Screen Time

One of our bolder and more recent moves on our path toward simplicity has been to remove television from our home. My husband had been pushing to be “tv free” for months but frankly, I wasn’t ready. At the time, I had two small children born only 1 year and 3 weeks apart and television had become my saving grace when I needed to get dinner made or take a much needed shower. But a half hour of television evolved into several hours of television a day, leaving me feeling guilty due to my awareness of the negative effects of television on young developing minds. I was also beginning to see that turning off the television was becoming a battle and resulted in an angry mom and whiny, clingy, and even more dependent children. I was seeing that my children started needing to “watch” something rather than feeling free to roam and explore the many wonders that abounded them in their homes.

During this time, I also happened to be introduced to “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne. A wonderful, natural mama friend of mine lent me the book, which we have yet to return to her. I started reading snippets and soon after, my husband started reading snippets of this wonderful enlightening book to me. Not too long after this introduction, I found myself begrudgingly reading the part in the book relating to television in the home.  In the book, Kim John Payne is an advocate for removing or, at the very least, heavily limiting “screen time” in your home. He writes, “When you simplify screens, you install valves to stop the all-day, every-day rush of information and stimulation pouring into your home” (p. 168). He continues to discuss how a human being’s brain is the least developed organ at birth and that the majority of its development occurs in the first two years of life.  What a powerful statement and indicator of how important a parent’s job is! Knowing this information made me feel great about being a stay-at-home mom but also very guilty about the amount of tv time my kids were currently having, even if it were allowing me to get all my “stay-at-home mom chores” done. As I kept reading Kim John Payne’s book, he states that neurologists have identified three types of stimuli or interaction that babies need for optimal brain growth: interaction with parents and other humans,; they need to manipulate their environment (e.g. touch things, move around, feel different objects); and they need to do problem-solving (e.g. a game of peekaboo teaches children that things go away and return). Simply put, television offers nothing in terms of the interaction babies need for their brains to grow. So, I quietly and cautiously approached my husband and said, “Uhm, I was reading this book and I think, well, maybe we should (ahem – clear throat) get rid of the television.” My husband then proceeded to exclaim, “Hell yeah!” and you know the rest of the story.

I was terrified at what would happen in our new tv-free household. I assumed my children would be inconsolable when they asked me to watch something and I had to tell them “no”. This may sound weak and petty, but it’s true! I also thought I would never be able to complete housework or make dinner again. This didn’t happen. I’d like to say that my children became perfect little angels who entertained themselves quietly and busily for long periods of time, but this didn’t happen either.  What really happened as a result of ditching the tv is creativity. We involve our children in our activities, such as cooking and cleaning, a lot more. We get outside more often. We encourage our children to play independently and sometimes it actually works. We read a lot of books, over and over and over again. And to be honest, we still watch a few snippets of some favorite shows on the computer (e.g. Wonderpets or Super Why on, but try to limit this to 20 minutes a few times a week. It seems that “watching something” helps our children during tough transitions (e.g. mama and daddy leave the house for a date and the kids need help transitioning to the babysitter). We are not perfect, but we do a much better job of limiting screen time and are happy with the results.

This brings me to my next point, my most recent revelation in my family’s path toward simplicity: the need to sit still and stay home a bit more. Since getting rid of our television, we’ve added another beautiful member to our family. We are now the proud and exhausted parents to 3 children currently under the age of 3! Our youngest is about 7 weeks old and before she came along, the toddlers and I had a pretty busy social calendar. After Adella’s birth, we obviously were forced to sit still a bit more and this was challenging for me. After a few weeks, we started venturing out. This was tough at first but soon we developed a rhythm. Today, after going to a playgroup we visit often and leaving it feeling frustrated and tired, I decided it was time we try to sit still a bit more. I’m the type of person who doesn’t sit still for long. I like to get out and do something: go shopping, take the kids to a park or playgroup, or simply get outside. While this isn’t bad, it does go along with the “all-day, every-day rush” that Kim John Payne mentions in his book. And lately, I’ve been feeling just that: rushed…and stressed and tired. When we do stay home lately, it seems that the kids are less bored staying in than they used to be. They are starting to play more on their own, without constantly needing me. But of course there are days when the kids need me more, when they seem to be at each other constantly, and those are the days I really feel the need to flee.

So what am I getting at, you might be asking by now? I think simplicity for us right now means staying home a few days a week, though not every day. I have been reading various blogs and one I stumbled across the other day suggests staying in and incorporating your children in your daily activities. Allow your children to work with their hands and busy themselves with their own tasks. Think of how good you feel when you accomplish something, when you get to check something off your to do list. What makes us parents think that our children wouldn’t like this too? That they don’t desire to do something with their hands? Allow them to help cook breakfast, to mix the eggs, to grate the cheese, to measure the flour. Have them help load the dishwasher and push the buttons to turn it on. Not only will you all accomplish something together, you’ll also minimize opportunities for screen time.

Tomorrow, we are staying home. I have already decided we are going to make homemade granola bars, which the whole family loves. I am also thinking of having the children help me do laundry, dishes, and sweep. It may seem boring to us parents, but to children it is fun. Not only do they get to do something functional and rewarding with their hands, they get to spend more time with you…which they crave. Piles of laundry turn into mountains kids can climb and or soft beds they can throw themselves on. Doing dishes is a chance to splash and feel the water and bubbles with their cute, chubby hands. Sweeping up the kitchen can be a chance to find out that if you raise up the broom high enough, you can switch on the light switch as my son did the other day. You never know what your children might learn by doing something you find mundane. Yes, the reality is that it takes more time, patience and effort and even redoing on your part…but who among us doesn’t need a dose of patience? I know I do, and that’s why tomorrow, we are taking yet another journey on our path toward simplicity.


Here is our granola bar recipe that we adapted from a Waldorf playgroup we once belonged to:

Cinnamon Granola Bars

¼ cup butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

2 TBSP ground flaxseed

2 TBSP Honey

2 cups Oats

1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp baking soda

Additional Ingredient Ideas: Raisins, Craisins, Dates (if you used pureed dates, reduce sugar by ½).

– Beat butter and sugar til crumbly. Add egg and beat well; stir in flax and honey. Combine dry ingredients in separate bow and stir into creamed mixture. Add additional ingredients. Press into an 11×7 baking dish coated with oil. Bake at 350 for 14-18 minutes. Enjoy!



2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bridget Shetty
    Jul 06, 2011 @ 16:48:58

    Kudos to you, my friend, on so many levels. Starting the blog, striving for simplicity, recognizing your own strengths and challenges, and, above all, parenting your beautiful three children in such a conscious way. We love you!


  2. Mara Antonneau Spiropoulos
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 10:23:50

    For awhile after I wrote this, I was feeling a bit like a sellout – someone who only talks the talk and doesn’t walk it. I was convincing myself that the extra time I let my kids have in front of the screen was justified because I was so overwhelmed by being a mom of three young kids. I kept telling myself, tomorrow I won’t let them watch so much, but I always caved and felt so guilty due to my awareness of how tv isn’t good for young kids.

    Then I completed my first week of LifeWays, a Waldorf-inspired childcare program that focuses on relationship-based care, leaving my toddlers home with their dad Monday through Sunday all day. This was the first time I had left them for such a long time, and though I was nervous, I’ll admit to being quite excited to get a much needed respite from two of my more demanding children (Adella, being only 4 months, was able to come with me to my training). While my kids were home with their dad, they did not “watch” anything for they were far too busy having fun, getting outdoors, and bonding with their daddy. When I came home, I wanted to implement everything I had learned at my training. I had high hopes, which soon came crashing down once I entered the real world. I realized I really needed to focus on one or two things I had learned and hone in on them. Slowly, the rest would follow, especially as I work toward completing my program.

    We made a decision that our children would no longer watch anything, not even when they were being babysat. I realize it isn’t a choice everyone believes in, but for us, it has been, hands down, the single best change we’ve made as parents. Only occasionally will our children still ask to watch some program and get mildly upset when we tell them no. Thankfully, they are young and easily distracted and enticed to play rather than watch. I love the imaginative play and creativity that has sprouted due to our decision. I am now at a point where I don’t even consider watching anything as an option. Everything I choose to read has reinforced my decision that we are on the right path for our family. This isn’t a judgement on others, just an affirming of what we believe works for us. I love to see my children creating their own persona or mimicking us adults rather than mimicking a tv character. The other day, my son put a plastic bowl on his head and said, “Mama I am fire! Don’t touch me, I’m hot!” I love that instead of being a firefighter, he chose to be simply fire. I can’t say this would or wouldn’t have happened if we let him watch tv, but I can say regardless we are all so much happier and fulfilled without it.

    As a final note, I began reading Katrina Kenison’s Mitten Strings for God and after reading the chapter on television, I realized an even more important reason for not having my young children have screen time…they are allowed to develop their inner self, to enrich their spirit. Unlike many people in our world including myself at times, they are allowed to simply “be”, without the constant invasion of sound, screens, and media. And that is so much more fulfilling than a free hour for mama while the tv babysits them!


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