How to Screen Free Parent: It’s Easier than You Think
by Jackie A
3 months ago
We’ve all had that sinking feeling of “oh my god, I’ve been scrolling mindlessly and I need to put my phone down.” We live in a time where screens and connectivity are ubiquitous. Screen-time gives us more information than ever, but it often comes at a price of our focus, depth of relationships, and peace of mind.
Add children to the mix and you have a potential toxic combination on your hands. We give an iPad to avoid a tantrum or to solicit calm behavior, but it ends up creating more meltdowns and more frazzled behavior down the road. Limits become increasingly hard to set. The residue from screen-time follows our children even after the devices have been put away. The dopamine hit from a bright screen with all of it’s bells and whistles is overstimulating to a young brain.
There’s another way. A screen-free family is within your reach.
Check your own attitude and screen-time habits. Do you expect your child to play happily with blocks, but you are filming the whole thing and posting it on Instagram? Are you checking work emails during dinner time? What we model for our children is the biggest determinant of their behavior and values.
Embrace play. The research is definitive that children learn through play. Early childhood development is about processing the world... in three dimensions with all of its sensory inputs. We are taking something very essential away from children by replacing the world with a screen.
Don’t forget to play as a parent, too. Parenting is hard, and our adult responsibilities can be overwhelming. It’s easy to get into a mode where we feel that we have to rush the kids through the obligations of the day. When we introduce silliness and fun into everyday activities, it makes us more relaxed and joyful. You can’t always have a dance party while getting ready for dinner, but you can sometimes.
Embrace boredom. We’ve somehow come to collectively believe that more activity and more entertainment is better. One of the healthiest things we can do for our children is to let them be bored. Do you remember daydreaming when looking out the window on a long car trip with your parents, or coming up with a silly game like hiding in a closet with a sibling? Boredom creates opportunities for our children to use their own resources.
Embrace creativity. Children are innately creative. Simple household items like boxes, containers, and kitchen implements are often the most interesting toys. Because they are open-ended, children use their imagination to turn a paper towel roll into a telescope. Creative play doesn’t have to be a burden on the parent. Just put some materials out and see what they do.
Embrace JOMO. Remember FOMO? If we can live without checking Instagram to see where our friends are eating and vacationing, we can embrace enjoying the simple moments with our children. We start to view them less as a creature that has to be placated with a device, and more as a co-captain to our experiences. There is a joy of missing out in order to be present.
Prepare in advance. Sticker books, clipboards with paper and markers, Water Wow books, magnatiles, and legos. You can pack an activity bag that is always on the ready for an outing to a restaurant or a plane ride.
- The more they practice, the better they will get at it. Executive function and focus are skills that get better with practice. Remember the famous “Marshmallow Test”? Self regulation is the most important predictor of your child’s future success. The more they play independently and endure unpleasant experiences like waiting at a supermarket, the better they will get at it.
Reflect on our own childhoods and how we grew up in a device free world. It’s easier to replicate than you may think.
Kate Peachway is a New York based fund manager and mum (mom!)