Screen Time

The PAIL Monthly Theme Post topic for August is “Screen Time.” This category was actually a topic I submitted for discussion, and I am extremely interested in other parent’s perspectives on this one, as my own opinions seem to be constantly evolving.

Here’s my intro I wrote on PAIL last week:

Not in my house! 

That’s what I used to say about my (future) children watching TV. I grew up in a household where we only had the three channels that you could get with the old bunny ears antenna. I don’t remember watching TV at all as a small child (though we did have much loved family movie nights), but I do know that during later years, we were allowed to watch a maximum of one hour of TV per day, and only if our homework was done. Full House anyone? 

On the flip side of things, my husband (who, to be fair, also spent a great deal of his childhood playing outdoors) had pretty much unlimited TV time growing up, and he sees no problem with the TV being on at all times in our house. 

Adding to the screen time exposure for kids and adults alike now days are the cell phones, hand held games, iPads, laptops, etc. that are everywhere.

So what’s a parent to do?

Skyping with her grandparents and auntie last month.

This topic was first brought to my attention by my sis-n-law a couple of years ago. She has a toddler and an infant, and back when the toddler was a baby, she mentioned her beliefs about how detrimental screen time can be for babies and toddlers. I had never really thought about it from the developmental standpoint, but I found her opinions to be thought provoking. Then my friend Sheelah wrote a great post on this topic a few months ago that also included information about the decreased language skills of the baby video watchers, and since this time I had my own infant in my arms while reading, it really got me kick started to be thinking about the issue more.

In reality, the TV is on in our house a lot. Before I lived with my husband, I never had satellite TV, mainly because I was too cheap to pay for it and didn’t care enough to spend my hard earned cash on it. I’ve always loved movies (thanks for the addiction, Mom!), but TV… meh. I could take it or leave it.  My free time was spent reading or hanging out with friends. My husband, on the other hand, loves TV, and the #1 reason is sports. Baseball – ya, he has a Cardinals tattoo on his shoulder, that’s how much he loves them. Football, golf, and just basic ESPN Sports Center…you name it, he watches it. He loves it. The problem, too, is that is all “real time” programming, so it’s not like we could just skip the cable bill and rent the seasons from Netflix to watch after Stells is in bed. Also, now that we do have TV, I love it too. Charlie and I have shows that we watch together (ex. Suits and The Mentalist). My sis-n-law and I have shows that we watch together (ex. Grey’s Anatomy and The Bachelorette). I have my background shows that I’ll have on while I’m cooking (ex. The Pioneer Woman and The View). So yeah, it’s not like I’m not a TV watcher by any means.

However, I don’t want Stella to be one. 

I want her first inclination to be to play outside. To build blanket forts. To read a book. To go on a bike ride. To do basically anything except watch TV.

Here is my conundrum. Our TV is on our living room, which is the only logical place to have it. It is in the middle of everything (lvrm/dining/kitchen is all one space), and in our tiny house, we don’t have a separate family room, den, office, etc. that would allow us to have a family space that doesn’t have a television in it. Also, at the daycare Stella goes to on Mondays and Tuesdays, I know that the TV is often on while the provider’s kids play video games and watch movies during summer break.

Yes, we could choose to leave the television off in our home during Stella’s awake hours (though that won’t fix the daycare issue), but my husband doesn’t feel the same way I do about TV for kids, so it’s hard to convince him to turn off the Cardinals game when he doesn’t see any harm in that being on while Stella plays on the floor…and to be honest, I’m not sure I do either, because thus far at least, she pays little to no attention to it.

See, here’s the thing. I don’t turn the TV on to the kids channel and plop Stella in front of it. I don’t ever want to make TV watching a “habit” of hers, and I don’t want her watching (even one hour) of it every day. She does get screen time when she Skypes with my parents. I’m sure she will get screen time on the iPad when she’s old enough to play games on it (side note: my SIL said that PBS has a great iPad app for educational kids games, and that’s my nephew’s special treat that he gets to play whenever she needs him to sit still so that she can cut his hair!). I do put in a hand-me-down Baby Mozart DVD probably once every week or two when I just need that extra 20 minutes to finish pumping or finish putting dinner together and Stella is starting to lose it.  We seriously call that shit “baby crack” in our house – it’s slightly frightening how she is immediately 100% engrossed in the TV screen when we turn it on. Eek.

4 months old, and engrossed in Baby Mozart

So yeah, she gets screen time, but I don’t want her to assume that she can/should watch it whenever she wants. I don’t want a four year old who comes downstairs in the morning and begs to watch television first thing. I don’t want a 14 year old that zones me out because she is playing her video game or watching her show instead of telling me about her day. I don’t want a 24 year old that is struggling with her weight because she has spent so many hours of her life watching TV or sitting in front of her computer instead of being active outdoors.

Yes, I get that not all of those scenarios are necessarily going to happen if I let TV watching become a habit for Stella, but do I really want to test it to find out? I know that I have skipped workouts because I wanted to write a blog post or watch my favorite TV show – is it that crazy to think that she would do the same?

Family movie nights should be a privilege, not a right.
Saturday morning cartoons should be a privilege, not a right.

So I guess this is where I stand for now…

(1) I can choose to not have the television on when I’m home with Stella and she is awake.
(2) My husband can make it a priority to interact with Stella while he’s home – even if the big game is playing in the background on the TV
(3) I can’t control the TV at daycare, but I can request that video game playing is only allowed during Stella’s nap times and see what she says.
(4) Charlie and I can discuss as she grows up how much TV and what kind of shows we are okay with her watching (and when!). For now, that is only the occasional Baby Mozart DVD, though that could very well change.
(5) We can be realistic about the amount of screen time kids get these days between computers and phones, and we can limit that as we so choose. For now, she only gets Skype time with grandparents, though I’m guessing this too will change quickly as she ages.

Do you agree with me? Disagree? How are you handling this? I’m open to suggestions – this is a tough one!

(If you’d like, click here to read about this topic on PAIL and submit your own post to the discussion!)


  1. We won't let our baby see any TV – at all – until she's 2, per the AAP recommendation. At six and a half months, so far so good. If I were you, I'd cut out the Baby Einstein completely. You can't do anything about your husband and sports.

  2. I feel really strongly that Smudgie should have as little screen time as possible. Like you said, with all our devices, none isn't realistic. But with the exception of FaceTime (the apple-to-apple version of Skype), Smudgie has essentially none.- His nanny never turns the tv on.- I never turn it on during the day.- LG generally watches sports at night after Smudgie is asleep.- We have no kids videos or DVDs and never turn on children's programming.- We don't have an iPad- I rarely use my iPhone in presence (and have never given it to him to play with).When he was a newborn and I was home nursing all the time, I did watch tv while holding him or walking around. I was too exhausted to read and he was too far away to see it anyway. But at around 3 months, his eyes focused on the tv for the first time and it's been off ever since. Truly, once you turn it off and get used to the silence, you'll feel no need to have it on again. I don't even turn it on during his naps (I write or read during that time).Aside from the research on children's brain development and tv exposure, like you I was raised watching almost none and loved the active, fun childhood I had as a result. My husband was raised watching a lot. Getting him to go along with my no-tv rule was a tough sell. But I showed him the research, which he found compelling. I also said I'd be willing to compromise and allow exceptions for big football games or baseball with daddy. Smudgie goes to bed so early, baseball at night has been a non-issue. I'm a little worried about football Sundays this fall, but I'll encourage him to go out and watch with friends (or Smudgie and I will head to the playground).He's been way better about keeping it off than I thought he would be, especially in the mornings when he's talking care of Smudgie alone before work. It's a work in process, but it can be achieved, even with a sports nut husband!

  3. Yeah, like I said, the DVDs were a gift, and the only one I've ever put in was the Baby Mozart b/c I actually like the music. 🙂 I guess I've felt the 20 min of screen time every couple of weeks was worth me getting another bottle of milk pumped or dinner made, but I'm definitely wondering if that's just me being selfish. *sigh* I don't know.

  4. I think I'm going to make a bigger effort to talk to the daycare provider about no TV when Stells is awake, especially now that she is napping more regularly. It's an at-home daycare with just a couple of kids, but still, it's important to me! As far as baseball goes, I'm 2hrs behind you, so unfortunately a lot of the games are definitely on before Stells goes to bed. 😛 I need to show Char more research about this though, and hopefully he'll understand my POV a little bit better!

  5. Honestly Josie…follow your gut instinct about this…along with your motherly goals. Putting a time restriction on TV is tough because you have it on all the time and it's in open space….so do you count her glancing at the TV while you change her diaper or put her clothes on? The research I did, says that you are playing with fire if they are infront of the TV before the age of 2 from a brain development stand point of view. I also know that it depends what is on the screen, like you already noticed. Some shows are actually bad for brain developement, like Sponge Bob…that was proven. It is also believed that it is not actually the screen that harms brain development, but the lack of adult interaction during that time. So, use common sense. After the age of 2, it's a life style choice for you to make on her behalf. The Olimpycs were on 24/7 in our house and Livi was fascinated. It was hard not to let her watch for a few minutes, because it was neat how interested she was…like an adult. You are obviously very aware of all the issues with screen time and are giving it 1000 times more thought and time than most parents do, so that in itself will protect her from any harm that screen time can potentially do. You set a good example.

  6. I commend you for you doing your research and thinking about it at all! Like Iveta, says above, the vast majority of people don't do even that.Like I assumed in the post you linked to (Thanks!), Gracie does get more screen time now than she did before Lyla was born. It's still not through the TV (she's getting even less of that now because we stopped turning on the news during breakfast). It's through my phone. Sometimes nothing I do and nothing she does is enough to keep her entertained/safe/contained while I nurse Lyla, so the iphone comes out and she watches Sesame Street clips on it. She's still waaaaaaay to rambunctious to sit through an actual show though and even gets bored watching the 2-minute clips I do allow her to watch. Who knows – maybe if she was a different/more patient child she'd watch even more than she does now? If she gave me the chance to have more quiet time, maybe I'd give it to her. I hope not, but we'll never know with my little Tanzmanian devil 🙂

  7. I think this is a great topic josey. We both really do not want Molly to get addicted to TV. Both of us come from families where the first inclination was to play Outside. Particularly hubby he was never inside almost to the other extreme asninwould like Molly to read, play board games etc.I don't think from what you have written you are over the top tho you dont stick Stella in front of the tv to shut her up or do something for yourself and sometimes a little bit is ok.I really liked the commenter who said no iPhone. That is a big issue for me. Right now I am always on it. I think I need to break the habit.There's a difference between educational and fun and pure laziness because you as a parent don't want to play with your child. Great topic and hopefully I get a chance to write a topic on it without putting Molly in front of the tv!!!

  8. I rarely turn the tv on when he's awake. We Skype my mom everyday, but i don't really count that. I've also you-tubed baby Einstein a handful of times when he was near meltdown. It IS baby crack. We are moving into our house this week and we are going to set it up so the tv is not the focal point and we are going to try out hulu instead of cable. Just today I told my husband I don't know what he should be for Halloween bc he doesn't know who any characters are. We spend a lot of the day listening to music and he seems to love it.I do, however, have an opportunity with my iPhone. I have to stop using it around him. I need less screen time when it comes to that!It would be so easy to plop him in front of it and get a few glorious moments to myself, but I don't think that's good in the long run,

  9. "Baby crack" LOL So true.

  10. I totally think this is a family values type of topic (a great one). Like you said, you loved movies with your family as a child. Bonding, spending time once in a blue moon together watching TV – why not? An hour after your kids have finished their homework – sure. Saturday morning cartoons when they are a toddler – for sure – it's Saturday morning! At least that's how it worked in my family.Having the TV, IPad, iPhone as a babysitter so we can *get shit done* – lame. I'd rather everyone get their butts outside (rain or shine – thanks V.ancouver).I actually am baffled as to how many message boards I see of moms asking other moms what iPad apps they should download to help their kids learn the alphabet or entertain them in the car, or on a plane, on a rainy day or etc, etc, etc.Seriously, didn't those things only get developed like five years ago LOL??? What the hell did parents do back then "in the old days" hahaha. For the most part, we all turned out fine without all that crack (I think I did sorta, kinda…)What happened to good 'old fashioned playing with your kids? Getting them interesting toys to entertain them and engage their imaginations. OR god forbid having them sit quietly with a piece of paper and a red crayon while we get stuff done? I will fully admit, when my husband and I are home we love having HGTV on (we're obsessed with housing and the idiotic prices that match them in B.C) but the moment Lil K is up and around the TV is off. We just made a conscious decision to play with her and try to be as engaged as possible. I was actually quite surprised at how easily my husband agreed. He's a total sports nuts. The Canadian version of ESPN is always on (when I'm not around) and I know he's sneaking peeks at his iPhone once in a while when Lil K is thoroughly entertained with something but we *try* our best to keep just music on when she's up.Now, perhaps this makes me a hypocrite but the other day we were reminiscing about Street and the Mu.ppets and and found the Manamana video and the Bohemian Rhapsody videos and put them on to see if Lil K was interested in them or not and were happy to say she was only interested in banging on my keyboard lol. For those of you in need of a laugh and trip down memory lane:, after re-reading all that, I have no idea if I even expressed what I wanted to say. Ditto to the iPhone comments. I'm blaming you guys though, I'm always on checking out who's written a new blog post for the day haha.

  11. I am in the same boat with you for ESPN and the hubby being slightly addicted to baseball (though he doesn't ahve a tattoo of it!)!I think I am going to let Ray do what he wants with the tv until she starts to show interest and at that point we will discuss changing it up. But for now, I think why "take it away" if she isn't into it anyway. I think sometimes forbidding something makes it special, whereas it might have never been an issue if it was available. Great topic though!!!!!!

  12. I definitely think Stella is going to be an outdoorsy girl and you won't have any problems with her hanging out in front of the tv.

  13. Very thought provoking post, Josey 🙂 That is probably my most favorite thing about your blog. You encourage women to think. We are middle of the road when it comes to TV in our house. I enjoy watching TV (sadly, mostly reality…Currently, mourning over the fact that Bachelorette is over for the season, but looking forward to the next season of G&B). I don't ever watch anything in real time…Usually, just when I have down time here and there. My husband, however, might as well be referred to as TV MAN. If he is at home, the TV is on. Not that he is always watching, but it is always on in the background. He is a sports fanatic and a history buff, so something related to the two is usually his background noise of choice. And when he isn't helping me with duties for Grace or playing with her, he is watching. We aren't super strict about Grace watching TV. Sometimes she will watch what we refer to as "her show", but mostly, she is much happier playing with us and with her toys. I like the fact that the TV can be on and she could care less. I like that she is happier playing. And I like the fact that one day she will not be obsessed with TV because we kept her from watching. I feel like we have a happy medium when it comes to TV and that is what works for us. Thanks for another great post, Josey 🙂

  14. SO interesting. I just had this conversation with my Mother. It did not go well. She came over on a day when there happened to also be a special interview that she wanted to watch. We have a system set up on the TV where we can only use the sound bar but no picture on the screen. I really like the background noise of music or I put on a movie I love/dvd's of shows where I have the entire season – (No Commercials!) and just have the sound on. I kept moving Leah away from the picture because she was staring at it, and my Mom was giving me a hard time about it. I tried to explain aside from the developmental issues:1. I am a TV addict. 2. I don't want Leah to be one. My mom is a pain in the ass. But you my dear, have written another Great Post!

  15. "I don't want her to assume that she can/should watch it whenever she wants. I don't want a four year old who comes downstairs in the morning and begs to watch television first thing."Yes. THIS. I want the interaction to be "Mum, can I watch TV" not "MUM! I want TV!"I barely understand how to turn make our TV work, and since BJB hooked it up to a Mac a few weeks ago I have no idea how to even turn it on. I know this is making a difference in the living room, but it is not impacting the YouTube'd Sesame Street in his room. OH! And, my incessant smartphone usage. This topic has really made me take a look at *my* habits and realize that I must live the life I want my child to live. "Do as I say, not as I do" is no way to parent in my opinion. Really great topic, woman.

  16. I have a similar problem with my hubby who worships his TVs- we have one in almost every room in the house. I have to be realistic because there s no way he will turn it off. He even likes to sleep with it on which drives me nuts.

  17. At least it's not a Yankees tattoo 😉 I think you're doing great! I think sports are "less" harmful as long as you are still engaging with the child. Though I can see myself being guilty of getting wrapped up in a redsox game in the future, so I'll have to watch that.

  18. […] at My Cheap Version of Therapy describes in her post how finding the right balance of screen time in their home is an always evolving issue between she […]

  19. I LOVE this topic. All the blog entries I’ve been reading are really making me consider the amount of screen time happening in our house. I’ve been so picky about TV but I am HORRIBLE with iPhone usage– and Husband is too. I thought I was doing such a good job not putting the TV on and didn’t really think much about the phone (and computer too, to some degree).

    I like your perspective on this. I also think Family Movie Night is a SPLENDID idea– I think making TV a social event, rather than a “tune out” mechanism, is really key.

  20. I like your perspective and I think the idea of setting standards and guidelines within the possibilites of your current lifestyle, like getting Charlie to interact more with Stella when the game is on and talking to the daycare (the video games would bother me especially, I think they’re more dangerous than plain TV). The most important part is deciding what you want the screen usage in your family to look like and from there working out a plan. it sounds like you’re doing just that.

    “I want her first inclination to be to play outside. To build blanket forts. To read a book. To go on a bike ride. To do basically anything except watch TV.” This is absolutely what I would like to foment as well. In my opinion I think it comes down to creating the habit and making sure that any TV watched is a CONCIOUS decision. It’s so easy to turn the TV on as background noise or to have it be a default activity, when really it needs to be the result of an actual thought process and something that we are aware of.

    I also have been thinking that just as important as how we deal with the issue of TV, et. al., is how we deal with other activities. It’s not so much about discouraging those activities as it is about ENcouraging OTHER activities.

    1. P.S. The Cards are currently 7 games back. Perhaps Charlie should watch them less as maybe he’s bad luck! 😉

  21. You know, thinking about it and actually planning to deal with it are actually great first steps. I am one to maybe not lean too much on the restrictive side but to be more proactive on the outdoors, reading, etc. side.

    (Oh–and I see through comments that SPONGEBOB is bad?!!! Noooo!!!!!)

  22. I really like your post and appreciate your thinking through things. The thing about the AAP recommendation, is that it mainly focuses on parents who use the TV as a babysitter and never interact with their children. Occasional baby mozart for 20 minutes is not an issue. Their issue with baby mozart as the claims that it improved brain development. I think it’s all about balance and not throwing a young child under 2 in front of a TV without thinking. I was all “no TV at all” before 2 until I had a baby and saw how hard that could be. For the most part, it’s off when my daughter is awake. And if it is on, she is not parked in front of it (She loved the Olympics, btw!)

    I think this has become an issue where moms can tear each other apart, which makes me kind of sad. 🙁 I think it’s all about balance. TVs/ ipads/ iphones are part of life these days, so that balance is going to be harder than ever! Thanks for being considerate about it!

    PS- the day care thing would upset me a bit, good for you for advocating.

  23. […] to parenting. It’s always interesting to me to read back over my thoughts (like my post on Screen Time wherein I might have written something like I don’t want her watching (even one hour) of it […]

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