Today let’s chat about screen time and your kids. I think it’s safe to say that we all use screens nowadays. But what about screen time and our children? How do we navigate letting them watch movies or shows? And how can we do it in a way that glorifies God? I have been asking myself these questions and I want to share the answers I’ve found with you today.
First, let me backup a bit and tell you how we’ve decided to handle screen time in our home thus far.
My Own Experience with Screen Time
When my daughter was first born we decided that we 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 many 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.
And now that my daughter is a little older, we have watched several more shows and even have a few favorites.
But reality 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. But, overall, they are not made with the intention to reflect biblical truths. In fact, as I’ve seen more and more kid shows, I really think they are out to get our children. There’s a lot of propaganda and lies that are told in kids shows these days.
When I was sick with my daughter, I remember turning 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, like the false creation story, not commendable, like Moana disobeying her father, and not excellent, like the mysticism throughout the movie, 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, I can definitely see the benefits of not watching shows with my daughter every day. 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. I think the less screen time makes her more open to playing with toys and books.
I think the biggest change is that I stopped using the iPad to keep her attention while I did things and, instead, started watching things WITH her. And, to my surprise, it’s been actually very fun to watch things with her and enjoy them together instead of just letting her watch them alone.
So, how can you better manage screen time? Here are three steps that helped me in this area.
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 every day 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.
So remember: screen time is not a babysitter, it’s a fun, family activity to enjoy together.
Try Going Screen Time Free
When you stop thinking about screen time as a babysitter for your kids, you’ll see that you really don’t need screens at all. So try going without them totally for a week.
Screen time so easily becomes a crutch that you think you can’t live without it. But 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!) Totally cutting your family off from screen time will help you see how you can live without it and help you to use it wisely in the future.
Here are some tips to prepare for no screen time:
1. First, 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. I’ll link some of my favorite open-ended toys in the description of this episode so that you can get an idea.
2. Second, train your kids to play independently.
Next thing to do so that you can go screen-free is to 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 better independently, 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?” They’ll catch on the more you do this and you can start increasing the time.
3. Have your kids help you more.
My third tip for getting through a screen detox is having your kids help you more around the house. I don’t know about you, but 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 things done! Instead of sitting them down with the iPad for a movie while you scrub away, 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. There is always a job for little hands if you are patient enough to help them with it. And, keeping them busy with a job will keep them away from screens.
With those tips I know that you can cut out screen time for a bit of a detox and see that you don’t have to have it in your home as a babysitter.
Limit Screen Time and Content
If you’ve taken a break from screen time, you may decide that you don’t want to add it back into your family life at all… that’s great! But, maybe you now see that it is something you can enjoy together and you want to add it back in. In that case, 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 hymns on YouTube every now and then.
Whatever it may be, stick to your limits and don’t let it overrun your life/day. Set a timer if you need to and when the time is up, simply say, “No.”
I do think you should really limit screen time for children under 2. There are lots of studies you can find that show how the light from screens affects babies’ brains and it’s not good.
Personally, we do watch the occasional movie or show. (And, yes, we did watch movies on the 10.5 hour airplane ride from LA to London). Lately we have been watching a few more shows while drinking our meat stock for the GAPS diet and that’s been fun. We can usually get through a mug of meat stock while watching one episode of Mr. Rogers (one of my childhood favorites!).
But I do always limit our screen time and I’m sure to turn it off when the time is up. I don’t want to get into that spot again where I feel like I have to have the screen on in order to function during the day, so I stick to our limit on time.
We also stick to our limit when it comes to content of what we watch.
Limiting what you allow your kids is really important! Remember that verse from Philippians? It says to think about things that are pure, lovely, of good report, and true. We do think about what we watch, so let that verse guide you in what you watch with your children.
There are obviously adult movies and shows that I would never let my daughter watch, and you should not let your kids watch them either. And, there are definitely some kids shows and movies that I will not let her watch without question.
Deciding what your kids watch is really up to you and I think it will be different for each parent. What always helps me decide is Scripture and the readiness of my child to talk about bad things in movies and shows.
So, take the Disney princess movies for example. Are your children ready to have a conversation about creation and how God made the world in 6 days when they hear the false story in Moana? Are you ready to explain feminism to them and help them understand why it’s wrong for Anna and Elsa to treat Kristoff the way they do?
Maybe you decide your kids are ready to discuss big themes like that… then go for it! But if you feel like they’re not ready for those discussions with you, then I would hold back.
And I’ll just reiterate here that this is why you have to watch movies and shows WITH your children. You won’t know what they’re ready for, or what you’ll need to be ready to discuss with them, if you don’t watch the movies and shows with them.
Personally, we don’t watch the Disney princess movies much. I feel like there’s too much going on in which my daughter is not ready to discuss with me. And I remind myself that kids soak up A LOT more than we think, so I don’t want her soaking up attitudes and exchanges between characters without understanding what they are talking about.
If you’ve already let your kids watch a lot of shows and now you need to cut back because of content, don’t be afraid to sit them down and tell them why you are not going to let them watch certain shows anymore. Share Scripture with them and tell them you are helping to guide them in God’s ways by limiting what they watch. I think you’ll be surprised at how much your children understand these things.
Now, I do really want to get in some specifics about what we DO watch because I think that would be helpful. But rather than just list out some shows here on the podcast, I created a whole blog post with a long list of Naptime Theologian approved shows. It’s linked in the description of this episode. But I do want to share at least one recommendation with you so that you can get a feel for what I look for in a movie.
How to Watch Movies to God’s Glory
My recommendation may surprise you actually because I’ve been talking bad about the Disney princess movies. But it is the best princess movie of all time: Tangled.
First, know that I don’t just look for the bad things in a movie, I also look for themes that point us back to God and His redemption plan. Which, by the way, when you start looking for major themes like damsels in distress and a savior for the world, you find a lot of them in movies today.
But why do I choose Tangled as my favorite Disney princess movie?
First 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 her disobedience is actually an escape from being held captive.
Secondly, there is not a tone of feminism in this movie. Most of the princess movies pit the girl against a guy, even if the guy is the hero, and the girl comes out on top, smarter, more powerful, and better than the guy.
But this is not the case with Tangled. 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 climbs the tower wall by himself and enters the room. Rapunzel’s “mother” sneaks behind him and 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. Now, is there anyone else you know who got wounded in the side and gave up his life sacrificially to save his bride? I know of one.
Did the writers of Tangled have Jesus in mind when they wrote out this story line? Well, no, I don’t think so. But I do know that Romans 1 talks about how unbelievers deny the truth that God has put within them. And it makes me think that that truth, that we all need a Savior, seeps through into our films and movies today… even from unbelievers.
Anyway, back to Tangled… Sure, there are a few odd things in the movie, but overall there’s not much in it that I would have to explain and discuss with my daughter. If anything, we would talk about how Flyn was very sacrificial and saved Rapunzel even though it would mean that he would die. Just like Jesus did for us. Tangled is definitely my top choice for a movie right now and I hope that description gives you an idea of what to look for when you watch things with your children.
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. 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. I can foresee family movie nights with my own family where we watch a movie together and discuss the faults and good things in it.
So, I hope these tips have helped you today wherever you are with your screen time journey. And that it has encouraged you to reevaluate how you use screen time in your home and how you can use it for God’s glory. And when you have your next movie night, you better be watching Tangled! Remember all the resources I’ve mentioned, like the list of show recommendations, are in the description of this episode, so click over there. Thanks so much for listening and have a great day!
Open Ended Toys Mentioned:
*These are affiliate links, you can read my full disclosure here.