Screen-Free Kids: Unplug to Tune-In

Two little girls hold hands and walk outside with text beneath- Screen-Free Kids: Unplug to Tune-In

If you’ve worked with children as a parent, teacher, doctor, or in any capacity, you’ve probably read a lot about how technology affects them. There’s plenty of information out there, and it can be confusing to decide whether tech is good or bad for kids. Honestly, I see both sides of the argument. My kids aren’t being raised tech-less, but my husband and I are being intentional about keeping them (almost) screen-free.

I can’t remember exactly when we first talked about keeping E, our first son, screen-free. I’m sure it was after he was born. At just a couple of months old we noticed him really focusing in on the TV. It got to a point where he didn’t look at anything else if it was on, so we turned it off and kept it off anytime he was awake. At first it wasn’t easy. I was tired and he was a terrible sleeper, and all I wanted to do sometimes was hold him and watch something so I didn’t have to exert any extra energy.

But, it didn’t take a terribly long time before we just…got used to it. It’s not like we had been watching TV all day before, anyway. E didn’t have to adjust to not using a phone or tablet because he never had used them. Though we really hadn’t done any research or had in-depth conversations about it, a screen-free baby just felt right to us.

What does screen-free mean?

First, let me explain that screen-free is a slight misnomer. My husband and I use our phones, laptops, and tablets around the house for a number of things, though generally not with the boys around.

We also have some exceptions for our children’s screen use at home:

  • FaceTime (video calling) with our families is important in our home. It’s completely interactive and experts generally agree that video call minutes do not count toward screen-time totals.
  • Family Photos/Videos are also fine (but, in our case, limited…E could watch home videos all. day. long.). These help familiarize babies and toddlers with the faces and voices of family members. Tip: narrate the photos for your child so they learn names and start to appreciate the context of the picture.
  • Music videos are a once-in-awhile special treat for E since he turned 2. And before you get too worked up about it, they’re MTC, not MTV (that’s Mormon Tabernacle Choir (live!), guys). His fave is the Hallelujah Chorus, with How Great Thou Art following closely behind.

Other than those exceptions, and the odd waiting room or a tv running at someone else’s house, we just keep our kids away from screens.

Why screen-free?

There are a lot of reasons we have opted to keep our kids largely screen-free until two years old (and now beyond). Our intentional focus on discipleship parenting is one of these reasons. There are few shows out there that we feel would meet our personal standards for our sons. Maintaining a Christ-centered environment is valuable to us, and we don’t think that most TV would contribute positively to that.

All parents, Christian or otherwise, should be aware that before 18 months screen viewing negatively affects language development, reading skills, short term memory, sleep, and attention skills.

TV (or online shows/videos, etc.) during the toddler stage also interferes with the development of a longer attention span. Toddlers who watch more TV have more attention issues (in general) a few years down the road than those who go screen-free.

In fact, even having the tv on in the background (seemingly ignored) negatively impacts language acquisition in toddlers. Parents speak an average of 170 words per hour (wph) when the tv is on, but 940 wph when it’s off. That’s not small potatoes, people! Fewer words means less real-world interaction, which means decreased learning. Don’t take my word for it, here’s where Dr. David Hill, MD, FAAP lays it all out.

The bottom line

My kids won’t be screen-free forever, and I don’t want them to be. I want them to be tech-literate (proficient, even) because, let’s face it, they’ll need to be. But it’s easy to add more and more devices to their lives and not so easy to take them away, so we’re starting out slowly.

That being said, there’s no judgment here. It’s tempting to plop the kids down in front of the tv to enjoy a moment of peace. I’ve brought my kid into bed in the morning, put my phone in his hands and told him he could watch Mormon Tabernacle Choir videos to his heart’s content while I got just 15 more minutes of almost sleep. And you know what? If kids watch screens, they’ll be okay. I know more than a few that have turned out fabulously!

From a discipleship parenting perspective, Philippians 4:8 should be in the forefront of our thoughts when we consider the media we’re exposing our kids to. Mindfulness is key. We should be mindful of what our kids are watching/listening to. Mindful of how much time they’re spending on electronic devices. And mindful of how they’re acting when we take the devices away.

How does your screen policy support your discipleship parenting goals?

Are you looking for screen-free (toddler and baby) things to do? Sign up for the Disciple Mama newsletter, then read this: Screen-free Activities: 5 Fun Things You Can Do at Home.

Two little girls hold hands and walk outside with text beneath- Screen-Free Kids: Unplug to Tune-In

Toddler boy holding a pinecone with text overlay: Screen-Free Kids: Unplug to Tune In