Screen time is not recommended for babies under 2 years old. Sharing why we chose to go screen free and how we deal as a family without screen time in our home.
One of the most amazing parts of parenting is watching my child learn and develop. I love watching her little face as she discovers new things, seeing her remember and adapt, and observing her imaginary play.
I sometimes think about how parenting is the same in so many ways from generation to generation…but also drastically different in others. One of the biggest differences and challenges parents face today is the abundance of technology.
Technology is widely prevalent. It is developed and marketed towards younger and younger children. Today’s parents have the tricky job making decisions about how to handle technology and screen time in their home.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Our family’s Screen Time Policy
We have a no screen time policy for our baby who is just a bit over 2. Up until now, her consumption of produced content on a screen has been under two hours in total.
There are occasions in which a screen has been vital in helping our rambunctious toddler to sit still for a few minutes at a time, (while having her hair or nails cut) but otherwise, we made the decision to keep Bibi’s childhood as screen-free as possible.
Why We Chose To Go Screen-Free
As my husband and I discussed how we wanted to handle Bibi’s technology consumption, we researched and talked about the impact this decision would have on her present and future. Here are some of the reasons we chose to go screen-free:
Encourage Creative Play: We want to help Bibi get accustomed to creating her own fun instead of relying on phones/screens for entertainment. By eliminating screens it helps encourage her to think of activities and engage in more active play and outdoor activities.
A 2019 study found an association between increased screen-based media use, compared with the AAP guidelines, and lower microstructural integrity of brain white matter – an area key to the development of language, literacy and cognitive skills – in prekindergarten children.
Lead author, Dr. John Hutton, a pediatrician and clinical researcher at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, remarks to CNN, ‘“It’s not that the screen time damaged the white matter…what could be occurring is that screen time is too passive for brain development. Perhaps screen time got in the way of other experiences that could have helped the children reinforce these brain networks more strongly.”’
It helps to encourage independent play so baby isn’t bored and asking for passive entertainment. You might find these posts helpful: How We Encourage Independent Play From 2-12 Months Old and How We Encourage Independent Play from 1-2 Years Old.
Prevent addiction: Smartphones apps are designed to be addictive. Apps are developed with the very specific intent of keeping people playing on them as long as possible. Studies have shown that when attention is constantly being broken up by phone and app use it lowers the overall productivity and well-being in adults. We imagine that the effect of too much screen time must be the same or worse on the developing brains of little ones.
Increase Attention Span: Screens in general cater to very short attention spans. Programs and apps use flashing lights, rapid scene changes and catchy music to keep people watching for longer periods of time. This has the reverse impact on attention spans. The more often we experience quick-changing entertainment the harder it is for our brains to focus on more mundane activities like reading. Even children’s books that are meant to be projected inside a screen can be filled with distractions.
In a study of five-year-olds, children who had 2 hours of screen time a day were five to nine times more likely to report significant inattention problems than kids who had 30 minutes of screen time per day.
Longer attention spans at a young age give children significant advantages when they are older. One study that followed children from age four to age 21, found that the biggest predictor of whether a child completes college wasn’t their math or reading skills. It was their ability to pay attention and complete tasks at age four.
Develop Social Skills: By eliminating Bibi’s exposure to screens, we hope to encourage more positive social interactions with people. Babies and toddlers are constantly learning from our face-to-face interactions. Children learn non-verbal cues, healthy communication and create bonds by interacting with parents, siblings and friends.
Promote Healthy Sleep: Screen time has an adverse effect on sleep. There were two literature reviews that looked at data from over 60 studies involving screen time and sleep. The majority of these studies show “that the extent of screen time among children and adolescents is associated with delayed bedtime and shorter total sleep time.” Growing children reap many health benefits from getting an adequate amount of sleep.
Screen Time Recommendations for Babies & Toddlers
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that families create a plan for how to approach screen time with their children. Their recommendations include no screen time for children younger than 18 months (with the exception of video chatting).
For children between the ages of 18-24 months (and only if parents want to introduce screens,) the AAP recommends selecting high-quality programming or apps. Toddlers learn best with parents nearby. The AAP also recommended that parents watch or play with their child during screen time.
Children older than 2 should be limited to one hour or less of screen time per day. The AAP encourages parents to continue to “co-view or co-play,” with their children while they are having screen time.
How we live screen-free with a toddler
Remaining screen-free with a toddler isn’t always easy. Screens offer a simple way to entertain kids while we work. However, we committed to this decision because the benefits of keeping Bibi away from screens are important to us.
Here are some of the activities that help us successfully keep our child screen-free.
- Books: Bibi developed a big interest in books and spends a lot of time looking through them. At this point, we are still primarily reading to her but she is starting to sit and look at books independently. We really like the wholesome and educational nature of the Baby Loves Science series which breaks down complex scientific concepts for young children.
- Music: Music is an excellent way to engage children’s brains without screens. We try to expose Bibi to a variety of music from classical to children’s artists. To make access to music readily available to her, we have a kid’s music player from Sesame Street. It is very simple to use and Bibi can turn it on and off by herself. There are also audio programs and activities available on devices like Alexa. Toddlers will enjoy activities like hearing storytime and freeze dance. You can also incorporate music into your day by teaching your child simple songs with hand motions.
- Toy Rotation: We keep Bibi’s toys in smaller containers that we rotate. Having occasional access to certain toys makes them more special and exciting to her. This magnetic wood Block Set from Tegu is Bibi’s favorite special toy currently. As she matured, she also developed an interest in Lego Duplo which is a bit harder to build that the former.
- Home Exploration: There are many different items in our home that we allow Bibi to explore as an activity. I have safe kitchen items in our pantry that she can sort and play with. Even something as simple as stacking and unstacking books can be a fun and simple activity for babies and toddlers.
- Helping with Chores: Having your toddler help with chores can be trying. It is hard to be patient when you know you could finish faster by yourself. However, having your child help you around the house will encourage them learn life skills and provide solid entertainment. You can have a smaller basket of “cleaning” supplies like a spray bottle, cloth, and small broom just for your child. They will love to help mom or dad with housework.
- Outdoor Activities: We try to have outdoor time with Bibi daily. Sometimes it is as simple as a walk, but other times we will kick a ball or go exploring with our senses. Being outside is a healthy activity that kids love.
- Time together: I’m not going to lie, it’s tough. On days where Bibi is struggling to play independently sometimes I have to drop my work and spend time doing whatever she wants. I admit this can be quite time consuming and I appreciate not every family situation can accommodate this arrangement. My husband and I take turns taking care of Bibi through different times of the day so we can both get our tasks completed.
Our Family’s Rules Regarding Screen Time
We came up with several rules to help reduce Bibi’s exposure to screens and minimize her desire to watch them.
- Bibi only uses phones for video chat with family members: As far as Bibi knows, this is the only function of our phones. We do sometimes use our phones briefly in front of Bibi because we have to keep track of our work throughout the day but we don’t allow her to look at it. Over time, Bibi has learned that phones are just for mom and dad and there’s nothing very interesting inside. This doesn’t stop her from trying to play with it if I were to leave it on my desk haha. But she doesn’t whine or cry to use the phone.
- No TV on in front of Bibi: We don’t watch television while Bibi is awake and only turn it on after she goes to bed. It helps to have the Netflix app and YouTube app on our phones. If there is something we need to check or watch, we can do so in another room.
- Mom and/or dad are with Bibi when she is using a screen: During the short amount of time we do allow screens she is always supervised. This way we can help Bibi interpret what she is watching. It’s usually to see pictures (no videos) of family members or animals. We offer a short 5-minute video if we need to cut her hair and nails.
I hesitated to write this post because I don’t want anyone to feel badly if they choose a different approach to screen time with their children. This is a trying time for everyone. We all have different situations we are dealing with. You might need to use screen time for your household to function. I can’t say our way is the best or only way and there is always new studies being published which may contradict or support our personal views on screens. Our family has found a way to drastically limit our daughter’s screen time that works for us and wanted to share some ideas on how to cope for families who want to try doing the same.
What I think is most important is to arm yourself with the best information available and make a choice that makes sense for your family. Screen time can be beneficial for learning as well as the emotional well-being for parents. Every family should make a decision about screen time that they feel happy with.