Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Our Relationship with Screens

When I was little, I watched a lot of TV. I mean, a lot of TV. When I was in 5th and 6th grade, I distinctly remember having a TV in my room, and I remember turning it on right when I got home from school (hello, Gem!) and watching it through the night (Silver Spoons, anyone?). When I was in 7th grade, I recall taking a survey at school that asked us how much TV we watched. I remember thinking: "Ha! I watch a lot of TV and still get good grades! I'm the opposite of what this survey expects." Even now, my family has a TV in every room: One in each of the three bedrooms, one in the living room, and one in the family room (which can be seen from the kitchen). 

Now that I'm thinking about it, I can't remember when the shift occurred in my life. I can't remember when I stopped keeping the TV on for background noise and got more intentional about only having it on when I wanted to watch something. And when did Matt and I make the shift all together about not having a TV in our house? I suppose it started when we moved to Colorado. We had a tiny house, so we kept the TV in our bedroom. We kept up that trend when we moved to Houston. However, we started watching more and more things on our computer. We finally got rid of our TV at that point. Then we started saving up money for a projector and eventually realized they weren't as expensive as we anticipated. Now we keep a projector in a basket and set it up if we want to watch TV on Friday and Saturday nights after the boys go to bed. We also got a great deal from Woot on a giant screen that we can set up when we have friends over to watch something. 

Watching shows is such a peripheral part of our lives, and I really like it that way. I like how it creates more of a slow, intentional, open kind of childhood for Henry and Tate. We fill up our time with so many other things. Henry collects rocks in the front yard. We turn on the hose and spray him. He creates mud pits to play in. He rides his bike on the deck. We go for walks in the neighborhood. He builds pretend airplanes and tents with all the blankets stored in the ottoman. He cooks scrambled eggs and peels hardboiled eggs. He fills up the bird feeder.

We've got so much wide-open space in our free time. We aren't rushing around to different music/soccer/art classes. Henry has time to figure things out, ask questions, notice things. 

The one exception is when we're sick. Parenting is already hard, but the difficulty triples when we're sick. In those rare cases, we break out episodes of Caillou on Netflix. I worked really hard to find something that was based on reality (since Henry is still trying to understand the world: "If that man on the motorcycle isn't wearing a helmet and he falls off will the doctors be able to put his head back on?"). I also didn't want something that showcased conflict/difficulty/bad behavior for the majority of the time and then resolved it in 1-2 minutes at the end. I want Henry to see good behavior modeled if he's going to watch something. We tried watching animal documentaries, but he really needs our support to stay engaged for a longer period of time. When we're sick, we really don't have the energy for that. 

Caillou fits the bill almost perfectly. I love how focused it is on helping children cultivate a growth mindset. Caillou struggles with things, but he doesn't give up. Instead, he works harder and then accomplishes it. 

I recently went to a workshop at Henry's Montessori school about reducing screen time and the amazing benefits it can have on child development. The speaker showcased various examples of how children who grow up in screen-free/reduced homes develop the most creative and elaborate types of play, and they tend to be particularly observant and curious. 

Although we will not be fully screen-free (I'm looking forward to Friday night movies as a family once Henry is about six, and Henry already does "research" on YouTube about things that he sees in real life like blimps and motorized paragliders), I'm happy with the limited exposure our children get. Henry doesn't beg for screen time or try to negotiate with us because he gets so little. It's working for us now. I'll let you know how it goes! 

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Anonymous said...

Hi Sara!

We are similar in that we don't watch much TV at all. We decided early on to not allow TV during the week and strongly limit the amount of time on weekends. 30min-1 hour only. We have extended that to all screens, not just TV, but iPad, computer, etc.

We struggle because screens are so pervasive in our society, so while we don't struggle with our TV limits we struggle with the device and computer limits, specifically modeling healthy adult relationships with our devices. My husband is so much better at this than I am.

So my question is, do you think about limits with all screens, not just TV, but phones and computers? Do you limit your own use of the internet or smartphone around your children? I am just very curious how other Montessori families handle this aspect of our modern world.



Sara E. Cotner said...

I love this question, Allison! I'm going to write a post about it soon. Thanks for the idea!

Heather P said...

I had a similar childhood experience with TV. By high school my bedroom had a television complete with cable channels. Despite our histories, my husband and I have done well minimizing screen time with our 28 month old. He watches YouTube videos, mostly about animals, here and there. When we are sick we will put an episode or two of a cooking show on. He's very much in a practical life phase. At Home with Giada, with its slow deliberate pace, does a good job holding his attention.

Amanda said...

I chose Caillou as my son's first show (and only, for a long time), for the same reasons you mentioned. A warning, though: I started noticing that he got really whiny after watching it, and when I started paying attention I realized how whiny Caillou is, and how often he ends up getting his way when he is whining. I switched to episodes of Mr. Rogers on amazon and wish I'd started that way. Now that he is 4 he occasionally watches Thomas the Tank engine and a few other simple shows, and none have led to whining the way watching Caillou did.

Kelsey said...

I had the same question as Allison about other types of screens. Right now Chris and I try to put our phones away when we arrive home from work and don't get them out until Dash goes to bed but we aren't strict about it. I'd also like to implement a "no checking our phones on the weekends" rule that Chris is also interested in. We never give our phones to Dash to let him watch or play anything so we are strict about keeping him from all screens for as long as possible (I hope until 3+ years). We never have the TV on when Dash is awake and Chris and I watch maybe 30 min to an hour each week but we're on our phones so much, such a hard habit to break.

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