A year and a half ago I published one of my most viewed posts ever: My Little Kids Don’t Use Screens. Ever. Here’s why. (You may enjoy giving that a read then coming back here.)
I explained how studies show that the more little kids’ brains are hyper stimulated by screens, the more it takes to entertain them. (It literally re-wires their brains.)
I talked about how parents rely on screens to give themselves a break, but that in many cases it becomes a vicious cycle of needing to use screens more and more to get those much-needed breaks or chores done. (Not very freeing after all for so many!)
I went into how studies show all of the supposed edge kids get from “educational” programming as tots not only has no statistical impact on future intelligence, but actually has links to a decrease in test scores compared to peers who spent their younger years with unstructured, non-screen play.
So outside of video chatting with family, my girls never watched shows, video games, played games on a phone etc.
And oh the benefits!
They have such great imaginations. They play independently. They don’t treat me like a cruise director, needing me to provide entertainment or screens for them to function.
Then… we used some screens. This was our experience.
A Little Youtube
We got tickets for Ethan to take Philomena (4.5 years old) to see the Nutcracker ballet at Christmastime. She’d been to outdoor concerts before, but never anything with dancers in a theater before.
So we started listening to the soundtrack and we showed her a couple different video clips on Youtube so she knew what to expect. (The video clips were Mother Ginger’s dance and the battle between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King to be exact.)
These weren’t kid shows. This wasn’t commercial television. These were just a couple clips from the London Royal Ballet for her to be familiar with what she was going to see.
If we had left it at that, just watching a couple times, everything probably would have been fine.
But that’s not how screens realistically work.
Philomena started to ask to watch these two clips every day. Zelie (2.5 years old), wanted to watch them with her, too, of course.
At first it was something run to watch once with Ethan when he got home from work, and to share excitement about the coming performance.
But then they started asking for them one more time when the clips finished.
Then they wanted them when they first woke up in the morning or after naps.
When the little 4 minute Mother Ginger clip was over they would beg for the other clip.
Over and over they were begging for them.
They started to become really upset if I said no, they didn’t need to watch them.
They started to almost become dependent upon these two stupid video clips upon waking.
You know what else happened exactly at the same time as they started watching this clips? Play died in our home.
They constantly wanted me to come direct play for them.
They were suddenly incapable of running off to their room and playing make believe with dollies and stuffed animals like they usually did.
No matter what I was doing – laundry, dishes, calling someone, writing a blog post… they were suddenly constantly underfoot, hounding me and whining to watch the Nutcracker clips or go play with them, even though I always made sure to give them some undivided attention for a bit before going to work on something.
They were so clingy and I was going insane.
Quit Cold Turkey
A couple weeks ago I told Ethan I was done. The last month with these two stupid video clips had become absolutely miserable.
The girls watched them and I told them it would be the last time. We were done with them.
They protested a bit. There were some meltdowns for “Mother Gingerrrrr!!!!!” upon waking or them feeling bored.
But within about about 48 hours, my girls were back.
Without the option of that hyper-stimulating video time – they have become incredibly engrossed in make believe games again.
They’ve been traveling on pretend airplanes and taking their baby dollies shopping.
They’ve been using their imaginations to come up with the funniest things.
Our kinetic sand has been put back at center stage.
I can give them some attention and then go off and work on something and get to hear their laughter (and lets be honest, sometimes their bickering) as they build with blocks, take their babies to a restaurant, or some other play.
It’s Not Magic
I’m not saying screen-free parenting is a magic bullet solution that means you never have kids bored underfoot again. (No matter what by about 5:30 pm my girls will always be in this mode!)
I’m not saying it’s the answer to all of your behavioral problems with a kid.
I’m not even saying it is the right thing for your family. Only you know your family.
What I am saying, though, is that screens definitely don’t work for our family at this stage. My girls were way more bored and underfoot when they’d had access to them and become hooked on their stimulating nature.
If you feel scared to pull the plug on the screens but feel it may help your family too, do it. Try it.
Let your kids be bored and use their imaginations to fill up that boredom.
Let them learn to just be.
I don’t know at what age screens might be a better fit for my girls, but I know now is not that time.
My girls don’t use screens. We backslid into it for a few weeks with a couple clips on Youtube and it was a crash and burn.
We’re screen-free again and much happier for it.