By Guest Blogger Carrie Friesen, MD
“Mommy, can I watch?” This used to be my 3-year-old daughter’s favorite question. She would be happy watching TV, DVDs, or something on the laptop all day long. As a pediatrician, I recommend that families follow the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations for their kids: no more than two hours of screen time each day. However, I confess that I struggle to follow this with my own children. When dinner needs cooking, or my girls (6, 3.5, and 23 months) are fussing, the quick fix is to let them watch a DVD or play on PBSKids.org.
Earlier this summer, a friend mentioned that she and her daughter had decided to not watch any TV for one week. After the one-week challenge, she noticed that her daughter was kinder and more obedient. Thinking of my guilt about letting my girls’ screen time edge past the 2 hour limit, I immediately wanted to try this too! My girls agreed to a no screen challenge, enticed by the promise of a reward after one week. My part in this (since I don’t watch much TV) was to check email and other things on my laptop only two times each day.
Day One: My 3-year-old asked “Can I watch?” five times. Day Two: only a single “Can I watch?” After that she asked only every few days. I was shocked! Day Four was challenging: the girls were arguing and it would have been so nice for them to watch TV when they were bored. I found myself wanting to cave and check my email, and never knew until this that checking email was an escape for me! However, we persevered. After that first week, my girls wanted to keep going, and we are now on Week Six.
These weeks have been really good for our family. It has been amazing to see the benefits:
Better, more creative playtime. They built an elaborate train set all around the kitchen island with Lego bridges and other structures. They played “County Fair,” “school,” “Hockey cars,” “Narnia,” etc, and performed shows for each other via the baby monitor (I chose to not count the baby monitor shows as screen time because it was so hilarious!). These were all things they did not do when they could simply watch TV instead. A friend said that boredom leads to creativity, and she is right!
More time playing together. Learning to play together and helping one another has been priceless.
More opportunities to practice good behavior. Without the quick TV fix, they had to learn to work things out, work on apologizing and forgiving, and learn to play in a kinder way together.
Better focus. Our 3 year old, who used to watch the most screen time, now seems more focused when I talk with her.
Fun rewards. The girls looked forward to a reward for each week of not watching – special activities like the Butterfly Farm, Bolton pool, and even watching Frozen were received with pride for a job well done. (I haven’t told them that we might have done those things anyway!)
As a parent, I witnessed first-hand the benefits of decreased screen time. As a pediatrician, I can now recommend whole-heartedly the AAP’s recommendations on screen time (and not feel hypocritical). They are the following:
~ Limit total entertainment screen time to <1 to 2 hours per day.
~ Discourage screen media exposure for children < 2.
~ Keep the TV and Internet out of children’s bedrooms.
~ Monitor what media children are using and accessing, including websites and social media.
~ Co-view TV, movies, and videos with children and teenagers, and use this as a way of discussing important family values.
~ Model active parenting by establishing a family home use plan for all media. As part of the plan, enforce a mealtime and bedtime “curfew” for media devices, including cell phones. Establish reasonable but firm rules about cell phones, texting, Internet, and social media use.
Visit this link for more info on this topic from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Enjoy your time with your kids. I promise you won’t regret even a short break from screen time!