Let me preface this by saying three things: one, I am not a parenting expert. I simply love to share what has worked (or not!) for my family and hope others may benefit. Secondly, I do not believe that all screen time is all bad all the time. Thirdly, there are seasons of life and I believe some of those seasons will benefit from more screen time than others. I had been having that type of season, twin toddlers, very pregnant, and doing a major home renovation project. When we were in the thick of drywalling and it came down to my kids potentially eating drywall compound or watching more PJ Masks than I would preferably want them to, let me tell you what I chose….(hint…it didn’t involve a call to the poison control hotline).
But, for my kids anyway, we pay a price when we watch much screen time. Especially on the iPad or phone. We had been having a horrible terrible no good time with bedtime and sleeping. Like, insanely bad. Like, I wanted to cry every night and multiple times throughout the night bad. They couldn’t settle down, and wouldn’t stay asleep for anything. This was resulting in extremely fussy kids who weren’t eating well and were just not my happy little campers throughout the day. In desperation, I started researching how to help highly sensitive kids get better sleep. I made a list of suggested solutions and the first one on my list was lowered screen time and absolutely NONE right before sleep. According to my research, the blue light from screens has an affect on melatonin levels and circadian rhythms, (but seriously, read this Harvard article) and for someone who already has a very difficult time turning their brain off at night, (ahem, both my kids), this is extreme bad news bears.
In addition to the sleep issue, I was just not happy with their passion for the iPad, I mean they would wake up and ask for it right away! I use a free app on the iPad for white noise at night and was seriously considering dropping $50 on a white noise machine just so I could hide the stinking thing. Thankfully, I didn’t do that. I chose the cold turkey “just say no” method. The first morning of the Total Screentime Ban I braced myself for impact. They woke up asking for the iPad, and I cheerfully explained we were doing a surprise activity (this one happened to be stones and their busy books, read more on that below) and to my relief and surprise we actually had less than 5 minutes of fussing/crying before they were absorbed in their activity and didn’t ask again. I repeated this process over the next few days, the fussing got less every day until within a few days they didn’t even look at the iPad let alone ask. SAY. WHAT.
Within about a week, we were what I would call a virtually screen free family. I still let them watch on occasions, for example today they had a Little Einsteins and some ice cream break because they enjoy it, and that’s ok! I’m ok with some screen time, but I certainly do not want kids that rely on it. During this screentime ban process I learned a few things that REALLY helped, and I want to share with you.
- Have tools! Have options! Present them with activities and have the next one ready if you need it.I don’t believe in constantly peppering kids with activities, I want them to grow their own imaginations, but I did for a few days while we changed our screen habit and wouldn’t you know, their creative play only grew. They have absolutely no problem staying busy for hours. I am all about free creative play and my children will play with the mud and a stick for hours but I have learned that they really do their best when they also have toys and activities that stimulate their brains and require problem solving. (for a list of a few of our favorite educational toys, click here, ps…they’re all under $20!) I learned that when implementing a new habit pattern or changing routine, having tools is CRUCIAL. For example, that first morning I busted out a bag of dollar store stones and two of their busy books (if you don’t know about busy books, they are awesome. A story, 12 figurines and a play mat all in one $9.99 book. And they come in a zillion options, like this Paw Patrol My Busy Book. We also have Thomas the Tank Engine and Hungry Caterpillar, anyway, we love them. And I am not against purely “fun” toys, but for the most part everything my kiddos have for toys is either educational, building based, or role play learning (ie, their play kitchen).
- Books! My kids LOVE to read. They always have, but these days we spend a LOT more time reading together! I have all their books accessible where they can always get to them, and yes most days that means they’re all over the floor by bedtime but I am so ok with that. (also, please enjoy this picture of my son sailing over daddy’s shoulder during bedtime stories).
- STAY STRONG. If you say no, stick with it. Their screaming/complaining won’t last forever (although it can certainly feel like it in the moment!). But trust me, the minute you give in it will be exponentially harder next time! If you need to walk away a moment, do not feel bad! I have admittedly ran and shut myself in the bathroom, although I will also admit that just ended up with them hanging on me anyway. But if you’re a mom, you’ve probably been there!
- Mix it up! We don’t have a specific play room (or even a separate room for the twins currently!) but I have our home arranged where we have different areas of play so we can move around the house. And get outside! Mine LOVE the outdoors, but even if they fuss they will come around quickly. Again, just stay strong! They look to you for an emotional guide and if you’re cheerful they will eventually succumb. (and trust me, I KNOW how difficult this can be ha!)
Our results of this little to no screen time were astounding to me. Bedtime is literally night and day different (ha ha ha). But really. And I won’t lie, days without screen time can be…chaotic….at times. But oh the benefits. SO. WORTH. IT. And I truly believe it will pay off in the long run as well.
How about you? How do you balance screen time in your home?