In search of a screen-free childhood

As I sit here writing this post, my year old son in his high chair working on eating some mac and cheese noodles and my two and a half year old daughter is in the playroom just off the kitchen playing with duplos talking about putting batteries in her creation or washing her batteries. It’s Sunday night. Church day. She has no interest in eating her supper because she just wants to play. That’s actually pretty typical. She finds the kid’s room she’s in every Sunday morning pretty overwhelming and so she doesn’t play all morning. To make up for it, she needs to play pretty much all afternoon until bedtime. Getting her to eat is a challenge on Sundays. Getting her to play isn’t.

I feel discouraged, though.

I asked my husband as he was getting ready to leave for hockey “Is it even possible to raise kids without screens? Without TVs? Without iPads? Without playing on our phones?”

You see, before we had kids, we talked about this. We live in a hyper-technological society (says the blogger married to the IT guy…) where kids are exposed to screens at earlier and earlier ages. It seems cute to see a six month old or a nine month old swiping at book pages or other non-technological media. Because of things like that, we decided that we wanted to keep our kids as screen-free as possible for as long as possible. That meant TV. Movies. Smart phones. Tablets. All of it.

We have managed to be really successful with it, too.

My two year old to this day has no idea how to unlock either of our phones. She knows the buttons turn on the screen and that you need to do something on the screen to unlock it, but that’s it. She knows that when she needs to do her nebulizer treatments when colds make her wheeze that The Chicken Show is on our phones. She knows we can watch animals on the TV because I’ve tried that when she’s really sick and doesn’t want to play. Her attention span for these shows, even when sick, is really short. Even at church where they play a movie, I’m told she never sits there for more than a few minutes before she’s off to play again.

Give her some toys, though, and it’s a different story. She’ll play for 20 or 30 minutes, as long as her brother doesn’t crash her party, and build this with duplos and take that apart. She’ll play with her cookware and her Elmo, making him breakfast, lunch, or dinner. She’ll take him up for naps and change his diaper and take him for walks. She’ll play in the dirt with cups and spoons, filling and dumping and pouring and filling again.

We’ve had great success chasing a screen-free childhood, but I still feel discouraged. Why?

Because it is lonely. I feel unsupported in it by those around us in the same life stage (youngish kids). You see, I don’t know a single other person who is trying to do this. Not one. Interestingly, too, people have very strong reactions to this particular decision of ours and it is mostly defensive. Our decision to keep our children screen-free is in no way meant to shame other parents who do use screens for various purposes.

I am not against screens. I am a writer. I have a smart phone. I love watching movies. Facebook is often my only connection to the outside world day in and day out. However, personally, I see no benefit for young kids, therefore I have no motivation to engage my own kids with screens.

I am super lucky that our families are supportive as we’ve developed where we stand with this more and more. They are glad to honor our requests of no toys with batteries and they sincerely try to see where we are coming from. That is a major blessing to us as we navigate this area of our lives.

I never expected that a decision such as this would generate such strong reactions of defensiveness (‘well sometimes you need to for reasons x, y, and z’) or downright direct unsupportiveness (‘just wait a few years, you’ll do it, too’). I am surprised by how personally some people take this decision as a direct attack on them. I sometimes feel discouraged and wonder if we really are doing the right thing. I want my kids to have active imaginations (like me) and I think lots and lots and lots of free play with open ended toys is the way to go to develop that. I don’t see the value in my 18 month old knowing her letters because she’s spent hours with some media device teaching her. I don’t see the value in toys that have nothing to offer outside their battery operated capacities. I believe that some blocks and a stuffed animal can go a LOOOOONG way toward developing creativity and I see it. I live it every day.

What about you? Have you come across serious resistance to decisions you’ve made in your personal life? How did you cope with such discouragement?

 

Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31

***Edit***

I checked out facebook and to my GREAT surprise, there are NO groups I could find about raising screen-free kids, so I made one. Check it out if that’s your thing.

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