In today’s modern age of parenting, screens play a huge role in entertaining and educating children. It’s kind of hard to not fall into the traps of having a digital babysitter when the convenience is instant and children can be so entertained to leave mom or dad alone for a few peaceful minutes.
With new research coming out about the negative effects that excessive screen time plays on young children, it’s no surprise that parents are scaling back. Although quite difficult in the beginning, less screen time is actually achievable and the results may astound you.
Back in early November, I was intrigued to see some of my mom friends partake in a challenge where they cut out screen time for their children. Known as No Screen November Challenge, the rules are simple: no screens of ANY sort (TV, iPads, cell-phones) for the whole thirty days of November.
The no screen challenge piqued my interest, so I asked one mom friend a few questions about her experience so I can share what a month of zero screens looks like when you have children.
Below is an interview with Molly, mother of two who went screen-free for a month.
What made you want to do a month of no screens?
I started coming across articles discussing the importance of limited screen time. I came across a few about parents who had removed all screen time. I decided I could take on a 30-day “challenge” of removing screen time for my 3-year old. I asked a couple friends to take on the challenge with me and they were completely on board!
On a normal day my toddler would watch TV in the mornings while I made breakfast and packed his lunch, then attend a Montessori school for 4 hours, followed by a nap at home. Upon waking from nap, he would normally have snack, playtime with mommy, and then some screen time while I prepared dinner and took care of chores. Days vary, and some days wouldn’t go as planned; he’d end up in front of a screen for what felt like all day because little sister was fussy, or I had extra school work to complete myself. On those days with 4+ hours of screen time, he would be exponentially whiny and needy. I realized there was a connection between the amount of screen time he had and his mood. On days I used screen time to entertain him for numerous hours, he would misbehave and throw tantrums. On days I restricted screen time he played independently and willing joined me in chores and cooking.
What activities did you do in place of screen time?
Initially I thought I would need to have all sorts of activities planned to support the busy day of raising a toddler and an infant. Instead, I realized if I just went about my day organically, while following his schedule, that I didn’t require any special planning. During our challenge he joined me in the kitchen for cooking and doing dishes. He helped me clean the house and do laundry. He took on the role of feeding our dog and also helped with walks. We read more books outside of bedtime routine hours and we played a lot of Lego’s. The hardest time for us was the morning time, before we had coffee or breakfast. We made sure to have an activity ready in the mornings; simple things like throwing a couple jars of playdoh out or bringing out his kinetic sand bin. We tend to let our toddler lead his own activities and we just provide the supplies.
Did you notice a difference with your child while incorporating less screen time?
I definitely noticed a difference in my toddler. I saw his imagination come to life. I read once that parents don’t allow their children to become bored as much these days and instead our children are always entertained. This constant entertainment isn’t good for their development as they need to learn through play. When my toddler is screen-free he finds anything to play with whether it be a couple kitchen spoons, a jar of buttons, or a stick. I love seeing that kind of organic play—it’s so refreshing! I also noticed he was able to fall asleep much faster because his mind was at rest and not so overstimulated from screens! Lastly, his mood was greatly improved. I could sense that he enjoyed the extra time he was spending with me. He felt proud that he was completing tasks alongside me and he asked if he could help in other ways.
Will this be something you continue to reinforce?
We will definitely be continuing minimal screen time. We used screen time in the past because we felt like we needed to entertain our toddler during the times that we assumed he would be bored. It turned out just allowing him to participate in what we were doing or allowing him to get bored and resort to playing independently worked so much better than turning on the TV. During our screen-free month, we used it a handful of times. Once because our entire household got sick and we needed a low energy activity. Twenty minutes into the movie we turned on, our toddler said, “well that’s enough TV”. Another time I used it as a distraction while I finished up an assignment for my masters. Again, about twenty minutes into the show, he said, “mommy, my eyes are burning from the TV”. It has been such a wake-up call!
My toddler never asks for screen time, and that’s true for even before we started the challenge. His ideal day is one where I am playing with him and incorporating him into all of my own activities. That’s really all our kids want and need in these early years. They want to be a part of our day more than they want to watch their favorite show. Letting him get bored; letting him find play in his own way; and letting go of the screen-time addiction is just what we needed!