Q&A: How Can I Decrease TV-Watching in My Kids?
After last week’s topic (Should Kids’ Screentime Be Unlimited?) a reader asked:
Q: how do you let them watch a video/cartoon without the younger (under 2) seeing it or wanting to see it? He’s in the same room or walks by, for example, and now he likes to watch (and asks to) at an even younger age than my first cared to.
I feel awful about it but sometimes it really does help.. If I need to get dressed or take care of a task, or do something on the computer and they won’t stop pulling at me.
As an aside from my original question, how do you “go back” after you’ve already opened the door of cartoon entertainment and they expect it & ask for it? :-/
A: I simply don’t let them stay in the area of a video when they are younger than 2. Something medical I read early on in my mothering talked about the still-developing eyes of children up to about age 2. So for me personally, it’s non-negotiable. That doesn’t mean I freak out if they’re in the room with a screen, I just don’t let them sit down or focus on it for longer than a few seconds. Even after 2, I am cautious. I use baby gates, pack and plays, distractions, and my verbal direction to keep a young child away from a screen.
(And yes, I did this even when my kids were all little. This has been my m.o. for 13+ years now. I know it’s hard; but you really can do it if you want to! Mothers have been mothering little ones without TVs for thousands of years.)
Our 3-year-old sits and watches videos with us but they are videos for the family, together… rarely do the kids watch their own videos, and rarer still would be something for him alone.
I, too, have used videos for those (roughly) once-a-year sicknesses. That’s a rare event and I’ve personally been OK with using videos for that. Even still, I don’t do it for younger children. For little ones, if I’m sick, I’ll rotate toys in a pack and play… lay on the floor near them and let them crawl and play with blocks dumped out… that kind of thing. Then I take naps WITH them to try to minimize my up-and-down.
For quiet afternoon time, I’d encourage you to use bags of books, or interesting games/toys (ZooLogic, pattern blocks, Magformers) for your preschooler. Do all you can to fight letting screen time and TV watching become a normal, daily activity in his life. Too many people are mastered by TV shows, and you have the opportunity to shape his affections for his whole life with the choices you make now! When my oldest first dropped his nap, while his little brother was napping, we had a 1-hour read-books-on-your-bed time every afternoon, and then he could come out to the living room and play quietly for another hour. Quiet wasn’t optional, but I let him choose his toys for that hour as long as he was quiet.
“Going back” is something we all have to do on a variety of things– I still have to do it sometime when I see that a choice we’ve made has gotten out of control or is mastering our children. Here are some things we’ve done it with:
- Nintendo DS games (we were gifted a few sets and it can easily get out of control. Sometimes I’ll pack them up for 3-6 months at a go, to remind my children that they are not a “right” but a rarely-enjoyed privilege).
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and other franchises– Transformers, etc.)– when I see the kids getting angry about who gets to “be” a certain character, who gets to have the yellow truck, who gets to play with a particular thing, I shut it down and tell them they can’t play that thing until further notice. Anytime I see my kids being out of control about a particular thing, I restrict that area and pull it off the table for a while.
- Screens & devices. This is something we watch really really carefully. Even e-readers can be used with a mentality that they have a “right” to use it for as long as they want.
All that to say, this is not merely a screen problem. Throughout our kids’ lives, they run the risk of being mastered by something external. So I watch for those things, and tell my kids “if you don’t exercise self-control from the inside, I’ll exercise control from the outside.” They have learned, over the years, to handle their play and devices in a controlled, kind way, and I do believe this builds self-control over the long haul. It is also the way that, as mothers, we can work to see to it that our children are not being mastered by something outside themselves.
When we see our children struggling to have a good attitude without something, that is really a cry for help. They’re telling us, just like a junkie, “I need help to ditch this thing that I feel like I need. My attitude is telling me I can’t exist happily without this thing which means, all the more, that I need your help to help me learn to function without it.”
As a side note, even without attitude problems, anytime I see an “entitlement” attitude in my kids (like you describe in your last sentence, asking for it with expectancy), I squash that. Across society, I see tons of problems with people who are entitled, and want to do everything in my power as a mom to fight that attitude in my kids, anytime I see it.
You really CAN pull back on devices. I find that (just like an alcoholic “drying out”) going cold turkey is the best way for us all to break a bad habit, and then, after a lengthy time “off” the undesirable thing, if it’s something I don’t outright think is bad/harmful, we ease back into it with a guarded attitude as I watch their attitudes for undesirable attachments to the thing.
When I want to stop something outright (or cut out a particular thing), I tell the kids, “no more watching X show for a while. It seems like you guys are arguing about it and I care more about your attitudes and relationships than the show. We can be happy without watching X. Head outside and play in the yard; it’s a beautiful day.”)
I think this (watching for the things that are influencing our kids and fighting any mastering/controlling influence) is a significant way we can help develop our children’s appetites. More on that idea here—-> WHY YOUR KIDS’ APPETITES MATTER
IN THE COMMENTS, PLEASE SHARE: How do YOU decrease TV-watching when you realize you’ve let it become too frequent in your home?
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