About two weeks ago, we were starting to notice that we’d been turning the TV on a lot. Not necessarily on purpose, but just, in the background, or as a passive way to entertain Adeline while we did something with Barrett. It got to the point where it was just on, all the time. And it was like a habit we didn’t even realize we’d fallen into. When we got home, we’d flip on the TV. When Adeline asked for Blippi or a movie, sure why not – she hasn’t watched THAT much TV today I guess, we’d say to each other. When we needed the kids out of the way while we cooked dinner, we’d flip it on. No harm in that, right? I’m sure that’s pretty normal these days, especially among families with multiple kiddos! We started to also notice however that the listening skills around here were dwindling, and wondered if there might be any connection to the amount of screen time we’d inadvertently been creating in our home.
We’ve never really been huge sticklers on screen time, and usually just kind of roll our eyes at all of the blog posts and articles out there condemning it and using fear mongering click bait titles.“Crack for kids!” they’ll say, or “Screen time is the Devil!”. Even, “You’re rotting your kid’s brain!” Ok, not really, but you get the point. We’re big believers in “everything in moderation” and I truly believe that to be true when it comes to screen time. We don’t sit our kids in front of the TV for hours on end, or send them to their room with an iPad to use at their own discretion. I’d like to think we’ve been responsible screen time administrators and are always careful of what we watch, trying to put on something at least somewhat educational. (I guess Netflix’s Alexa & Katie would fall outside of this category though, HA!) But, we both started to feel like maybe we were using the TV as a crutch a little too often, and it was starting to cause some noticeable changes in behavior for our 3.5 year old.
So, we did an experiment. We vowed to spend an entire work week with the TV turned off during daytime hours, while both kids were awake. We only turned the TV on once they’d gone to bed at night. Here’s what happened and what we learned! I jotted these notes down throughout the week, so forgive me if they seem random!
*Disclaimer: this is a not a screen time vs no screen time judgement post. We love screen time! (Hello airplane ride just recently! And how else do you think I take a shower when I’m home alone with both kids?!) This is simply sharing our experience after drastically reducing the amount of screen time we consume during the week.
- More dance parties in the kitchen! Making dinner together as a family actually became fun when we weren’t yelling at our toddler over the noise of the TV.
- We exposed the kids to the classics – hello Queen! Hey Google, play James Taylor! Less TV time meant more time for listening to music just because!
- More outside time – walks, playing in the backyard, going to parks, practicing our balance bike. Less TV time meant we spent more focused time outside and got FRESH AIR!
- Playing boardgames together – we played quite a bit of Candy Land and Hi Ho Cherry-O and I didn’t hate it.
- We included her in more hands-on activities like baking and learning how to crack eggs and helping me sort laundry!
- Getting creative with how we use our time in general. The TV is such a time sucker, and when you go without it, it’s amazing how much more time you have.
- More intentional dinnertime conversations and better eating. In the past, we’ve lazily left the TV on in the background while we eat dinner or gotten into an argument over turning it off because our toddler wanted to finish whatever they were watching. Vowing to keep the TV off completely meant our dinnertime was actually more conducive to talking and focusing on eating our meal!
- Our 3.5 year old was calmer, a better listener all week, noticeably less rebellious, bed time took less time because her ‘unwind’ time didn’t include screen time and she wasn’t riled up from a movie or whatever she was watching right beforehand.
- After not letting her watch TV for a few days, she actually stopped asking for it! By the weekend, turning the TV on for a few minutes felt more like a special treat or a reward.
- Turning the TV off also included our other screen devices like our phones. We often let her watch an app on our phones or play a game, or mindlessly scroll through our camera rolls, but during this experiment we also put our phones away, which meant, of course, that WE were just naturally on our phones LESS which was nice!
- Less phone time for us meant less of an opportunity for her to call us out for being on the phone or beg us to “pay attention to me!” because she could see us on our phones- she had more of our sole focus, as did baby brother.
- Less “lazy” parenting. Now hear me out – I am in no way inferring that having the TV on makes you a lazy parent. BUT, I do think we had been using it too much to help us get by, almost as a third parent. If we were too tired to entertain the kids, we’d flip the TV on. If I needed to get something done on my computer, here watch this app on my phone for a few minutes. If we just honestly needed a break or some quiet time, we’d throw on a movie. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong this that. What I’m trying to say is though is that I think we had become too dependent on the TV in general to almost “babysit” the kids for us.
All in all, we quickly noticed that after a week without the TV on, or other devices, our family dynamic changed, and we were overall much more intentional with how we spent our time together. Our toddler’s behavior also pretty drastically changed, which meant all of us were happier! At times it was like her imagination came alive, and her auto-pilot shut off and she began to fly on her own. We made even more sweet memories as a family, because our attention wasn’t tied up in a screen.
This isn’t to say we’ll never turn the TV on again for kids. (No way, Jose!) But I think we will definitely continue to hugely limit it during the work week. On the weekends, we’re planning on using it as more of special treat to reward good behavior. (Or for special family movie nights, let’s be real! Toy Story 4 is coming out soon and we gotsta get caught up!)