How & Why We Created A Media-Free Lifestyle For Our Kids
I would like to start off this blog by saying that in no way am I trying to alienate anyone or make anyone feel like they are not good parents if they let their kids watch TV. I firmly believe that everyone has the right to raise their children as they see fit and I am in no position to judge (nor am I perfect). It is my hope that by sharing my own story, that it might provide some guidance for those looking to reduce or completely remove media from their children's lives. No matter what you believe, I do think its every parent's responsibility to seek knowledge and advice from whatever resources they see fit. That being said, here is a little more insight into why we decided to go media free...
While there are several books, online resources, and scholastic journals that I could site as a source for cutting out media, for us as parents it started with our gut feeling. For the first 2 years of Cash's life, we occasionally allowed him to watch a cartoon or play with our phones. Like most parents, we appreciated the fact that these screens could provide us with a little break from entertaining our child so we could do some chores, prepare a meal, or get some screen time ourselves. And although we felt a little media was probably harmless, we also had a gut feeling that it might be causing more damage than we could tell. As Cash was slowly changing from an infant to a toddler, we felt inclined to educate ourselves a little more on parenting styles and philosophies. When we came across the subject of Television and the impact on a child's development, it instantly began to resonate with us.
There is no doubt that arguments can be made on both sides for the pros and cons of media especially when you factor in computerized learning possibilities. However what made the most sense to us was in relation to medical and developmental issues. For us, we noticed a difference in Cash's behavior after watching TV. At times after watching TV, he would become over-excited, more irritable, and would even have trouble sleeping. We also noticed him becoming more dependent on the screen and throwing a fit if we wouldn't allow him to have it. Again, we could go into much more detail here about how the sensory nerves of a 1-5 year old are much more fragile and raw than that of an adults and just how harsh any screen can be on a young child, but for the sake of keeping this post relatively short, I'll leave it at the fact that we just felt it was the right thing to do for our children's health and development. If any of you reading this would like more information on the studies behind TV and child development, please feel free to contact me and I would be happy to provide some links to you.
SPOILER ALERT: It's going to require a little more work.
No TV/iPads/iPhones etc. requires some initial time investment on your part BUT the good news is once you get into a rhythm, it becomes a lot easier. We get less of a break, but thats the choice we made as parents that we wanted to be fully engaged. There are certain ages where getting a break will be harder. But that time will pass.
Rotating toys was one of the most effective methods we used when first removing media from Cash's life. We took all of his toys except for 5 of them and put them in a bin in the garage. Then, each week we would swap out 3-4 of them for new ones. This made old toys seem new again and and added bonus was there was less mess to cleanup at the end of the day. About 95% of the toys we buy for the children are things that are simple and require them to use their imagination. A general rule of thumb is that if it lights up and needs batteries, we try to steer away from it. Encouraging a child to use their imagination builds a habit of playing and entertaining themselves with less.
Sometimes rotating toys can just mean rearranging toys. Vinny used to spend a few minutes after Cash went to bed build a new train track configuration so that when he woke up in the morning he would have something "new" to play with. It's little things like this that can add up to a lot more stimulation for your child.
We recently discovered this company and instantly loved the idea. Its essentially a craft subscription box for kids. Each box comes complete with all the instructions and materials for multiple crafts. Our children look forward to getting their mail each month and I can't say enough about the quality and creativeness of the projects. But if this service isn't in the budget, there are some great sites with lists of kids activities that can be done with household items. Pinterest has been a great resource for me and I literally just search "crafts for a 3-year old and great stuff pops up.
Witching Hour/Get Outside
For all three of our kids, 4-6pm was/is always the hardest time of the day. I'm tired, they're tired, and there is a lot to do in a small amount of time and most of the time I am on my own without a husband to help me. Yes it would be "easier" to turn on a screen to get that much needed break. But I knew that if I can get through this time I could get through anything. My kids are happiest when they are outside. We are fortunate enough to live in a place where the weather is nice year round, so it does make it easier. So for the past 4+ years we always go on an afternoon walk or eat dinner outside. This has made a huge difference in their temperament and my sanity.
We are family that eats out A LOT. We're talking daily here. But there were some brief periods where it was very difficult to eat out because our toddler (Cash) was impossible to get to sit still. It was around the 18 month mark and lasted for about 4 months. When we did go out, it was basically one of us eating and the other wrangling a child. Our game-plan was to walk outside of the restaurant with him (or sometimes around the restaurant) until the right up until the food came and then we would hope that we get 15 minutes of him sitting still when the food arrived. This worked a lot of the times, but not every time. Again, it did require more time and effort on our part, but what we got back was a deeper bond with our child and as they've gotten older, meals without media are the norm. It's funny to think how hard we thought it was to entertain 1 child while eating considering now we routinely do it with three :)
Get Rid of the Screen
This might sound extreme to some, but it does work. If the kids don't see the TV or iPad, they are less likely to ask for it and if it's not there, its not an option. I think this is a good time to mention that Vinny and I still do watch TV ourselves after the kids go down to bed and we ourselves didn't completely get rid of TVs in our house. Instead, we decided to install a projector and a screen that disappeared in our living room. This subtle difference made a big impact. So maybe for some it might mean getting rid of the TV in the living room but keeping the one in your bedroom.
Screen Free Sunday
We recently started this as a whole family and its been a great way to hit the "reset" button each week. As a family, none of us use any screen of any kind for the entire day. It was a lot harder on Vinny and I than we originally thought it would be, but it served as a big wake up call to just how addicted we are to our phones. An unexpected benefit to this was that this awareness of our addiction has led us to using our phones less during the rest of the week.
BUILD A HABIT
Like with any parenting change, your kids will probably react negatively at first, but after a few days or a week, they will get over it and get used to it. It will be hardest on you in the beginning and you may want to give in, but if you can commit yourself to 1 week or even 21 days (the time they say it takes to build a habit) then I promise you the worst days will be behind you.
If you would have asked me before I had my first child about parenting, I not only would have been clueless, I could have never imagined I would become the mother I am today. For me, parenting has become my biggest passion and calling in life. I feel as though though it is my sole responsibility to raise them the best way possible and I am lucky enough to be able to make it my full time job. I also LOVE sharing my parenting journey with others and providing any guidance that I can. Please don't hesitate to reach out to me directly with any questions you may have.
Photo Cred: meganevansphoto.com