or ask to go outside. Personally I find this to be another “positive side effect.” Media should never trump play or nature. If it does it is doing something wrong, something artificial.
Below are our family’s current favorites:
- Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood
- Little Bear
- The Beatrix Potter Collection DVD
- Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
- Ella the Elephant
- Sarah & Duck
The most interesting thing we have learned through our five years of parenting two children is that although access to TV shows without discretion seems like the quickest and easiest solution to keeping two young children entertained and out of your hair, it actually ends up creating a bigger mess. We realized we just could not deal with their constant moodiness, anxiety and inability to play. It takes more time and effort initially to “train” your children to entertain themselves but it is well worth it in the end. Now our two will happily spend hours building forts, playing games of pretend, crafting or building. They know when they are allowed “screen time” and they of course, look forward to it every day. But it is no longer a crutch. No longer something they “need” but something that will be an enjoyable treat. Giving our children the tools to create a world of their own is the best investment of our time as parents. The rewards are endless.