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Is It Possible To Raise A Screen Free Child?

Is It Possible To Raise A Screen Free Child?

Yesterday something happened that opened my eyes to a whole new world. We have three remotes in this house. Three remotes for our one TV. Reason being we have had times where the remotes were gone! Gone as though they literally fell off the face of the Earth. In desperation to maintain our sanity, we went out and bought another… Twice.

I have a great appreciation for television. It opened my eyes to a world far beyond what I could see in my neighborhood. It made me fall in love with story telling and cinematography. It inspired us to dream as kids!

However to much of a good thing can definitely hurt you. The other day I took my daughter for her first eye check up and the eye doctor asked how much time was she spending on screens. Pretty much all day really, was my answer.

The TV was always on as background noise. My daughter did not have scheduled time to be on the computer or iPad. Just at any moment that I needed her to focus on a task and give me time to get something done alone I’d stick the iPad in her face.

But to now hear from the doctor that my daughter is on her way to wearing glasses for life because of all her time spent on screens- what have I done?!

Introducing Juliana, also known on social media as the @screenfreekiddo

Juliana has found a way to make life for her child completely screen free. In an effort to understand how to input the concept of going “screen free” into our daily lives, I asked her a few important questions that most of you are probably wondering.

1. Was going screen free your plan before having kids or was there a defining moment as a parent?

We actually planned to be screen free before having kids! When I was pregnant with our first child, my husband and I talked a lot about what we wanted for our children and our family.

We both have a lot of experience interacting with children and families in our professional lives; my husband works in athletics and my background is in education. We both recognized the importance of early childhood as a time to develop a foundation of important skills including physical, cognitive and social skills.

The research that’s emerging is clear that screen time does not promote these skills, and in some cases can be detrimental. Based on our feelings, and guidelines laid out by major organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, we set a goal to keep our daughter screen free for the first two years of her life. 

We reassessed things this summer when she turned two. We’re in agreement that keeping her screen free was- and is- the best parenting decision we’ve ever made! We had a second child soon after my daughter’s second birthday and we’ve decided to keep both kiddos screen free for now, in hopes of providing our second child with the same early childhood experience we’ve offered our older daughter. 

2. What does your schedule look like on an average day?

Our schedule is more of a routine, in that it’s less tied to specific times or activities and more about having a consistent structure and expectations. Toddlers thrive in predictable environments, so that’s what we aim to provide.

Typically we start the day by getting ready upstairs. Everyone is dressed and ready for the day before we head down for breakfast. Once we’re downstairs, G, our two-and-a-half-year-old, climbs onto her learning tower, which is a small structure she can stand on that puts her at kitchen-counter height.

She usually has some fruit while I begin preparing breakfast. Sometimes she watches me cook, and other times she assists, depending on what we’re making. Meanwhile, if the baby is up, she takes a ride in the Momaroo and watches breakfast prep. Sometimes she’s already taking a morning nap at this time.  

After breakfast G plays while I clean up the breakfast dishes. It’s really important to the flow of our morning that the toys are accessible for her. She can take out anything she’d like and I am able to see her from the kitchen while she plays in the living room. She knows that I need to clean up, and that I will come join her once I’m done and have made my coffee.

When I join G, sometimes she asks me to play, but other times she just wants me nearby, so I will sit on the floor and play with the baby, read or just observe. Play continues until mid-morning, when we get ready to go out. (There’s a highlight on my instagram about our downstairs play area if you want to learn more about our play area and the types of toys we have. I really believe toys matter, especially if you’re hoping to get your child to spend more time playing independently!)

I need to get out of the house on a daily basis! We’re fortunate to have a system of high-quality libraries in our county, so three days a week we visit one of our local libraries for free children’s programming. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend seeing what your local library has to offer! It’s a great place to connect with other parents, provide your child with the enrichment of books, songs, nursery rhymes, social interactions, and arts and crafts- all for free!

We also participate in a weekly play group and attend a paid music class one day a week. While these activities are geared toward G, the baby tags along and cat naps in the car, and sometimes in a wrap or sling during our outings. If I need to run any errands, typically we do this after our planned morning activity.

Once we get home, there may be some time to play before lunch. If we’ve stayed out longer, we’ll move right into lunch time. After lunch, I put both girls down for a nap, which is always preceded by reading a book of G’s choosing. 

I’m fortunate that both my children are great nappers. Nap time runs from about 1:00-4:00 at our house, which provides me with a much needed break to clean up around the house and relax. Often I listen to podcasts while I’m doing things around the house, and some days I do watch a little TV during this time.

After nap we will walk to the playground if it’s nice out, or we’ll play upstairs. G has toys and books in her bedroom, which are all stored in an organizer in her closet, so her room can be easily cleaned up and look tidy by bedtime! I think having two play areas (for us it’s upstairs/downstairs) in the house with different toys and books is also important, because it keeps her more engaged. As in the morning, sometimes I play with G and the baby, but other times I sort laundry or do tasks upstairs while I am able to supervise her play and simultaneously look after the baby. 

As dinner time approaches, we go back to the kitchen/living room and G may have a snack on her learning tower before continuing to play independently. She knows that when I am making dinner, she plays on her own. Sometimes she chooses to play with her toys, but other times she’ll come into the kitchen and play in one of several drawers/cabinets that have her dishes and tupperware, or she requests I move the learning tower to the sink so she can play with the water.

I wear the baby in a wrap or sling while I make dinner, or the baby plays in her bouncer. 
After dinner it’s usually time to head upstairs to start getting ready for bed. We always end the day with a book and lots of cuddles for both girls. Once the kiddos are in bed, my husband and I relax. Sometimes we watch TV or spend time on our phones or computers, but we also like to play board or card games together.
Then we wake up the next day and do it all over again 🙂 

3. How do you stop your little one from taking mommy and daddy’s screens?

This is a question we get asked a lot, and it’s funny…we really don’t have to stop our daughter from taking our screens (our little one is too little to try, but I don’t expect it to be an issue with her either). Without a doubt the greatest benefit of never introducing screens is that our child doesn’t want them.

When G picks up my phone, she usually just hands it to me. To her knowledge, the phone does a limited number of things that just aren’t that interesting. To her, a phone allows us to call family, listen to the news or music, and she knows it has recipes that I may refer to while cooking. Being screen free, we don’t show her things on the phone and have not showed her how to navigate it. So while our phones are around, they aren’t something we interact with very much in front of our children.

The same goes for the TV. It’s on the wall, but it’s never on when the kiddos are awake. G has also seen our laptops and knows they are computers, but again, we’re never on them when the kids are awake, so she hasn’t expressed much interest. 

4. How will you navigate conversations with her when she hears from friends that they spend most of their day on screens?

It’s difficult to answer this because I’m not there yet, but I think it’s a matter of house rules; different families do things differently. It’s not about one way being good, or one way being bad, but it’s just how our family chooses to spend our time.

As parents we want our family to spend time doing things together, like playing board games or playing outside together. While we may not let our girls have iPads, I will let them build forts, do messy art projects and science experiments, and support pretty much any other idea they dream up. I hope that over time they will come to value and love what makes our family unique. 

As they get older, I hope my daughters’ friends will want to come to our house, because it’s really fun. Working in a school, I have seen that children gravitate toward screens when they’re around, but when there aren’t screens, kids are just kids. They find other things to do. I’m hopeful my girls will be leaders in encouraging their friends to put down their devices for a little while and I am confident that in the long run, this will be something they’ll be grateful for. 

5. How do you believe this will positively affect your little one as an adult?

In children, excessive screen time can cause difficulty with attention and focus, especially on less stimulating tasks like those required in school. I hope that our choice to avoid screen time now will have a positive impact on our daughters’ school experiences and academic success in the long run.

Additionally, the research that’s emerging on the social, emotional, and psychological impacts of screen time and social media use on adolescents is alarming. I hope that by delaying their introduction to screens and everything that comes with them, we can provide a strong foundation and sense of self, including confidence, coping skills, and healthy interests and hobbies that will provide them with a context and perspective for what they believe holds value in their own lives, even after screens inevitably become part of their lives.

To Learn more about Juliana’s screen free adventure with her kids you can follow her Instagram page @screenfreekiddo

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