We have officially gone two months with ZERO screen time and we like the results. I have a three year-old son and a 15-month old daughter. Eliminating all screen time has resulted in less tantrums, fewer bad-attitude days, fewer potty accidents, increased imaginary play and more intense focus at the task on hand. Eliminating screen time was easier than expected and has been considerable less work than constantly monitoring and limiting screen time. For us, the benefits far outweigh the difficulties or even the 30 minutes of quiet time associated with screen time.

When I was pregnant with Sage, my son, I read numerous parenting books and child brain development books and the one thing they all agreed on was no screen time during the first two years of life. My husband, Paul, and I were convinced this was the right path for our child and did pretty well not allowing Sage any screen time the first two years of life. The exception was air travel. It was shortly after his second birthday that we started to incorporate screen time into our weekly routine at home. We outlined strict screen time rules; one ‘educational’ show on the weekends or a YouTube clip such as Bob the Train while we took a shower. However, it quickly became apparent that no screen time was ever enough for Sage. Instead of being happy he was allowed to watch something screen time was slowing turning into a constant battle or negotiation to watch more. The result of instant gratification that requires no effort from the child. One episode of “Super Why” turned into two episodes and yet even after preparing Sage the end was nearing “only 5 more minutes then the tv turns off” we were often faced with a 30 minute post show tantrum of “I want to watch more”.  

Even though Sage knew the rule was tv only on the weekends he woke up every morning asking to watch a show or movie and when we denied his request we knew we would face the dreaded tantrum. In addition to the battle to limit screen time, Paul and I began to notice that on days Sage did watch something his attitude would be off the whole day and he would have more potty accidents on those days. Paul and I soon realized the benefit of those 30 minutes of quiet and free babysitting did not outway the attitude battle we often faced when the show was over. Inspired by my son’s preschool Waldorf philosophy, we decided to totally eliminate screen time once again. It only took about two weeks for Sage to completely stop asking to watch tv. It’s like the shows and movies he so desperately wanted to watch before no longer existed. While I shower, Sage entertains himself with a book or toy cars. While I prepare a meal in the kitchen he is in his learning tower helping. We are faced with a lot less tantrums and potty accidents. Not that all toddler behavior issues are linked to screen time, or that Sage now has no tantrums, but we can confidently conclude life with a 3 year old has gotten a little bit easier since eliminating all screen time. For us, no screen time just works better than limited screen time. While I am very much looking forward to future family movie nights they will have to wait a few more years.

Below are some facts I found interesting about screen time:

  • Since 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended that children under the age of two years of age avoid television, and that children ages 2-5 limit their viewing to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • Only 6 percent of American parents are even aware of the AAP’s recommendations.
  • Television viewing hurts the development of children under three years old and poses a certain number of risks, encouraging passivity, slow language acquisition, over-excitedness, troubles with sleep and concentration, as well as dependence on screens.
  • The human brain is the least developed of our organ systems at birth. Most of its development, including its fundamental neural architecture, occurs during the first two years of life. Neurologists have identified three types of stimuli or interaction that optimize brain growth. Babies need (1) interaction with parents and other humans; (2) they need to manipulate their environment (to touch things, to feel and move them), and (3) they need to do “problem-solving” activities (think peekaboo). Of these three critical forms of interaction, television provides none.
  • Television addiction is no mere metaphor. Viewers describe themselves as “relaxed” and “passive” while watching, yet while the sense of relaxation ends when the set is turned off, the feelings of passivity and lowered alertness continue. This is equated to the first law of physics “A body at rest tends to stay at rest”
  • Internal imaging leads to creative imagination and higher forms of learning. In simplifying screens, you give children time to conjure their own worlds – not just through reading, but in terms of active and imaginary play – before they become passive consumers of entertainment “worlds” and their ancillary products. (Think about your desire to read a book before seeing the movie. You are able to imagine what the characters look like before they are presented to you on the screen)
  • According to our pediatrician most children are naturally farsighted and 10 minutes of screen time on an ipad is equivalent to 40 minutes of watching a television screen in terms of strain on the eye.     

In comparison to the high stimulation that television offers, real life can seem slow, and children can respond to it with boredom and inattentiveness. Eliminating screen time is a choice for engagement over stimulation, and activity over passivity. During our recent parent-teacher conference Sage’s preschool teacher noted that Sage can sit still for long periods of time and he is very much engaged in what he does; be it painting, baking, building, ect. Without any indication from me; the teacher noted that she can tell Sage does not spend much time at home in front of a screen. She said as a teacher it is easy for her to identify the children that spend a lot of time in front of the screen at home and those who do not. That was the biggest compliment she could have given us and secured our decision in removing screen time from our kids lives during these early years of childhood.