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TV and Screentime for Kids

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Emily Henderson Kids Tv Screen Time 1

OK, LET’S TALK ABOUT SCREEN TIME. I’m a parenting article junky and I know the data, facts, opinions and consequences. But despite my intellectual knowledge about the relationship of TV and small kids (I know nothing about older kids),  I can’t seem to pull the plug on the electronic babysitter. My views have changed over time and it’s generally been a good lesson in being flexible yet consistent, smart but not rigid, and using common sense not compromise. It’s also a good reminder that when parenting you should NEVER SAY NEVER. If you want to read an excerpt from my never to be published book called ‘Our Screentime Journey with Small Kids’ here you go:

When we first had Charlie we were pretty anti-TV or device in general until he was about a year and a half, when we discovered the ease of parenting with Sesame Street. I had read enough articles to know that fast-paced stimulation (both visual and audio) is bad for their brain development, blah blah, but the slower stuff felt ok when necessary/desperate. Up until when Birdie was born it was limited to weekend mornings and probably lasted about 1/2 hour – an hour at most.

LET ME BE VERY CLEAR ABOUT SOMETHING – Up until a couple months ago we had full-time childcare, a nanny and/or preschool. If either of us worked at home for the family it would be different (my way of saying ‘stay at home’ – but I HATE that term because it implies just ‘staying’ without accurately reflecting the amount of ‘working’). I know that showers need to get taken and parents need far more breaks if you are with them all day – in order to be a good parent. But when you are paying someone else to care for your children, watching TV is not part of their daily schedule. Besides, that emergency babysitter is reserved for us parents 🙂 We felt/feel that we should be able to parent 2 hours in the morning and 3 hours at night without using the TV as a crutch for any of us. It was allowed on weekends only and super limited.

AND THEN WE HAD BIRDIE AND BECAME GARBAGE PARENTS.

The first few months of having a newborn and a 22-month-old was challenging to say the least. We kept up mostly with the ‘no tv during the week’ thing but then on the weekends it was honestly like 3-4 hours for Charlie – maybe more. I know. It would be like being a vegan all week, then flying to Texas and stuffing your faces with pork and unpasteurized cows milk beef for two days. But we were so exhausted on Saturday mornings (hell, every morning) that usually Brian was asleep on the sofa (if he even made it out of bed) and I was breastfeeding for hours while Charlie marathoned Daniel Tiger. This did not make us feel good about ourselves at all, but we were scrambling to stay above water so we gave ourselves a break. I didn’t take a maternity leave with Birdie (no pity, I work for myself so it was my choice) so we phoned it in on weekend mornings so I could take a break from both my ‘jobs’. To be fair we were pretty strict about what was on – usually Daniel Tiger, Thomas The Train or Blue Fox – we even outlawed Bubble Guppies (too repetitive and was strangely addictive to Charlie and he was turning into a MONSTER when we turned it off) nor did we allow Peppa Pig (I only saw two episodes and in one she lied to her parents about being sick so she could stay home from school and in the other she body shamed her dad – I realize I sound like the most annoying alarmist hipster helicopter parent ever, but why send either of those messages to 2 or 3-year-olds?)

Are you still reading? Great.

Wait. Why are you still reading? Hopefully, it’s not because you are a parent of a small kid and are hoping for me to say it’s all ok. But maybe it is. WHO KNOWS??? (keep reading if you want advice from my mom – mother of 6 lovely and successful adults)

When we moved into our new house things got better and we scaled back the TV, mostly because Birdie was one year old and while we didn’t feel bad about having Daniel Tiger in the background when she was a 3 months, once she was actually wanting to watch herself we made changes and watched far less on the weekends (maybe an hour here or there – more when friends were over because we wanted to actually have conversations – some days were FAR worse or better than others).

Charlie’s 3rd year was very difficult for us in general. His incessant begging, whining and then screaming for the TV the SECOND he woke up, even on the weekdays made us seriously think about getting rid of it altogether. Our trips to the mountain house where there was no TV solidified this decision. But we were weakened by our exhaustion and the ease of the electronic babysitter. Thus the projector screen – it’s more of a “special occasion” – which we will watch on weekend nights or in the morning for movies. It has gotten better, a lot, actually but that might also be because they are getting older and understand rules and boundaries more.

So here is where I’m at right now and why I’m writing this post. I’m concerned that our strictness might have other negative consequences:

  1. It’s giving them early onset ‘TGIF’. To them, weekends mean ‘TV’. It also means when mom and dad are clearly the most relaxed (despite our best efforts to pretend that “Monday’s are so fun!!”). It’s also when they get all of our attention, so to say that they only want TV on the weekends is inaccurate, but if you asked them what they want to do on the weekends they’ll say ‘WATCH A MOVIE!’ in unison. My heart sinks every time (and yet I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT I WANT TOO)
  2. By only giving them their true love on the weekends, are we setting up an unhealthy relationship with TV? Are we those people who are putting a lock on the snack pantry, thus creating an unhealthy relationship with food that leads to potential obesity?

OR ARE THEY JUST YOUNG and will tantrum at something regardless – whether it’s TV, sweets or toys?

But we can’t just let them watch TV willy-nilly, right? One of my best friends let’s her son watch a show or two after pre-school to wind down (their school ends at 12, not 5 so understandably she has 7 more hours of parenting). And another friend gives their pre-school aged kids 1/2 hour in the morning and 1/2 hour in the afternoon. So maybe we were being too strict and needed to do more moderation?? Maybe a little bit every day would normalize their relationship and reduce the withdrawals and obsession?

Recently we decided to try this new thing – we let them watch a short PBS show before school IF/WHEN they finish all their “jobs” – get dressed, toys put away, breakfast eaten, 5 minutes of piano (pounding on keys) and teeth brushed. I thought this was a decent idea until they started WAKING UP AT 6 A.M. BECAUSE THEY WERE SO EXCITED TO BE WITH THEIR BEST FRIEND – THE TV. Sure, they finished their jobs by 7am, but they totally missed the point. It’s like their brains aren’t mature or something …

To be fair, that only happened a few days, and about a week into this it got better because many days they don’t have time to watch a show or they don’t think about it (Is it a good time management lesson? – I think so). And now the rule even on the weekends is that there are no movies until 7am, in hopes that they don’t wake up early just to watch TV. Last Saturday for instance, Charlie woke up at 5:30am from a nightmare, got out of bed at 6:15 and they were allowed to play til 7am, but no TV before that. They understood and we watched something from 7 – 9 and shut it off with only a short protest but nothing too annoying. It’s getting better.

So besides the “weekend only” rules, here are our boundaries (as taught to me by my mother and a few articles):

  1. We tell them how long they can watch before we turn it on – 1 show, 2 shows, 1 movie, etc, and we DON’T LET THEM EVER CHANGE OUR MIND. There is no negotiation or compromise – there is only CHOICE. UGH. We learned this the hard way.
  2. Yes, we give them choices but we really try to be in control of the choices. We’ve definitely made the mistake of saying ‘What do you want to watch?’ while on a large kid cartoon menu and it turns into a big fight when they choose something that looks like garbage, or they don’t agree and they end up fighting amongst themselves.
  3. We avoid anything fast paced with lots of edit cuts. There are so many good shows out there these days. There are times Brian and I are like, “Wait, could this possibly be even really GOOD for them?” They will still watch Daniel Tiger, Sesame Street and frankly any PBS show that we let them, but the two they LOVE that we also love are Wild Kratts and Little Einsteins. We also like the pacing of Charlie Brown (but sometimes I’m like – is it super negative and such a downer?) oh, and Peter Rabbit. I recently heard that you can get the 1970’s Sesame Street on HBOgo, which is pretty awesome. I’d love to hear other suggestions.
  4. For longer sessions (weekend mornings or nights) we opt for movies over TV shows. Just like us they get addicted and sucked in and while most of those shows don’t have over-arching mystery plot lines (remember the time I watched 18 episodes of Veronica Mars in a row), having a movie with a beginning, middle and end and is slower paced I think helps their brain understand storytelling better and also makes it easier to switch it off. It’s just one plot, one group of characters and story to keep track of and I think it helps keep their attention longer than a 20 minute show. Our/their favorites are Moana (best messaging of any Disney movie for little kids ever), Robin Hood (the Kevin Costner version – just joking the original cartoon), Aristocrats, Sing, Frozen, Secret Life of Pets although that scares them sometimes and Monsters Inc. We’ve watched them all, but the Disney shows from our childhood (Little Mermaid, Aladdin) are uninteresting to them and the classics (Bambi, American Tale, Cinderella) scare them or ‘make us sad’. I think we’ve mined this category pretty well, but if I’m missing some positive messaging, non-scary quality movies please suggest. We try to make it a ‘family movie’ which is why we nix the bad cartoons.

I asked my mom what advice she had, and she gave me the above advice a long time ago, but the one thing that shocked me was this:

She said that the 5-6 o’clock time is called the ‘arsenic’ hour because everyone is hungry and tired so it can be really helpful to create a pleasant dinner time by letting them watch a show while you are winding down and making dinner.

THIS SHOCKED ME.

My mom has taught parenting classes for decades, so I thought she would be fairly anti-screen time especially on a day to day basis (family movie night is cherished and doesn’t count). But this made so much sense to me. All I want to do after work is chill for a bit, and obviously, our kids do too. I just thought by coming home and turning on the iPad we were being lazy. We thought that we should be able to engage them or they should be able to play independently for that hour (and they often do). But no one is less of a lazy parent than my mom. She practiced piano for 30 minutes with EACH CHILD on Saturday mornings – that’s 2-3 hours she sacrificed. That is by any person’s account, WORK. Both my parents sacrificed all of their “free time” to create a loving but consistent schedule. We learned math by folding towels into halves and thirds and learned counting by unloading the dishwasher and putting away ‘6 forks’. If my mom says you can give your kids 1/2 hour of TV while you make dinner I pretty much take it as doctrine.

But since my favorite thing in the world is to open up a controversial topic and discuss it in a very non-judgemental open way with hundreds of thousands of my friends, I’d love to hear from you. Some of you are child psychologists (I know because I’ve read your comments and taken your advice). Some of you are new parents and many are parents of older or grown kids. You are all over the globe and your philosophies vary widely while your opinion is equally valued. We all know that letting small kids sit for hours in front of a TV is not a good thing, but I’d love to hear what you have done, what has worked, what has NOT worked, what your regrets are and of course, what were your successes – what worked for you.

I wish we watched none. But I cherish my Saturday mornings where they watch Moana and I sit at the dining table, drinking coffee and writing my more personal posts like this. Besides, I need the time when they are zoning out on TV to read about how to be a good parent 🙂

IN SHORT; how much, how often and with how much control do you let your small kids watch TV?

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Dionne

I “work at home for the family” (perfect name for it!) from NJ. I have a 16 month old and this is a constant debate for me and my hisband (who spends about 90% of his time working outside of the home) as well. So, while I don’t any grandiose degrees or philosophies on the topic, what I know for sure is your mom’s dinnertime TV advice is spot on! I dont usually let my little girl watch TV that close to bedtime because even with the slower paced shows, i find it hard to get her to wind down… Read more »

Raquel

I had many of these same thoughts when my kids were small (they are now 7 and 9). My advice to you is to just relax and set boundaries. Kids get tired too and frankly burnt out so if watching a show every day for an hour helps the whole family reset and be happier you shouldn’t worry about it. Also watching a movie together as a family is great family time and creates lots of memories. Every Friday we have pizza and snuggle up on the couch with popcorn and a movie and we all love it. Trust me… Read more »

Jennifer H

I totally agree with you!! And then there are times when the tv simply becomes part of survival (my three year old currently has a broken ankle, don’t ask). So I think it’s all about being aware and conscience of the quality and amount of the tv. Sounds like you are doing great!!!

Lindsay

Do NOT allow the trolls movie under any circumstances!!! I’m 38 and I felt like it nearly gave me a seizure from all the stimulation (not literally, just illustrating a point). I can’t imagine what it does to small, developing brains.

FivebyFive

Every family has to form their own rules about this. One thing I do know (now that my kids are grown) is that banning something or being too rigid about it only makes children (and adults) want it more. Whether it’s TV or something like candy. Thanks to my husband’s sweet tooth, we are a candy house. Throughout my kids’ childhood, we had a candy bowl that was always filled (by my husband, not me) and available to any child or adult who visited our house and walked by the candy bowl. And you know who always gorged on the… Read more »

Shell

I agree with you fivebyfive! I grew up in a home with basically no tv at all and in my first apartment at university there was free cable. I couldn’t get enough tv! Ha! My husband grew up in a home where there were no limits on tv viewing and he just was never that into it. We have two teenage boys now and we didn’t make a big deal out of tv watching. They’re were allowed a few shows a day when they were little and as they grew we watched a few shows throughout the week as a… Read more »

Courtney

Yes!! Honestly, I had anxiety just reading that list of ‘rules’ and also how often they have changed. There is a whole bunch of research around scarcity that show human react in extreme ways when they perceive that their options will be limited in the future. Addiction is thrown around so freely with screens. When your child throws a tantrum because you have to leave the park, nobody talks about park addiction. They just accept that they were doing something they really enjoyed (likely increasing dopamine levels like all enjoyment!) and they didn’t want it to end. I think rather… Read more »

Ki

I agree with this general thread. When I was growing up, there were no specific rules (except, I’m sure what shows we could watch, obviously more limited in the late 80’s, early 90’s), about TV. I don’t ever remember my mom telling us we couldn’t watch a movie, or TV, or whatever. We were also a heavy “reading” family (several books before bed each night when we were little), so more often than not you could find my brother and I in bed reading for 30-40 minutes before bed. Not sure if this was because we just got shown another… Read more »

Marita

Courtney and Ki, I really appreciate what you both wrote. Neither my husband nor I grew up with limits on tv time. We’re both avid readers and successful individuals who appreciate a good show/movie, but as parenthood has proved, can go months without watching anything. Screentime on my phone is another story — it’s daily and I love reading blogs and articles. This post is particularly timely — at this very moment, my preschooler is watching tv, and I’m holding a sleeping infant and “connecting” to the adult world. Up until age 2.5, my older child had no idea what… Read more »

Joy

This is great, Courtney! What is your blog??

Courtney

http://Www.theuntamed.net I write about respectful parenting and life learning. Not everyone’s cup of tea but hope you find it useful

Crystal

Please share your blog- I find your thoughts interesting!!

Kim Soko Schaefer

Any chance you can share the blog link for the rest of us, please, pretty please 🙂

Courtney

Replied above 🙂

bmp

Technology addiction is a real thing with real physical, brain responses. It’s wise parenting to be aware and guard your little ones, while also teaching them how to navigate screens. Read this (although to get some reading time you might need a sitter)
https://m.barnesandnoble.com/p/irresistible-adam-alter/1124019931/2677853897897?st=PLA&sid=BNB_DRS_Core+Catch-All,+Low_00000000&2sid=Google_&sourceId=PLGoP79700&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIlcbZ64bc2gIVzF6GCh2Ajwi4EAQYAiABEgKJ-_D_BwE

Lisa

I would like your blog. Please self promote. This is why I’m taking the time to read the comments.

jessvii

^^ Loving this comment. My own parents were super strict about TV and guess what happened when I went to college? I watched wayyy too much TV (an insane amount). Do you know who didn’t? Everyone else who’d watched a normal amount of TV in high school. However, strangely, my parents were very relaxed when it came to alcohol. They always had a FULLY-STOCKED liquor cabinet, and wine up the wazoo (they weren’t actually big drinkers – it was mostly for guests / entertaining). Anyways, I never really felt that pull to ever drink too much / too frequently because… Read more »

grantjack

I get what you’re saying, but our house was rigid about food and one of us grew up binging and the others of us didn’t. I really think there’s a strong genetic component to food and body weight. I’m not fat because my genes tell me when to stop eating, no matter what is available to eat. My very active brother is fat….because he’s just got a different set point than I do. We were raised exactly the same way. Same really goes for TV and bingeing. Some kids go crazy for TV and other kids don’t seem to be… Read more »

karin

Yes! When I was a kid we never had cake or other baked goods around the house – probably because my mom never baked, more than because she didn’t want us to have it – but my aunt across the street was always baking and there was always cake on a stand on her kitchen counter. Her kids never wanted any because it was ALWAYS THERE and not a big deal, but my siblings and I would devour it whenever we got to go over. Now as an adult, I never tell myself I can’t have something because I know… Read more »

Nicki

Well said, could not agree more.

Rachel

I grew up with a candy bowl in the kitchen, but I never ate out of it b/c “it’s Dad’s candy”. Not that we weren’t allowed to eat it or anything, it just didn’t seem like we should eat it b/c then it wouldn’t be there when Dad wanted it. My friends who came over thought I was crazy that I never ate the M&Ms that were constantly on the counter.

babbity

oh blimey it is a real can of worms and who knows what is right. I teach 5 and 6 year olds and also have my own 8 year old son. I was super restrictive when he was younger but it then got to the point where he wouldn’t know what his group of friends were talking about because he hadn’t had the screen time to be familiar with the things the other kids knew from watching/ playing on screens. It’s hard because I don’t want him to be at a disadvantage but equally don’t want him having too much.… Read more »

JB

Kids are 9,11,13 now. And I’ve learned that there are seasons….tv consumption time has ebbed and flowed for various reasons. But whatever they watch, it can’t be twaddle (which is a word that applies to books and speech, but I apply it to tv.) I don’t let them watchin to just watch. There has to be some message or usefulness to what they see (education, religious, etc.) Thomas the Train was my favorite for them as littles — it teaches hard work, team work, being useful, consequences for poor choices AND it lead to hours and hours of play with… Read more »

anne

Ditto to this; I’ve stayed at home with my kids (now 4 and 7), and my only hard rule has really been—if you start crying over TV, it’s gone. I’m also with your mom about the tv while I make dinner, but that’s sort of a seasonal thing. That happens more in the winter because I live in Oregon, so I don’t need to explain to you, Emily, that once it’s not 45 degrees and raining at 5:00, the whole house collectively sighs and those kids are outside before you can say Doc McStuffins. Random TV suggestion: Julie’s Greenrom on… Read more »

Lisa H.

I’m a full time work at home for the family Mom with four kids. We were very aware about the amount of screen time our oldest son had, limiting it to a couple of short shows in the late morning before we left the house DAILY for hours and hours of outside play time (teeny apartment, high energy toddler, ideal San Diego weather…) he was also our child that we really focused on diet with (breast feeding, avocados, etc. Aaall the things you read about). He’s also our child that has been diagnosed with ADHD and deals with attention span… Read more »

Cate

Your parents sound lovely. Consider this: do you think you or your siblings were more impacted by the smaller choices and rules they made as parents (e.g. screentime, piano time) or by the fact that they were generally very loving and dedicated parents? Another thing to consider: despite your loving and dedicated parents, are you or any of your siblings perfect, without faults, anxieties or vices? With each child, I’m learning that the little sets of rules I try to create about small things make very little difference in our life and often only serve to make me feel better… Read more »

Vivienne

Emily, YOU know what’s best for your kids. The fact you’re really considering this particular challenge demonstrates that you’re a caring mommy. We were super strict with the oldest 2 (only a show or 2 every few days in the dark Alaskan winters!) & emphasized reading (bc *I* am a bookworm & really enjoy it). Fast forward to a surprise baby #4 (!) who is 3, and my cousin who is an excellent mother gave me “permission” to just use the fricking tv so I could have a break. That’s one thing I emphasize with younger moms–that you matter just… Read more »

Stephanie

Our 4-year old watches 1-2 shows while I get ready in the morning. We’ve stuck to the big TV and only use IPads or phones when we travel. Then we have weekly movie nights where we all pile on the sofa together (even if I’m actually working on my phone) to watch together. This has felt like a good balance for us. I think no tv at all for kids will just set them up to be crazy about it and binge later in life, so I’m all for teaching them it’s a small part of our day and it’s… Read more »

Jen

It sounds like you have a reasonable system for your family – maybe I think that because its somewhat close to what we do at home! We are a no screen time on weekday family for our younger kids (5,6.5) But let them watch TV on weekend mornings. That started because my 6.5 year old has woken up by at least 5:30 every morning since he was born and it’s the weekend – I NEED TO RECHARGE MY FRIENDLY BATTERIES. I was also pretty limiting on what they watched at first but now that they are more school aged I’ve… Read more »

Jaclyn York

“Everything in moderation, including moderation.” This is my parenting mantra. I have three girls ages, 9, 6 and 4. I homeschool all three of them, so we are at home all day, most days. Like most parents, I have a love/hate relationship with screens, but they have their good points. I use dvds and quality/slow-paced iPads games to reinforce topics learned. To be honest, some days there are several hours of screen time, while other days there are none. I figure it will all balance out. Also, because they are at home more than most children, they get a lot… Read more »

Jaclyn

That was supposed to be “unstructured” not “instructed”. Quite the oxymoron.

Natalie

So many great points made in this article, thank you Emily! I have a 5, 3 and 1 year old, and I work at home (I’m glad that I’m not the only one that loathes the “stay” at home mom description). We’re those weird parents that don’t have a tv or ipad, so similar to your mountain home, out of sight-out of mind as far as technology goes with our kids. We’re huge on letting the boys play outside the majority of the time, or with open ended toys inside. I do miss the days of our childhood where all… Read more »

Melanie

Yes to all that you said, Natalie!
I grew up in the 80s in the former GDR. After school we were out on the streets with our friends. Almost nobody had a phone so we just went to all the houses in the neighborhoof, looking for whatever child was free to play. We could receive the 2 channels of western germanys broadcast. Those channels started broadcasting at 5 or 6 afternoon and showed one science show or one older american show like “Scarecrow and Mrs. King” and nothing more. I think that was a pretty healthy way to be raised.

jody

You are BRAVE for bringing up this topic! I have found that I am a pretty relaxed mom about TV. I am a stay at home mom and have three boys (11,9,4) for reference. We have a family movie night on friday nights. We eat huge amounts of stove popped popcorn for dinner. I know, I am Bad. WE LOVE IT. I have tried the after school hour a million ways and every year is different. Sometimes its right to homework, then 1 hour of TV then outside to play until we have an evening sports thing or dinner is… Read more »

Rachel

We just had our second child five months ago and yeah, our screen time went through the roof for our three year old. We’ve recently scaled way way back … mostly as punishment/incentive with potty training and it’s been nice. Now it’s a big treat.

One thing a parenting expert told me was to use the sleep mode on the tv. Set it for 30 minutes and walk away. When it turns off it’s the tv’s fault.

Naomi McCool

I woke up at 4:45 this morning to sneak a few minutes of work in before my kids wake up. I tiptoed into the living room to grab my laptop and was greeted by my son hollering “MOM” from his room next door. Needless to say, I am now sitting next to him watching Daniel Tiger while responding to emails (Creative Galaxy is also a favorite in our house–imagine Daniel Tiger as an alien who likes to make art projects on various planets…Amazon original!). This is an aberration from our typical routine (kids are 4 1/2 and 2 1/2–just a… Read more »

Kate

Emily, I feel like I could have written this! Almost every word. My own experience has mirrored yours to such an astonishing degree. I have a four-year-old boy, a two-year-old girl, and a fast-paced career that seemed to really take off AFTER having children. I too struggle with scarcity causing so much LOVE for tv. We also have a projector and our favorite thing to do is pop pocorn in the air popper (they are delighted by it!) and watch the Planet Earth series on Netflix. (and all of your favorites, too). And when my son sings the Daniel Tiger… Read more »

Sara

Before starting this parenting journey I too was anti-screen time. With my oldest (almost 2 1/2), she watched very little for the 18 months, usually just when she was sick and we were snuggling on the couch. My husband and I both work full time, so she’s in daycare 5 days a week, so there isn’t much time to watch TV M-F. Once she hit 18 months we started using it as a babysitter a bit too much so I could prepare dinner, get a little me time, and some of the other things you mentioned. We’ve since cut back… Read more »

Jennifer

I don’t have any advice on screens/tv per se. I think every kid and family and season is different. However I do want to suggest audio books for that arsenic hour or as a wind down. It can be super relaxing and I feel like their might be scientific reasons it’s better than tv for developing minds but I have no studies or experts to quote.

Megan

I second this suggestion for audiobooks! I don’t have kids, but I know my boss does have young kids, and she listens to audiobooks in the car with them. The last time I was in her car, she had a biography of Lincoln going. She said her kids loved it. I am also a fan of audiobooks, and think they’re a good alternative to TV. The Harry Potter series is great on audio, too!

Sara

Just wait until you have a 14 year old who can stay up later than you and has a phone, internet access and knows all your Netflix logins. 😬 I remember telling my parents (ha!) not to let my oldest watch more than a half an hour of TV when he stayed at their house overnight as a toddler. LOL (at myself) now. Four kids into it, you just accept that things change at every stage, and you’re going to have to monitor, evaluate, and adjust at each stage. (Bigger fight has become electronics and YouTube kids “unboxing” videos. Ugh.)… Read more »

Lisa Hamel

Wow! Great ideas and very inspiring. If I could change one thing about my son’s early childhood, I would vastly reduce the amount of screen time he had (and even then he would still be watching much, much more than your kids do in a week). Knowing that and understanding why you are fighting the good fight will do loads to help me make better choices in the future! Thanks for being open an honest, even if this is an unexpected post. 😉

Rebecca

Ferdinand is a really cute movie with a good message.

Tiffanie

My son just turned last Saturday and we let him watch about 2-3 hours of TV on the weekend of his shows when he asks or accepts our offer. It wasn’t always like that though. He watches the new Sesame Street on HBO Go, which are shorter episodes than the PBS or Llama Llama on Netflix. Sometimes he will request to see more of a show, but we turn off the TV after 2 full episodes. He can sit through an animated kiddie movie too, which we have done on occasion. When we first introduced kid shows at 18 months… Read more »

Rachel

I have a 20 month old and full disclosure – he’s either in daycare or with his grandparents during the day Monday – Friday so we don’t have the same pressures of people who care for their children all day everyday. Our compromise is to let him watch ‘real’ stuff – mainly YouTube videos of animals, or trucks or planes or weirdly babies and only watch it with an adult who is explaining it to him so it is interactive. He’ll watch five minutes or so then wander off but he seems to really enjoy those five minutes! Otherwise we’re… Read more »

Christina

Fun topic with as many ‘right’ ways to do it as there are thoughts on it. Your mom is smart. I’m no parenting expert, but I have seven from 20-12. We actually went 12 years with no TV (we owned a TV and got free library movies) b/c we were saving for adoption and that was just one of many ‘little’ ways we could save. Last summer we added the basic back in to our lives – I don’t even know when my husband did it or why exactly, but it is great. When we had TV with our older… Read more »

Lisa Hamel

PS: I hate the phrase “stay-at-home mom” too. It makes us sound like recluses instead of hardworking family managers. “Homemaker” may be old-fashioned, but I prefer it–it focuses on what I strive to do, instead of where I am. 😉

K

Family manager is the perfect title

janet

I work all the time (at an office, at home on the family, and at home on paid projects). I still think I’m the family manager, too, so I’m not sure “family manager” is the right phrase to replace “work at home” or “homemaker.” Basically, we seem to be trying to find words to differentiate between work that earns dollars, and work that saves dollars (if I were working at home full-time, I’d be saving on daycare). So, essentially, what we all need to come around to is the idea that both parents are working all the time on something,… Read more »

K

Good point Janet.

K

Good point Janet

Cindy H

Here here!!(me too!)

Shannon

First off I have to say that you are an incredibly good and thoughtful mother who obviously puts a ton of energy into your littles. Em, whether they watched zero television, or a few hours a day, I have no doubt you are doing right by them. It is obvious you love them dearly and that they FEEL it, which is what matters most. The rest isn’t too important. Do you look them in the eyes and give them your attention when they have something to say? (Quite frankly not realistic to do ALL the time as they basically never… Read more »

Brandi

My children are older now, 9 and 12 (almost 13). We had similar rules as you do for TV when they were younger. They have adjusted well over the years. Now they must make sure the dishwasher has been loaded or unloaded and any laundry that needs to be folded has been done before they can watch TV. That is after they have had some form of exercise or have been outside playing. After homework, chores, and play, they usually only have about a half hour to read. We make it mandatory that all electronics are turned off a half… Read more »

LizM

My kids (1 and 4) can have TV pretty much anytime they want it….. and you know what… the hardly EVER ask for it anymore! I put on a show when I get home at 5 – so I can clean up and make dinner. Sometimes they get playing nicely and I don’t have to turn it on for a while. My older son gets one show (not movie) before bed. Sometimes he chooses a puzzle instead. I feel like limiting them give the TV more power! I go with the flow and some days they get tons and sometimes… Read more »

Sarah

This is slightly off topic, but you said that Charlie’s 3rd year was tough in general. Did it get better as he got older? Is this the same for other parents? I have a 3 yo son (3 yrs 3 mos now), and oh my goodness. The tantrums. The whining. The inability to deal with even the slightest change to the routine. I feel like I’m drowning in it. I feel like a terrible parent because I am having the hardest time staying patient with him. Ugh. As for TV, he gets to watch some only after he finishes eating… Read more »

Rae

Yes, it gets better! Mine were quite pliable and sweet at two, four was hilarious and full of discovery. Three was a loooong year. I often think I would have another child if I could just ship the child off to camp for that tantrum and BIG emotion filled third year.

Sarah

Threenagers suck. Four and five were delightful. Once they turn six they are bigger kids and their problems and challenges get bigger. You’re a good mom because you are worried about being a good mom. I work with kids who’ve experienced trauma, abuse and neglect. The adults in their young lives didn’t give a fig about what kind of parents they were (mostly because of inter-generational cycles of poverty and abuse and because they were so consumed with meeting their needs after having been so damaged by their childhoods that they didn’t have the knowledge or capacity to be a… Read more »

Amber

Oh my gosh THREE has been the WORST!!! (And I thought two was hard – HAHA). Thankfully she’s about to turn four and I’m hoping for some light at the end of the tunnel because this Mama is READY!

Melanie

My son is 9years now and EVERY AGE WAS HORROR until he went to first grade. Honestly. Sometimes I could not wait until the weekend was over and he would go to kindergarten. But on the other side it was our own fault because we were strictly anti-TV in the first years. Live would have been so much easier with the screen but we worried that in the end all the whining and tantrums when you switch it off wouldn’t be worth it. We’ll never know. We introduced “Shaun the sheep”, a beautiful english show with 5min. episodes when he… Read more »

Vicki Williams

Read all the comments and they are all good. My only comment is that I love the picture above and especially note that Charlie is the only one who doesn’t look like a zombie. No offense to the other two cuties!

Hanh Vu

I have a 3 years old and a 1 year old. Neither watches TV. This is because we have never made it an option. We ourselves dont watch much TV, so that probably helps. Once in a while we let the 3yo watch youtube videos, but not often enough for it to be a thing. The 3 yo loves books so we took that cue and run with it. I imagine kids are all different, so what work for us is simply that: it works for us. Our kids don’t know what they’re missing from not watching TV, because they… Read more »

Rae

A topic close to my heart (or worried head). I agree with you that there are so many quality shows out there now. I don’t think we are harming our kids by allowing some screen time. Everyone needs to find how it works for their family and what messages / behaviors they are comfortable sharing with their littles. To counter the pull of screens we use audio stories & music for downtime, we have easily accessible art supplies and open-ended toys. AND we talk with our kids about why we don’t allow unlimited screen time. Even very young they understood… Read more »

Laura Turner

2 shows that I LOVE to recommend- Sarah & Duck and Puffin Rock- both on Netflix. They are slow shows, humorous, and positive for both kids and parents! I love that the music doesn’t give me a headache, a la “Chuggington”.

For me- a mom with a full-time job that often works from home around my daughter’s nap schedule and 3 hour preschool- TV can be a necessary evil. I constantly feel mom guilt about it, but I also know that sometimes I just need to get through the day, too!

sarah

Love Puffin Rock!

Stacy Hyatt

Puffin Rock is THE. BEST. SHOW. My husband and I *both* love it, in addition to our 19-month-old, and we never have a problem watching it because even after probably a dozen times through the whole series (just two seasons) we still aren’t tired of it. It’s the only show my daughter loves and asks to watch, so I can’t complain that sometimes she zones out while watching.

Carolina

We have a soon to be 5 yo boy whom LOVES television. So we’ve had to make the IPad disappear, and our IPhone is allowed strictly to listen to music (he also LOVES music). What I couldn’t stand was when he’d just sit there to watch shows like PJ Masks. It had zero message and the plot was ALWAYS the same. Pretty numbing if you ask me… So I started getting him interested in movies. And not just your typical cartoon movie (though he absolutely loves COCO and SING!), but movies that have good music and would relate to something… Read more »

Elizabeth

Emily, you seem like a great mom! I honestly don’t think there is one perfect way to raise a kid. What works for one family, or for that matter, one kid isn’t going to work for everyone and people can be very aggressive with their opinions of parenting. I have 2 kids 6 and 9 and we have tried our hardest to limit their screen time as best we can. Some days we do great and they don’t watch any. Somedays we are all melting down and tired and they watch more than I’d like. It’s a constant balancing act.… Read more »

ycm

I agree, that every family is different, and you should just do the best you can, and that’s the best you can do, and it’s GOOD! When my kids were younger, we allowed 2-3 show total, after they had done a quiet time/sometimes before dinner. They are now 5 and 8, and they get 1-2 shows after they get home from school, or other screen time,. That’s really all they have time for, and then it’s dinner, and getting ready for bed, etc. We sometimes do a movie night, but sometimes they have extended screen time instead (their choice). They… Read more »

Holly

Our kids are 4 and 2. They wake up, get dressed and then they watch a quality show (the ones you mentioned are great) while we make coffee/breakfast. They usually watch another at around 5 or 6pm while we make supper (thumbs up to your mom)! If one is napping and the other is not, will sometimes watch a bit more. Movies on weekends. I would say that they don’t really get excited about watching it and we often don’t really say no when they ask (they usually ask at the times mentioned above) and always give them warning when… Read more »

Kerri

This is almost exactly how our household operates as well with a 5 year old and 2.5 year old.

We love Wild Kratts and Cat in the Hat. Our oldest has learned so much from both of them and will spit out random facts that she remembers (magnets have two poles! butterflies taste with their feet! etc).

For movies my kids LOVE Paddington and Paddington 2. They are the first non-animated movies that either has shown an interest in (and they are funny for adults too!)

Holly

Paddington! Yes! We took them to the movie theatre to see Paddington 2…both my husband and I cried SO. MUCH!

Melissa

Ahhhh, the age old dilemma. I have no answers bc it’s always trial and error and what works with my toddlers isn’t great for my big kids (8&9). But! Two more great show recommendations! Mr Rogers and Reading Rainbow. My big and little kids LOVE them. Slow paced, all available on amazon prime and I don’t feel bad if the 20-30 minutes turns into an hour or two bc they are learning so much! And it’s slow paced.
Good luck figuring out what works best for your crew!

Monica

a BIG SECONDING to Mr. Rogers! We definitely love “Dan-Dan”–but whether it’s the pacing of the show or that Mr. Rogers is more engaging, for all Daniel Tiger’s wonderfulness Mr. Rogers is in another league.

K

I notice that my 5 yr old gets inspired to play certain things after a show
ie. He’ll get out specific animals and build an elaborate habitat after Wild Kratts
I think both my kids are very differently behaved from tv/iPad so I think there isn’t a One Size Fits All system but what’s most important is sticking to the rules you set while being willing to assess strengths and weaknesses in the plan and be willing to adjust the plan.

Kari

I have a high school child, and I’ve been a preschool teacher for many years. I totally get your concern and wish more parents gave more thought to the screen time choices they make and their effects. At the same time, I think you are being too hard on yourself! Far more important than the actual amount of time children watch tv is the purpose of it. I don’t mean the purpose or message of the show/movie, I mean the reason why you are allowing a child to watch tv in the first place. There are many acceptable reasons to… Read more »

Shilpi

I love this! Here’s what i do: 1. let me 4 year old watch TV in the late afternoon/evening after school while I cook dinner. 2. Limit it to really good shows — we love PBS kids as well. he is into curious george and dinosaur train. Honestly, he learns SO much from those shows, like about how siphons work and what Pangea was and on and on. T 3. BC of his weekday habit, he kind of thinks of TV as something that helps him relax, as opposed to an activity. So on weekends we watch at the same… Read more »

Jen

We have a no TV rule for school days. On the weekends we have bite size rules. 30 mins here and there scattered throughout the day. They do end up watching more than the recommended 2 hrs. Honestly, I don’t stress out about it. I used to watch TV non stop growing up and honestly, I think I turned out ok 🙂 My kids are 7 and 11.

CB

I have never commented here before (any blog, actually), but long time reader and mom to a 7 year old. We tried everything with the TV: no TV, Ipad as TV, TV hung on the wall with Netflix and have finally settled on an old TV DVD/VHS combo that we put on rollers and keep in the closet. Our daughter is much more interested in playing outside with her friends these days (yay!) and also the effort required to roll a TV out of the closet and put in a DVD normally means she finds something else to do. And,… Read more »

Alyssa

My kids are a bit older (6 and 8) but one trick I found useful was to allow podcasts and audiobooks as a substitute for TV on school days. We’ve found some really fun science podcasts (Brains On, Wow in the World) and some storytelling ones too (Disney storybook). Audiobooks can be downloaded for free from an app connected to my local library (Overdrive). My kids often draw while they listen. We can be in the same room together and I can listen too (and then discuss with them later), but still get other things done like cook dinner or… Read more »

sarah

Do you listen to these on the computer? or your phone? I want to try to do this too! Thanks!

Julia

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I know it’s on Prime, not sure if it’s available elsewhere.

I adore Fred Rogers. I actually like my kids *more* after they watch his show.

Julia

Tumbleleaf is another good one, and the more recent nature documentaries from David Attenborough (Planet Earth, Blue Planet…) are also wonderful and whatever the opposite of frenetic is.

Mr. Rogers is in a class by himself, though.

Carolyn

Loved reading your perspective, Emily, and all the comments so far! (Also, one movie rec that our 2.5-year-old is obsessed with and I don’t mind at all is Finding Dory). Honestly, the idea of setting strict rules around screentime makes me feel a little claustrophobic and like I’m just asking for guilt when I inevitably break the rules I made 5 minutes ago. We just approach TV on a day-by-day basis. On a weekday, Sesame Street is probably on in the morning while we try to assemble ourselves as adults. On a weekend, it’s a good bet that whoever gets… Read more »

Cindy H

Hi emily … just wanted to give you a high five on this post. I almost spit out my coffee on the ‘TV! their best friend!’ comment. So funny. My kids are teens (read:busier) now so this isn’t a day-to-day issue for me any more but I still enjoyed your take on this conundrum!! It’s hard!! Just know whatever choices you make regarding screen time – the kids will be okay! Monitoring content is far more important than micromanaging the number of minutes they spend each day!! I promise. Also — as a SAHM (I hate the term too) –… Read more »

Ginger

Dang, I wish my kids would watch TV! I’m at the point in my life where it’s all about phones, ipads, video games and computers. My oldest middle schooler has his own computer and ALL of his homework is on it. So for 2 hours of the day he is at the computer and it drives me insane but nothing I can do about it because all of his assignments are online, they don’t even have textbooks anymore! Also, when he goes to other friends houses and I ask what they did, the answer: play video games. And don’t even… Read more »

Ginger

Oh, I forgot to mention that his computer is school issued- no, I did not buy my 6th grader his own computer!

Lana

I’m a marriage and family therapist, and we have four young kiddos (aged 9, 7, 4, and 18 months). We let the kids watch a half hour of TV Monday through Friday, around 7 pm, but only if all homework and chores are done for the day. On Saturday morning, we let the kids watch an hour or two of TV in the morning and on Sundays we don’t watch TV at all. I think the main key is being consistent with expectations. Also, if our kids complain too much when it’s time to turn off the TV, they don’t… Read more »

Megan

I am not a parent, so I don’t have first-hand experience about TV from a parenting standpoint. But, when I was growing up, I don’t remember my parents really having any TV rules. There were a lot of more mature movies that my friends were allowed to watch, but I wasn’t, but that’s the only “rule” we had. We watched TV Saturday mornings for the most part. And my dad would come in and just turn the TV off and tell us to go outside if he got annoyed by the sound of it. He’d then tell us not to… Read more »

C

One thing that I loved as a kid was books on tape– they may be a little young for it yet, but it’s a great thing to have that’s engaging (in the way that tv is) but doesn’t have the visual component, which allows for more imaginative room (or playing with toys at the same time). I don’t have kids yet, but I thought I’d recommend something I loved as a kid!

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