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Why We Let our Toddler Watch TV

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When I was a little girl, there were two little cups and a bowl sitting beside the television. My sister and I both had a cup, and inside each of them were 4 quarters. Throughout the day, if we wanted to watch TV, we had to “pay” depending on what the show cost. If it was educational, it cost one quarter. If it was solely for entertainment it cost us two quarters. Also, hour long programs were double the cost. When the quarters were gone, so was our television time for the day. (Unless we all watched a movie together at night.)

This was my mother’s attempt to keep us from spending all day in from of the TV, especially in the summer months. And quite honestly, I think it was brilliant. It took the pressure off of her to monitor our screen time all day, yet we knew our very specific guidelines. We had to make intentional decisions instead of just turning the TV on and binge watching our favorite channel. Or even just having the TV on as background noise.

Now that I have a daughter, who like most children, is drawn to electronics, I have started thinking back on things my parents did for us. I have started thinking through how we want to handle certain issues, and if we are being honest, the issue of technology came up a lot sooner than I thought it would. Now, obviously, at 2, she is too young to understand the quarter system, but if she could, would that even work today in our age of technology?

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Sure we could limit the TV, but then how much does a level on a video game cost? And the iPad, and the computer, and the smart phone, etc. The list goes on and on now. It isn’t even as simple as charging for a TV show anymore with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and On Demand where anything is at our fingertips.

When I think about my daughter growing up in a world full of technology, I have conflicting thoughts. For one, I hate how much of our time and attention it takes up. It is so easy for me to become distracted on my phone as opposed to just playing on the floor with her. Anytime she sees my computer or iPad, she says “I wanna see.” So often she will wake up in the morning or from a nap and ask to watch a “moomoo” (Movie) and it completely takes her attention off anything else she is doing.

However, on the flip side of that, technology has created so many of the good things in our world today. The things we now know and are able to do are largely in part because our generation has used technology is incredible. And honestly, I don’t think it’s technology that is the problem, it’s us not knowing how or not trying hard enough to limit it.

In an article on Kids Health by Nemours, they suggest that before 18 months, children should have no screen time, besides video chatting with family. Then, from 18-24 months they should only have a small amount with their parent or caretaker. They then highlight the negative reasons why we should limit our children’s screen time. As good of intentions as I feel like this is, at least in our life, I feel like it is unrealistic. No, not impossible, but unrealistic.

Ever since Shiloh was about a year, when she was actually old enough to kind of know what was going on, this has been my philosophy with screen time.

Screen time will be intentional and planned, and I will not expect more of her than I expect of myself.

Managing Technology | Kids Technology | Screen Time | The Everyday Simple

Basically what I am saying is this:

  1. There are mornings that I get up and all I want to do is sit and rest. I want to be entertained for a short while, and I don’t want to think. There are points throughout the day when the idea of sitting on the couch for 45 minutes and watching one of my favorite shows in the evening is what keeps me going. I enjoy the rest and entertainment it gives, so why would I expect she doesn’t?
  2. We try really hard to not turn the TV (or technology) on unless we have a purpose. Meaning, we know why we are turning it on before we do, whether it is to watch a movie together, or if Shiloh is going to watch one show. If we choose intentionally, and give it a natural limit in our heads, our home isn’t filled with the sound of television all day long while no one is even really watching.

This may not be how everyone feels about technology. You may feel much stronger one way or another, but I have found it easier to deal with a technology ridden world by lying somewhere in the middle. Because in reality, there are some amazing programs, shows, and apps out there that are good for children and actually benefit them by watching it. Obviously all in moderation, but not all screen time is created equally.

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Here are a few things we do:

  1. Only turn the TV on for a purpose: Even if it is for entertainment, name the reason so that you are better able to give yourself guidelines.
  2. Have a time frame: Give your children, or yourself, a timeframe or a number of shows they can watch before you even turn it on. Before I turn the TV on for Shiloh I say, “Okay, you may watch 1 show,” as I’m holding up one finger. She typically repeats what I say and then anxiously awaits for me to turn the TV on. When that show is over, I walk over to the TV, tell her that she got to watch her show and now it is time to play. Then I swiftly turn it off and move on with the day. Yes, there are some tears sometimes, but the more consistent I have been in doing this, she now knows what to expect. She also knows that the tears won’t change my mind.
  3. Choose constructive/educational programs: More and more they are making better educational shows that are fun and entertaining as well. Try to find those shows to put on for your children. We love Daniel Tiger, Sophia the First, Little Einsteins, Curious George, etc. We used to only put on animal documentaries for her when she was too young to understand story lines.
  4. I never watch “my shows” when she is awake: For one, I want to enjoy them without a baby crawling on me, but more importantly, I don’t want her to spend time watching shows that are more than likely inappropriate.
  5. No TV before bed: This is one we stick to pretty regularly, but unless we are having a family movie night, no TV before bed. We play or we read, but the television just stimulates her brain, therefore actually making it harder for them to fall asleep.
  6. Try to keep the phones out of reach and sight: We have a shelf in our living room that hangs pretty high. Whenever I am home with Shiloh, I try really hard to keep the phone on the shelf. I have the ringer on high, so that I can hear it if someone is trying to reach me. If I want to check Instagram or Facebook, I have to check it by the shelf, instead of getting comfy on the couch and getting sucked into scrolling for 30 minutes. We really try to limit the time we are on our phones around her.
  7.  Engage with her:  When she is watching something I try to sit and watch it with her. Ask her what is going on, what she likes about it, etc. Try to make them think while they are just watching tv.
  8. We play outside and read everyday: Having a healthy balance is most important.
  9. Never have it on as “background” noise: Instead of having the TV on for noise, turn on music, or an audio book. 

Obviously most of these are related to television, as that is what we mostly deal with right now, but as I was thinking about other forms, I feel like these could apply to most technology. Boundaries and limits. That’s what it takes.

Just like anything in life, especially with children, you have to find a healthy balance that works for you. No one else can tell you what will work for your family. However, it is so easy to let technology rob us of family time. We sit down for a moment, and 2 hours later, we are in the same spot. We have to find ways to incorporate it into our life without letting it steal it.

Just try turning it off. It will still be there when you come back, but these precious days with our children won’t be.

Managing Technology | Kids Technology | Screen Time | The Everyday Simple

These have worked for us so far, but I know that as there are more children, and they get older, things will probably have to be readdressed again.

What do you guys do to help manage technology?

Photography by Samantha Brooks.

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