The dreaded screen. We all use them (even more so this year!). And in this day and age it’s hard to live totally without a screen (although I think it is possible). But what about screen time and our children? How do we navigate letting them watch movies or shows?
I have been asking myself these questions and I want to share the answers I’ve found.
First, let me backup a bit and tell you how we’ve decided to handle screen time in our home thus far.
My Toddler Mom Experience with Screen Time
When my daughter was first born I decided that I wouldn’t let her watch screens for as long as possible. So, my daughter did not have any screen time whatsoever until she was around two-years-old.
So, now you may be asking why I’m writing this post if my daughter hasn’t watched any shows! But it just so happens that I got sick a couple months before she turned 2 and I had my wisdom teeth removed right before her birthday… so, yes, she had quite a bit of screen time when I was lying on the couch sick and recovering from dental surgery.
Even though I was not feeling well and that was the reason for watching, I am thankful for those times that we got to sit on the couch together, snuggle up, and watch movies. I am also thankful that I was able to watch so much WITH her because I now see just how sinful children’s shows and movies can be.
The truth of the matter is that the mainstream shows made for our children are not made by Christians and, therefore, do not hold Christian values. Sure, there may be some good things in the shows or good examples of certain things (I’m thinking of Mr. Rogers here). But, overall, they are not made with the intention to reflect biblical truths.
I definitely found that out those weeks watching movies with my daughter. We turned on a Disney Princess movie, Moana, only to find a totally unbiblical creation story, a daughter praised for disobeying her father, and a grandma who could mystically speak to her granddaughter in her time of trouble by turning into a ray in the ocean. Then we watched Frozen, yet another princess movie. There we found a movie rank with feminism as the heroine was overly rebellious and her sister constantly degraded the man, whom she claimed to love, in her life.
That really woke me up! I’m so thankful I had the time to watch these things with her and to know exactly what she was seeing. And those examples above are only the tip of the iceberg.
Immediately Philippians 4:8 came to my mind, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
How could I be putting these things in the movies that are not true (creation story), commendable (disobeying her father), and not excellent (mysticism), before my daughter? And, even more so, she is so young that these things would not be explainable to her and she would take them for what they were.
So, what do I do? Well, we went back to NO screen time. And it wasn’t easy.
Putting on a show or a movie was a wonderful convenience when I was sick. And it definitely became a habit for me. I would always turn on something for her to watch so that I could get things done. Something to occupy her and keep her attention.
But I realized that I needed to change my attitude toward screen time and not use it as a babysitter. So I just stopped turning on the screen for her. At her age, my daughter definitely noticed a difference. She would ask so much and I just had to say, “No” as I directed her to some other activity.
Looking back over the last year, I can definitely see the benefits of not watching shows with my daughter everyday. She plays very well with her toys, she occupies herself while I wash dishes or clean around the house. She sits and looks at her books for long periods of time (and she’s not even 3 yet!). Now, I’m sure that children who also have more screen time than her do these things too, but I think the less screen time makes her more open to playing with toys and books.
Okay, you’ve heard my story. Here’s 3 steps for you to start enjoying screen time with your kids!
Change Your Mindset About Screen Time
First and foremost, you’ve got to change your mindset about screen time. I feel you, mama. You’ve got so much to do around the house and a lot to balance with the kiddos, hubby, and pets. Turning on a show or starting a movie to get things done is an easy choice.
But this is a slippery slope. You can easily start watching movies everyday or multiple shows. It just feels so good to have your kids occupied!
Don’t let this happen though! You’ve got to know what your children are consuming and you can’t know that if you are not watching the shows/movies with them.
So, instead of seeing screen time as the best babysitter ever, we have to start thinking of it as an activity to do together.
Not only will this help to limit screen time every day because you are an adult and you know when too much is too much, but you can also just enjoy movies/shows with your kids. And, if there’s something inappropriate or wrong in a movie, you can chat about it with your kids because you’ve watched it with them.
Repeat after me: screen time is not a babysitter, it’s a fun, family activity.
*A slight caveat to this section regards your phone. I know that is a major temptation as a mom. There are just so many things that you can watch and do on your phone while your kids are watching their show. So, if you are going to change your mindset about screen time, that has to include the screen time on your phone as well. Not that your Instagram scroll should be a family activity, but it does take time away that you could be spending with your kids and family. If you decide to not do screen time, that should also include your phone time. It won’t help your kids not watch screens if you are always on yours.
Try Going Screen Time Free
Now that we’ve changed our mindset toward screen time… totally cut it out of your life. Haha!
Seriously though, once I made this mind shift I thought to myself, “Wait, do we really need screen time then?”
It so easily becomes a crutch that you think you can’t live without it, but you just might be able to. Give it a try and see how it goes. Maybe plan to cut it out for a week and reevaluate. (Or if you watch a lot, just cut it out for a day!)
Here are some tips to prepare for no screen time:
1. Take time to gather toys for your kids that are open-ended.
Things like blocks, lincoln logs, thistle blocks, brain flakes, etc. These toys provide lots of enjoyment and can take up a lot of time. And don’t feel like you have to spend a lot of money on these items, check out your local thrift store or on Facebook marketplace for items.
2. Train your kids to play independently.
Even if your children are very young, they can learn to entertain themselves independently (and they really should!). Even from the time my daughter was very small, I would not always play with her. Leaving her on the rug with a few toys to roll around with while I was washing the dishes in the other room was a regular practice for us. This grew as she got older and she learned to play with her toys alone. If your baby is young, you can do it that way as well. They only need a few toys at first on a blanket or rug. Get them all set up and then go to a different part of the room and leave them alone.
If your kids are older and you want to help them play independently better, then try starting with just a few minutes at a time. Give them a project to do with some of those toys that are open-ended. You could say… “Build me a nice, big tower with your blocks while I wash the dishes.” or “Why don’t you dress up your doll in her favorite outfit and put her down for a nap?”
3. Have your kids help you more.
I always found the urge to start a show when I really needed to get things done in the house. But, that’s not the only way to get the kitchen clean! Instead, give your kids their own jobs to do while you are working on yours. Is your daughter tall enough to reach the silverware drawer? Let her put the spoons in there from the dishwasher. Can your son fold laundry? Have him help you and chat with him while doing it.
Okay, so now we’ve tried totally cutting out screen time. You’re ready to try it again. Keep reading.
Limit Screen Time and Content
If you decide to add back in screen time, I highly recommend limiting the amount of time and the content of what your kids are watching.
Limiting the amount of time spent in front of a screen for a movie or a show is really up to you as a parent. Maybe it could be one show a day. Maybe one night a week is movie night. Maybe just a few songs on YouTube every now and then.
Whatever it may be, stick to your limits and don’t let it overrun your life/day.
Personally, we do watch the occasional movie or show. (And, yes, we did watch movies on the 10.5 airplane ride from LA to London). But not everyday, not even necessarily every week. What I’m most likely to do is watch a few select videos on YouTube kids with her while we warm up on the couch after playing outside or at the park.
Limiting what you allow your kids to watch definitely could be a post all on it’s own! (Maybe it will be one day!) Again, this is somewhat subjective and depends on the age of your child.
I talked a lot on Instagram about several Disney princess movies I will not watch with my daughter (at least not until she’s older). You can find those talks here. But this sparked a lot of conversations about what to let our kids watch and what to not let them watch.
What it really comes down to is if whatever is bad in the movie is worth discussing with your children at the time and place.
For me with a toddler, it’s mostly not worth watching movies filled with things that I don’t think she’s ready to talk about yet. Kids soak up a lot more than we think they do, especially as toddlers! So if I don’t think she’s ready to process and have a conversation about what’s happening in the movie, then we don’t watch it.
So, here are just two suggestions for movies/shows we watch. These are my go-tos!
This one may surprise you, but I actually think this is the best Disney princess movie out there! Rapunzel does disobey her mother… but that’s not actually her mother, it’s a haggerty old lady who kidnapped her as a baby.
And there is not a tone of feminism. On the contrary, Flynn (the male lead) is very manly, loving, and ends up saving the day. (Spoiler Alert!) In the end scene, Rapunzel’s mother has recaptured her and Flynn fights hard to try to save her. He enters and her mother stabs him in the side. Rapunzel begs to save him and starts to do so when Flynn cuts her magical-wound-healing hair sacrificing his very own life to save Rapunzel. Is there anyone else who got wounded in the side and gave up his life sacrificially to save his bride??? I know of one: Jesus.
Sure, there are a few odd things in the movie, but overall it is definitely my top choice for a princess movie and we watch it when we have time.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
We really have not watched that many shows because when I make time to watch with her it usually ends up being Tangled. (What can I say, it’s good.) But my one show recommendation I have for you is Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.
The show follows Daniel Tiger as he navigates life as a child. His parents are both involved with his daily activities, helping him when he’s angry, guiding him in his friendships, and encouraging him when he is sad or confused. His dad seems to be very smart, he is not portrayed as the idiot his mom puts up with. And, to top it off, each episode has a little lesson that goes to a short song
Enjoy Screen Time With Your Kids
At the end of the day, screen time doesn’t have to be a crutch, guilt trip, or hassle. It can truly be something that you enjoy with your kids. Once you’ve followed these steps you’ll be able to really see what they’re seeing and take it all in with them. I do think it can be something that brings glory to God because you are spending time together, discussing things together, and enjoying the creativity that God has so specially given to humans.
So, when’s your next movie night going to be? You better watch Tangled!
Let me know how you handle screen time in your family, leave a comment below.