Screen Time & Our Children, Part Three: What Happened When We Introduced Screens
In Part One of MAED’s three-part series, “Screen Time and Our Children,” we got into what researchers had to say about the effects of screen time. In Part Two, I discussed tips and tricks for screen-free parenting and for the last segment of this series I wanted to share how we slowly introduced screen time to our daughter, what changed for her and how we feel about it all.
Screens In Our Home
The first thing I want to point out is that we’ve never hidden our phones from her. We’ve never locked ourselves in a separate room when we wanted to watch TV, needed to work on a laptop or to take a call. Our style of parenting is to speak clear, direct and honest with our daughter. So when she did ask about using an iPhone or iPad like her friends, we would merely explain that every family was different and that mama and papa preferred for her to read and play with toys. She always moved on quickly, with no issues because honestly, she had no idea of what she was missing.
If hubby and I wanted to sit down to watch a movie at home, we would watch after her bedtime. The only time our television was actually on, and our daughter was awake was during a televised award ceremony, like the Grammys, the Golden Globes or the Oscars. When she was very young, we would set her up with some toys on the living room floor to keep her entertained. As she got older, she had the choice to either play in her room or bring some toys out to the living room. She almost always chose to be in the living room with us. She would glance at the TV from time to time, and every once in a while if a really engaging performance were going on she’d want to watch, and we would let her. Mostly though she was bored with award ceremonies so having the TV running in the background wasn’t an issue.
How We Started To Introduce Screen Time
When I started to share our day to day life on social media, curiosity over my iPhone obviously peaked. When she was two years old, we shared family photos and family videos on our phones with her. She wasn’t given the responsibility of taking our phones into another room, but we would show her what we were photographing or sharing and while supervised with a parent, she could scroll through either of our iPhone photo albums.
From the moment we start our day till the very end we have the music playing in our home, naturally, music became a part of our daughter’s sleep time routine. She eventually wanted to find her own music, so when she turned three-years-old, we let her start exploring the Apple Music app. Once again only while supervised. She had fun discovering new music thanks to the apps ability to suggest songs.
At the time her exposure to screens still felt very healthy. Then about four months ago (she was three years, eight months old) we let her watch her first Youtube show, and Pandora’s box was opened, unleashing a significant amount of issues.
Her first-year preschool teacher had moved away and launched an educational Youtube show called “Lulu and Munch” (def check it out if your little one is permitted to have screen time). It was the ideal type of online content for us. It was someone she knew, it was educational, and the episodes were short. Her initial reaction to watching Teacher Leigh was endearing but also raised a few questions for us. She was confused about why her favorite teacher was “in the phone,” and no longer at school, and she wanted to know how she “got in there.” She seemed a little shocked. It was sweet and funny, but we wondered if we were underexposing her. So the next day when she asked to watch the show again, we let her.
The rest is a bit of blur, but somehow she found her way to two other shows. My husband reviewed them, and he felt ok about the content. One was a daughter and father working on science projects, and the other was Paw Patrol. I knew I didn’t want her watching cartoons regularly, so we had to have a chat about that with her.
Hubby and I found ourselves looking at each other like “who is this child?”
What I Found Out About Screen Time
For the last almost four years, my stance has always been that limiting screen time for our daughter was not only for her benefit but for ours, as well. I had on several occasions expressed to my husband my concerns over how easy I felt relying on a phone could become for us. Within one week of exposure, our daughter woke up and requested the phone first thing in the morning. Which of course at first we said no to, but then one intense morning we handed it to her because the constant begging was complicating an already tough morning. One week after that, she started asking for the phone as soon as I picked up her up from school. Again, my immediate answer was no. But on the fourth day when she wouldn’t peacefully entertain herself in her play kitchen, as she usually did and mama had a conference call scheduled, I caved! I gave it to her because her outburst was so extreme and she wouldn’t simmer down. Quickly my worst fear became a reality. There we were leaning on a cellphone to pacify tough parenting moments.
It wasn’t until week three that we realized that our daughter’s mood swings and attitude had changed significantly. She was having incredible outbursts and raging tantrums. We didn’t initially put it all together because her whining and fits were about any and everything. But soon enough we realized that she wasn’t playing by herself, she was picking up fewer books, and she was asking for the phone more and more. When we sat down for dinner with friends, she wasn’t content with her sticker books, markers or being part of the conversation. When we stepped into a store, unless it was a kids toy store she no longer had any interest in discovering. She only wanted to look at my phone. She was losing her patience and her ability to socialize with adults. She had a fixated look in her eyes, was short-tempered and the more we said no to the phone the more she raged. Our daughter was entirely a different person.
Hubby and I found ourselves looking at each other like “who is this child?”
There’s a part of me that’s happy we went through this experiment, we’ve gotten to see firsthand the effects of screen time and how drastically addictive it is for children. We are now 100% sure that our initial parenting instinct to delay screen time was right. And we’re not one bit concerned about her being technology delayed because we also came to see for ourselves that a child can learn how to operate a device very quickly with zero instruction.
So What Now?
Earlier this month, on our daughter’s fourth birthday we took her to see her very first movie — an old (1991) version of Beauty and The Beast at a beautiful iconic theater in Hollywood. At one point her eyes swelled up, clearly showing us that the experience was overwhelming and that she was processing a ton of feelings. She loved it though, and so did we. Sharing our love for cinema with her is something we have long looked forward to.
All in all, we think that going out to see a movie and having the experience together as a family is the healthiest version of screen time. It’s outside of our everyday routine, and it takes place outside of our home so when it’s done, it’s done! As for iPhones and iPads, we both agree that personal devices add no value to her life or education right now, and that we need to eliminate them from her day.
My advice to parents who are questioning whether or not it’s time for their toddler to engage with a personal device? Wait as long as possible. Research tells us it’s damaging to our kids. I personally know you can survive without sitting your child in front of an iPhone or iPad (if you don’t believe me, ask your mother or grandmother how they did it,) and now I also know that screen time really does change the way our children behave, respond, interact and process emotion.