Screen Time feels like a hot topic as soon as kids enter the toddler phase. I’ve received the question countless times in the past few years and it’s one I can’t quite put a finger on why we’re all so curious about it. I love learning how another mom manages screen time. I think it gives a behind-the-veil peek into family life and the nosey part of me is all for that. On a deeper level, though, I believe we want to do that age old “match a mom” thing. A mom you admire doesn’t own a TV or allow any screens for her kids? Suddenly you’re rethinking what works for your family. A mom you admire is cool with all.the.screentime? Then and only then do you feel “freedom” to do the same. Does this sound familiar?
I listened to a Risen Motherhood podcast episode a few months ago that addressed the topic of gray area as parents and found it so helpful. There are so many grey areas in the Word, friends. I personally would love a 4th John in there or something that addressed the every day decisions we face as moms. Schooling, screen time, sugar, siblings…all of it. But our God in His wisdom saw fit not to give us strict laws for each of these areas. In seeking Him for wisdom and acting out of our knowledge of and law for His Word, we are free to make those decisions on our own. It’s a gift.
Screen time tends to ebb and flow as our lives change. When O and I were newlyweds I watched enough TV for 10 humans. Oh my goodness, guys. I watched SO much TV. All the reality television. All the cooking shows, renovation shows, wedding shows, baby shows…hopefully you get the point by now. Then O would get home from work and we’d watch even MORE shows together. We had an epic show lineup and had something we looked forward to watching every single night of the week. We also used to eat dinner in front of the TV nearly every night for the first three years of our marriage.
Two pink lines and ten months later, our TV grew cobwebs. I’d binge-watch some Everybody Loves Raymond or Parks and Rec on my iPad while I nursed one thousand times a day and by time evening rolled around, I couldn’t fathom staying up for “our show.” I didn’t keep the TV on during the day because I was super nervous about the “no TV before 2” rule and was set on sticking to that so instead of turning on my shows, I started listening to podcasts instead.
Shortly after Lema turned 1, I decided I wanted him to have a show of his own. I was pregnant, exhausted and just craved a little break to look forward to each day. I tried out lotsss of things, but we finally settled on one or two shows he’d actually somewhat sit through and it felt like Christmas morning! He started watching one 20 minute show every day and that was fine for a while until it wasn’t. Dude developed a habit. The second he realized the show was about to end, he’d start asking to start it over or watch another one. When I said no, he’d settle into a full on tantrum with giant tears and short, shallow breaths which let me know that it was time for a break.
Both my kids had some tricky gut issues from birth so since day one I had learned a very valuable lesson in motherhood: Just because something works for someone else’s kid doesn’t mean it’s going to work for yours. And that is okay. While some kids could watch hours of TV every day, mine couldn’t handle that and still remain 1. himself 2. content 3. present 4. joyful. I decided that 20 minutes of television was not worth the end-product, so we put it on pause. No TV.
He genuinely seemed to forget about it by the end of my pregnancy and it was a really sweet season. But then, when he turned 20 months old, Keogena was born and this mama couldn’t find the remote fast enough! For those first few weeks he watched so, so much tv you guys. All the movies. All the shows. It was just survival mode and if you guessed he needed a little detox after that, you’d be right.
We started back up on the one show a day for a long time, but this past year when we started homeschooling a natural segue into less television presented itself and we took it. Since the Fall, we only watch shows on ‘S’ days (the weekend)-not on school days. Of course, when sick days happen, all rules are out the window and this isn’t a law i’m clutching to, but 99.9% of the time it’s the way our days look. Again, what works for us may not be the best fit for other families and that’s how it’s supposed to be. There is such freedom in being able to pivot and switch for your own children’s needs at any given time. We can take all the research and what not and look at it through a different lens. Not one of control, not one of fear, not one of pride or laziness, but of wisdom and discernment. I hope that brings you as much peace as it brings me.
Our financial advisor, who loves the Lord and has been such a gift to us since O first signed in the NFL years ago, told us something about his screen-time rules that impacted us greatly. Before we even became parents, he shared with us that with his three sons aren’t ‘allowed’ any screen time during the week, but they can earn their screen time for the weekend. Doing extra chores, reading a certain number of chapters, doing extra math work and things of that nature earns 30 minute increments until they have enough to watch the movie they want to watch or play that video game they’d been looking forward to. I love that idea since it ultimately is a lesson in saving and prioritizes work before play. We won’t be at this level for a few more years, but we’re both passionate about introducing skills like saving and investing early on.
I also get a lot of questions about what the kids watch on road trips and what our favorite apps are for them but here’s the thing: we’ve never introduced phones, tablets or tech-toys in our house. It’s another personal preference thing, but I know just how addicted I can become with my own phone and want to postpone that technology temptation for as long as possible. When the kids are with my mom or their aunts (Hi Titi Shaps, Hi Auntie Becky) they ask if they can do things like watch videos of a cartoon car wash on YouTube or make smoothies with an app on a phone. Everyone knows how I feel about screen time and (for the most part,) respects my wishes but sometimes you just have to let Mimi be Mimi, you know?
They truly have no clue that my phone has the capability to do what my mom’s phone does. They see her phone or computer as this glimmering shining golden egg that has magical powers and that’s exactly how I want to keep it. On our flight to Europe last year, we totally allowed for a couple movies on the iPad. Typically, though, we keep the iPads packed up during flights and reach for stickers, color wonder markers, string, little toys and snacks instead. I don’t have built-in screens in my car so we’ve never introduced a screen for Road Trips. I have a Road Trip post coming since the kids and I logged almost 26 hours of road trip hours last month and it was actually shockingly smooth.
The last thing I have to say about television is to screen what your kids watch during whatever screen time they have. Because the kids don’t watch a big variety of shows, I just let one roll into the other while I’d put my makeup on or something. Within one week of starting a new show last year, Oshiolema’s personality completely changed. He was whining, complaining, and discontent with what felt like everything. I couldn’t figure it out! As I was combing his hair a few days later, I turned on that show and saw the same behavior I’d seen in Oshiolema. He hasn’t seen that show since and snapped back into his more typical self a couple days later. Just like I subconciously become a little bit more witty and long-winded after watching Gilmore Girls and more sarcastic while watching The Office, my babes are influenced by what they see too.
I’d love to hear what screen time looks like in your house too so please open up the conversation in the comments! I have a friend who homeschools her six kids and doesn’t even have a TV in the house and it absolutely blows my mind. If you’re like this too, let’s talk. I’d love to hear all about it!