Navigating Screen Time

“You don’t own a TV?  What’s all your furniture pointed at?”   -Joey from Friends

in the TV zone with my brother

I watched a lot of television as a kid.  I am a child of the late 70s, early 80s which means I spent a lot of time with Mr. Rogers, Big Bird and Mickey Mouse, as well as the Saturday morning binge session of cartoons that range from Looney Tunes, Muppet Babies and He-Man (my little brother got to pick occasionally).  Honestly, these television memories are fond ones.  It was often time spent with my brother and the quality of (some of) these shows were golden. This was a time when parents were not being encouraged to limit screen time for their kids.  Maybe children’s programming was on the tamer side back then.  The television and media overload of today can’t be compared. There are more devices and screens than imaginable. With so many warnings and recommendations to limit screen time for my kids, I feel this urge to pull the plug altogether, despite my nostalgic feelings of TV watching as a child.  I’ve never been one to go to the extreme of any one way of thinking about things.   In my experience, drastic lifestyle changes are often an unsustainable way to live.  A healthy, moderation feels much more realistic for my family.  Plus, it is not true that all screen time is created equally.  In my experience there are many ways to include technology/screen time in a thoughtful, useful way. So here are some of my thoughts on why and how we navigate screens in our family.


TV watching cuddles

We do not have a television in our home. We got rid of cable nearly 5 years ago (around the time Big Brother was born) and found that the TV was collecting dust and becoming a huge waste of space. When we do choose to watch a video, it’s on either a computer or iPad screen and through all the various online streaming options (Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube).  We are very selective in what we choose to show our kids.  Without having cable, we have the joy of very little to no exposure to commercials.  In fact, when we watch YouTube, if there’s an ad before, the boys have learned to wave their hands in front of the screen and say “No ads, no ads!”.  In the beginning, it was often videos of themselves and family, music concerts, or something nature focused. (Lately, they ask to watch this over and over. Did you know octopus do that?!) When Big Brother turned the magical AAP approved age of two, I introduced him to his first show, which is actually still the show he asks for on a regular basis; Blue’s Clues, the Steve years. (Side note: Little One totally watched his 1st show before then, around 19 months. You know, life of a 2nd child) Lots of research has been done on the brilliance of this simple preschooler’s show. One longitudinal study* showed

“watching Blue’s Clues increased information-acquisition skills such as sequencing, patterning, relational concepts, and transformations. The program also improved children’s problem solving and flexible thinking such as solving riddles, exhibiting creative thinking, and non-verbal and verbal expression skills.”

It is important to me that when my children are watching a show for entertainment/education or “edutainment” as I’ve read it referred to, that it is a level of quality that encourages the pure innocence and wonder of childhood.  There are too many shows available for kids that frankly shock me in their content.  From their language choices and adult jokes to the violence and head spinning fast pace.  Research suggests that the fast pace movement and quick scene changes found in so many kids programming plays a huge roll in their inability to focus their attention in the real world. They have been conditioned to have things come at them with incredible speed.  With the absence of this speed in our every day lives, they quickly bore and consequently miss out on the slow pace and beauty of the real world.  Screen time choices also greatly affect children’s play.  It saturates their imagination and can sometimes leave them stuck in one thought or action and unable to tap into their true potential of imaginative play.  Even with the wholesome choice of Blue’s Clues, I have experienced the effects of this happening as both of my boys have separately gone through their obsession with always having their handy dandy notebooks (as seen on the show).  I don’t like seeing them stuck in this rut or obsession in their play and try to redirect or take a break on the influential show for awhile.  

This video, which discusses the effects of television on the brain of a child, further solidified my selective choices in my children’s edutainment. (Note the 0% effect shows like Mr. Rogers have on a child’s attention span)  Even today, as Big Brother nears the age of 5, aside from music concerts and nature videos, he doesn’t watch much more than the slow paced, good natured, kindly spoken Blue’s Clues and Mr. Rogers.

Technology and Educational Apps

Big Brother is allowed screen time beyond watching videos.  Both boys know how to take pictures and videos on the iPad or iPhone’s camera.  Big Brother has been doing this since about 12 months old.  In contrast, Little One has only recently shown an interest in taking photos and videos.  We have so many of these videos through a toddler’s eyes that just crack me up.  Big Brother was about 19 months when he took these:

Every day during Big Brother’s quiet time, he listens to music and stories that he navigates through on his own, as well as keeps track of how much time he has left in quiet time with the timer on the iPad. We regularly keep in touch with family

Throw back to 2nd birthday with GG on FaceTime
Throw back to 2nd birthday with GG on FaceTime

from all over the world via screens. There has yet to be a birthday that didn’t have a grandparent attending via a screen!

He loves typing on the notes app and this has helped him explore his writing, spelling, and typing skills all at once.  We’ve started also using the notes app to keep a running lists of questions and topics he wants to explore and learn more about. We search our neighborhood as well as distances & routes to family and friends houses on the map app.  He has several educational apps he enjoys.  Here are a few of our favorites:

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 5.24.55 PMScratch Jr is an engaging drag and drop programming app that allows kids to use their imagination to create their own stories and games.  This app has great features from using your own image in your character’s face to recording your own voice to tell a story. The possibilities are endless.

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 6.33.45 PMABC Keyboard is a very simple, no frills app that familiarizes Big Brother with the keyboard and preparing for future typing skills.

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 7.56.30 PMWe are big music fans in this house. We play and listen to music daily. Toca Band allows kids to mix fresh beats and sounds to get their groove on.

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 7.57.08 PMWe love Bob Books for our emergent reader. This is a classic, early reader made into an interactive experience.

How much & when?

Big Brother interacts with a screen every single day for things like music, audio books, pictures, notes, etc.  A typical day also includes about 20-30 minutes of either video or educational apps.  It is most often an afternoon activity. It’s fair to say that if it is a show he is watching, I am often *not* watching it with him, mainly because at some point, I have watched every episode with him.  I’ll admit that shows we are both very familiar with will often mean a break for me. Yes, using TV as a babysitter is not my finest moment as a parent, but sometimes it happens. Mamas need to shower, write blog posts or sit and read a book for a minute.  But with almost all other forms of screen time, I am right along side him, exploring & playing.

I know amongst my friends and family there is a super wide range of screen time rules and beliefs. There are those who have no restrictions on screen time and anything goes to friends whose children have yet to even lay eyes on a screen yet (even at age 4…amazing, huh?) How do you navigate screens in your house?

*Researching Blue's Clues: Viewing behavior and impact, Media Psychology,
 Vol 2, pp 179-194

3 thoughts on “Navigating Screen Time

  1. My son is on the cusp of turning 7. We had not felt the need to place limits on screen time until recently. He had been self-regulating to no more than a combined two hours or so per day. Like you, we kicked the cable and conventional tv years ago. We have a tv that we watch videos on. He’s had a Nintendo DS for several years. Lately Minecraft has come into our lives. I love it for him as a creative outlet. He also has been reading and writing more through it. So to a certain extent I consider it educational. There are also a few websites that have math and reading games that he loves to do instead of workbooks for his schooling. But in the course of two months, Minecraft had him spending 8 hours in a day on the computer. It had him declining invitations to friends’ and families’ homes for real interaction. Therefore, we’ve gone to a 2 hour per day rule of screen time for fun. We are in the process of figuring out how those educational games and videos fit into the scheme of things. Currently they fall outside of the 2 hour limit. But we may need to work them into the 2 hours. We’ll see how the next few weeks go.

    That time on the screen can definitely be helpful for parents needing to get stuff done. I don’t think you need to feel bad about it given how intentional you are with time spent there and content they are consuming. For me, it would be going too far if you turned on the tv (or screen of your choice) and left the kids unsupervised for hours on end on a daily basis.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing! I have heard a lot about Minecraft and its educational benefits though I’m still a little unclear about what it is exactly. I believe my boys are a little too young for it just yet. I’m sure it won’t be too long before that enters our world. 🙂 I’ve been told before that I should not feel any screen time guilt given how calculated I am with how much and what my boys watch. Logically, I know that, but for some reason, the guilt is a knee jerk reaction that’s hard to shake. But it’s true that Mama’s sanity for a little bit of carefully chosen screen time is not a bad thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It definitely helps if they can read a little bit unless you want to spend every minute of their game time right next to them. YouTube has tons of “getting started” videos that can give you an idea of what goes on. I believe that there is also a demo version available on the Minecraft website so you can see for yourself if it’s appropriate for your kids.

    Mom Guilt is always going to try and creep in isn’t it? I suppose that helps keep us at the never-ending job of doing our best for the kids.

    Liked by 1 person

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