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How (and Why) I’m Raising Two Boys on Zero Screen Time

children using iPadsWith the prolific availability and ease of use of all types of kid-centered digital entertainment in today’s world, I knew it would be difficult to keep it out of my boys’ lives. But I was determined to try. At least for their first few years of life.  

I had a gut feeling that too much screen time could hinder children’s’ mental development, and certainly we’ve all heard the stats on today’s childhood obesity epidemic, but it wasn’t until I started reading up on it myself that I began to understand the effects screen time has on kids: reduced vocabulary during the toddler years, limited attention spans for school-age children, even infants were shown to have decreased responsiveness to their own parents’ faces as a result.  Enough said; I was convinced.

In the beginning it was fairly easy.  I’d never been a big TV watcher myself so keeping it turned off during my son’s waking hours wasn’t that difficult.  I used my iPhone for music and photo-taking but otherwise kept it out of his sight.  Now that he’s three, we still keep the TV off and digital devices tucked away, though he’s getting a sense that what could be on those screens could be pretty entertaining.  But by making our phones simply off-limits, he never really asks, and, as an added benefit, we are forced to disconnect when we’re with our kids, too, giving more of our attention to them.

I have seen, even felt, what a screen can do.  We recently walked into a restaurant with menus on large, animated screens.  My 10-month old stopped babbling, stopped waving his arms about, and just went limp in my arms as he stared at this brightly lit rectangle before him.  We’ve strolled into the postal center where a big screen TV sits behind the counter.  My 3-year old stopped reading his book and instead slumped in the stroller still with eyes aglaze as he watched the basketball game on the screen.

It’s not that all the content is bad. No doubt there is a plethora of highly-researched, well-scripted kids programming available with educational moments, likable characters and tolerable songs. But for me, singing, talking and playing with my boys – or even allowing them to sit idle, forming their own thoughts and questions in their heads – is a better choice. Though some days seem long, and I can very easily recall a particularly challenging cross-country flight not less than 48 hours ago, I try to channel my mother’s words, “Enjoy your children. They won’t be babies for long.”

Friends wonder, “So, how do you manage to keep them entertained?” We’re active. Very active. . .  parks, playgrounds, walks, swimming pools, museums, classes, rides on trains, rainy day dance parties, art projects, cooking and baking together, even attending children’s theater performances.  Errands become expeditions and chores become group activities.

There are definitely times when I wish I could just slip my 3-year old the iPhone for a few minutes, so I can order dinner, sleep a few extra minutes in the morning or have a grown-up conversation. But I almost always choose to make him part of the process instead, showing him the different sections of the menu and reading the words to him.  Inviting him to cuddle with us in bed and look at a book in the wee hours of the morning.  Asking him what he thinks about the planter boxes we’re considering for our landscaping. Pointing out to him the construction equipment on the other side of the car window.

And we have books.  Oh, so many books!  We keep Highlights magazines at the kitchen table for meal-time boredom and stacks of books in the car, the diaper bag, and every other room of the house.  I frequently scour Amazon for books with the maximum number of “lift the flaps.” We are regulars at the library.

Certainly we aren’t perfect.  I do give in to five minutes of Thomas the Train about once every ten days, so I can trim those little fingernails.  And, oh, how he looks forward to his manicures!  But I really don’t think my boys are missing out on anything by my withholding screens this early on.  At the rate technology is going, they will have plenty of time to stare at TVs, laptops, and phones the rest of their lives.

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7 Responses to How (and Why) I’m Raising Two Boys on Zero Screen Time

  1. Kate
    Kate January 16, 2018 at 7:20 am #

    I am also raising a little guy with no screen time! We give in to screens very occasionally when traveling, but other than that we are screen-free. We are also regulars at the library and read and explore constantly 🙂

    • Jen
      Jen January 16, 2018 at 5:06 pm #

      Awesome, Kate! That’s wonderful for your son. Libraries are the best… I’m sure we will see you there sometime! And yes … travel can be tough for sure. I generally resort to a glass of wine. For me of course, not them! 😉

  2. Amy January 16, 2018 at 7:38 am #

    Great post. I agree the less screen time the better and it really doesn’t stop being true at any age. I have 2 kids and it was no screen time till 2 for the first and didn’t make it quite so far with the second. They still don’t get a lot but it’s always good to try for less. Reading articles like yours is a good gut check.

    • Jen
      Jen January 16, 2018 at 12:15 pm #

      That’s great, Amy! I am glad to know there are other moms like me out there. Kudos on your efforts! Making it to 2 is wonderful. I know it is not easy.

  3. Elisa
    Elisa January 28, 2018 at 1:04 pm #

    I love this article so much! Our plan was zero screens until 18m as per AAP. At 18m I introduced limited amounts of BBC Earth and Daniel Tiger, but I’ve stepped back from it, finding it’s really not necessary! It’s so much rewarding to play with my little one, or read books with her. We do a lot of outings like you mentioned, and looooots of story time. As for chores, she comes along and helps, so there’s no need to distract her while I work. Thanks for writing! <3

  4. Elisa
    Elisa January 28, 2018 at 1:05 pm #

    Oh and I flew alone twice with my toddler to Europe screen free…not as bad as I had thought!

  5. Jen
    Jen January 29, 2018 at 4:25 pm #

    Thanks Elisa! That is wonderful to hear, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Wow … 2 international trips … that is amazing! Can you share any tips from your screen free travels? That’s a challenge for many, including myself and my family!

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