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November 9, 2010 / MrsH

Reducing Screen Time

Welcome to the November Carnival of Natural Parenting: What is natural parenting?

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our Carnival coincides with the launch of Natural Parents Network, a community of parents and parents-to-be who practice or are interested in attachment parenting and natural family living. Join us at Natural Parents Network to be informed, empowered, and inspired!

Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


“…and make sure to limit your t.v. time to two hours a day, ok?”  My Eldest (8) was at her annual physical with her decidedly mainstream and generally wonderful pediatrician.  However, at this comment, I could see the wheels turning: “two hours?  Did she say per day?  She couldn’t have!  Maybe she meant per week… no, she said per day.  Should mom be letting me watch two hours per day?  Score!!”

Our kids don’t usually watch much t.v. although I freely admit to using it as a tool to keep my Middle One (4) occupied while I put the Little One (18m) down for her nap.    It’s a tricky time of day where he just came home from school and is tired.  I haven’t yet found any other activity that he’ll quietly do for long at that time of day. Other than that, I let them watch a movie on Friday afternoons and they watch PBS Sprout on weekend mornings.  When there’s only one parent to put all three kids to bed, we also sometimes let the older two watch the night night show while putting the Little One to bed.  That’s not without its treacherous moment of actually having to turn the thing off though, so it’s not my favorite.

Reducing our t.v. time is key to our family’s feelings of connection, and is in some ways a cornerstone of our parenting approach.  I don’t say that just because that’s what “the studies” say, I say it because I see it first-hand.  When the kids are up in the attic watching t.v. and I’m downstairs engaged in my own pursuits, we’ve lost a meaningful teaching moment.  When a meal is eaten in front of the t.v., that means we lost that opportunity for conversation, for time together.  What’s more, the t.v., even as innocuous as the preschool channel, teaches my kids all sorts of things that I don’t really want them to learn: about how we interact with each other, about what things in life are important to have, and about taking a passive role in life.  I haven’t even gotten into the addictive properties of t.v., it becomes harder and harder to turn the thing off, to stop all those external influences, and to get up and get going.  That’s when the “just one more show!” whining starts.

When our older two first came to live with us, they were used to vastly more screen-time than we were comfortable.  How were we able to change that?  And what do we do instead of consume 2+ hours of screen media per day?

  1. Set consistent times that t.v. watching can be ok, and when it is not.  Tying it to the family’s activities is more helpful to the little ones than a specific time.  Eventually they’ll stop asking to watch right after school, if they are consistently told that that isn’t when our family watches t.v.
  2. Set clear limits and follow through. This can be so hard.  I say “ok, you can watch one show.”  Then I start to really enjoy my “free” babysitter, which isn’t free at all, and before I know it, the show is over.  And the next, and next…  My kids now assume that it’s a free for all and put up a huge fight at the mere thought of turning it off.  It gets ugly.  We’re currently experimenting with the parental controls, which can beautifully turn off the cable box at a certain time.  That really helps keep us all accountable!
  3. Have lots of other activities ready to go. In the short term, this definitely requires more energy from the primary care-giver, me in this case.  It means that I have to put up with a bit of whining and a bit of general boredom and unsettledness.  But each time that I reign our t.v. watching back in (often after slacking for a couple of weeks), I’m surprised by how quickly they accept the change and move on.  Suddenly they become good again at entertaining themselves.  While I was cooking dinner tonight, for example, I had three “puppies” chase one another around the house.  They didn’t need anything from me except an occasional pat on the head or tossing of a ball (for fetch, of course!).  The night before, our Eldest and Little One played outside together, while the Middle One ambled into the kitchen desperately wanting to help me make quiche.  These moments are priceless, and I’m so thankful that they can (usually) engage in play or work rather than sit in front of a box.

I think our family also has a few habits that help us to keep the t.v. off. Things that are simply part of the fabric of our daily lives which the kids barely even notice unless we stop doing them.  Here they are:

  1. We walk to school every single day, rain or shine (well, mostly anyway…).  It starts us off on the right foot, being active together, and slowing down to a more relaxed and connected way of being.  I realize this is impossible for most of the population, but I really love being able to do it.
  2. Everyone in the family takes a rest hour or nap after lunch.  This gives them practice at being alone and playing creatively by themselves.
  3. After school, the kids generally play outside for 30-60 minutes.  We usually stay right at the school playground but when that doesn’t work, we take the long way home or head out to the backyard.  Running around for that time really helps give an energy boost so that by the time we get home they’re ready for snack followed by play or work.
  4. I try, and it’s really hard work for me, to be willing to be with my kids most of the time. I keep finding that the more I’m willing to be with them, the less they actually need me to.  This can look many different ways: suggesting we play a game together, offering to read a story, inviting them to help me with household tasks, or choosing to read my book at the table where they are coloring.  It means I (try to) stop what I’m doing when they ask for my attention.  I regularly fail at this, but I try.

By being really intentional about when we do and do not let the kids watch t.v., and by thinking about other ways to use our time well, we are striking a balance that works for us.  This balance is going to be different for every family, but I do believe that as we create new ways of doing things, our children’s resistance lessens.   I’ve seen a direct correlation between my kids’ behavior and the amount of t.v. they watch.  During lower t.v. times, they play more, work harder, are more engaged in our family, and are more independent. Losing the opportunity for them to develop these qualities is too high a price for any babysitter, even a “free” one.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaStop by Natural Parents Network today to see excerpts from everyone’s posts, and please visit a few to read more! Visit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants. Three of the participants below will instead be featured on Natural Parents Network throughout the month, so check back at NPN!

This list will be updated by afternoon November 9 with all the carnival links. We’ve arranged it this month according to the categories of our NPN resource pages on “What Is Natural Parenting?”

Attachment/Responsive Parenting

Attachment/responsive parenting is generally considered to include the following (descriptions/lists are not exhaustive; please follow each link to learn more):

    • Attachment Parenting Chose Us” — For a child who is born “sensitive,” attachment parenting is more a way of life than a parenting “choice.” Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares her experiences. (@CodeNameMama)
    • Parenting in the Present” — Acacia at Be Present Mama parents naturally by being fully present.
    • Parenting With Heart” — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment parents naturally because healthy attachments early in life help our little ones grow into healthy, functioning adults.
    • Sometimes I Wish We Coslept” — Sheila at A Gift Universe has started to add cosleeping into her sleep routines and has found frequently unspoken benefits. Watch for her post, which will be featured on Natural Parents Network on Tuesday, November 30. (@agiftuniverse)
    • Unconditional Parenting” — The philosophy of Alfie Kohn resonates with Erin at Multiple Musings, who does not want to parent (or teach) using rewards and punishment. (@ErinLittle)

Ecological Responsibility and Love of Nature

Holistic Health Practices

  • Supporting Natural Immunity” — If you have decided against the traditional vaccination schedule, Starr at Earth Mama has some helpful tips for strengthening your children’s immune systems naturally.

Natural Learning

  • Acceptance as a Key to Natural Parenting” — Because Mrs. Green at Little Green Blog values accepting and responding to her daughter’s needs, she was able to unravel the mystery of her daughter’s learning “challenges.” (@myzerowaste)
  • Let Them Look” — Betsy at Honest 2 Betsy makes time to look at, to touch, and to drool on the pinecones.
  • Why I Love Unschooling” — Unschooling isn’t just about learning for Darcel at The Mahogany Way — it is a way of life. (@MahoganyWayMama)
  • Is He Already Behind?“Ever worry that your baby or toddler is behind the curve? Danielle at will reassure you about the many ways your little one is learning — naturally — every day. Watch for her post, which will be featured on Natural Parents Network on Tuesday, November 16. (@borninjp)
  • How to Help Your Child through Natural Learning” — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now offers tips on how to understand and nurture your child’s natural learning style. (@DebChitwood)

Healthy Living

Parenting Philosophies

Political and Social Activism


Leave a Comment
  1. Acacia @ Be Present / Nov 9 2010 10:24 am

    I am so happy to read about how your family values being together and limiting t.v. time and the logistics of how that works. I have a 3 yo and 6 mo and I regulate the amount of t.v. that my 3 yo gets but struggle with how much and how to sometimes as he gets older and life gets a little more complicated. Thank you for the great tips, they let me know I’m on the right path!

  2. Andrea!!! / Nov 9 2010 11:01 am

    I love your honesty in this post – sometimes I feel that as a SAHM I feel like I need to be perfect in my parenting, it is both liberating and reassuring to hear of others struggles and victories in the parenting arena. My little one is just 12 months, so up to this point we’ve done no TV, but sometimes it feels like it’s just a matter of time. (Actually, she does get to watch the weather channel in the morning, but she’s usually not very interested). I already worry about the balance, since I know that I have a tendency to watch too much TV if I’m not careful, and it does suck you away from family interactions. It’s so telling to see the positive impact limiting TV has on your little ones, very inspirational!

    • MrsH / Nov 10 2010 11:26 am

      Blogging can be so tricky, balancing the struggles and victories, can’t it? Some days definitely feel more like struggles, but then there are the glorious ones…

  3. Kellie / Nov 9 2010 11:07 am

    I LOVE this post! We got rid of our TV when my daughter was 2.5. She had never watched it before that time, except when we attempted to get her to watch birth videos to prepare her for the birth of her brother. Having never watched it, she doesn’t get the attraction. She doesn’t see us watching it, so she doesn’t attempt to watch when there is one available usually. This year at my mother’s house was the first time she showed any interest in watching a television that was on, and even then her focus was very short.

    I don’t even have to entertain the children very much, or have activities outlined. Mostly, they have always played and they are good at it! They run, pretend, craft, and enjoy themselves, with no need for a box.

  4. Dionna @ Code Name: Mama / Nov 9 2010 11:54 am

    I *love* this post, so many practical tips for people! We really limit screen time with Kieran too. He gets about 1/2 hour of screen time a day, but I’m definitely guilty of the “ok, one youtube video while we sit here,” (that then becomes two videos). Kieran is insane about TV, so we’ve had to put clear limits on it. Plus, I agree with your assessment – even the preschool programs teach undesirable things. Thanks so much for sharing this in the Carnival!!

  5. baj4life / Nov 9 2010 2:01 pm

    We aren’t tv-free but I do limit television for my toddler. Thanks for outlining some tips to keep in mind.

    • MrsH / Nov 9 2010 3:16 pm

      Oh I hope I didn’t sound like we’re tv-free. We’re totally not. In fact, my preschooler is coming off a time where he’s been watching close to two hours a day because I just needed the respite so much. But like I said in the post, there are things we do to try and get out of that pattern, and now he’s back down to one show while I put the Little One down for her nap. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Melodie / Nov 9 2010 3:12 pm

    Great tips. Admittedly I used to be better about this than I am now. When I did family child care 5 days a week the rule was “No TV when friends are here.” Now that I am homeschooling and don’t do daycare there are never any friends here and so one or the other turns on the TV or goes to the neighbours house to watch TV and I find I am spending a lot of time trying to police it but failing, for the most part. It’s really important to me to limit TV. The rest of the family and our neighbour makes it hard though.

    • MrsH / Nov 10 2010 11:34 am

      I also find that life transitions like the one you mentioned can really wreak havoc on how the days go. Sometimes it’s tv, or healthy eating, or playing outside, or whatever other types of habits I try to establish, some of them always go when there’s a major transition. I bet there’d be lots of ideas from people if you want some.

  7. mamaflurfel / Nov 9 2010 3:50 pm

    Good article. Another important one is to make sure the T.V. is in it’s own space so that it’s out of sight and out of mind when you want it off.

    I have three young children and can not imagine how I would put the babies down for their naps without TV.

    I know lots of people who don’t let their kids watch TV and I applaude them, but for me it’s not do-able.

    • MrsH / Nov 10 2010 11:21 am

      Yes, absolutely! I have something on my wishlist: a cabinet with doors! But until then, we’ll stick with “only” having one tv and it not being on the main floor of the house.

  8. Sybil / Nov 9 2010 4:31 pm

    Oh gosh, I really love this post. TV is one of those things that I cringe about. I try so hard in so many ways to be the parent I want to be and always, always get annoyed with myself over how much tv I let my girls watch. I love that you have concrete ideas on how to reduce the screen time in your family. Will definitely be referencing this post again!

    I’m so glad I got to discover your blog through the carnival!

    • MrsH / Nov 10 2010 11:24 am

      So glad it’s helpful! I definitely still go through cringe-worthy tv seasons, though they’re getting fewer now and overall tv consumption is lower now than it was a couple of years ago. We all just do what we can, right? And that’s different for everyone.

  9. Lindsey / Nov 9 2010 10:48 pm

    Thank you for giving some good, concretes examples of how this works for your family. We’re in the position now of establishing some of our own guidelines and this is quite helpful!

  10. kelly @kellynaturally / Nov 10 2010 10:13 am

    Oh I WISH we could walk to school every day, but I think an 8 mile walk each way is pushing it for the 3 year old, haha. 😉
    We’ve been TV-limited for a year & a half now. Meaning, we don’t have TV channels, though we do have an X-box & netflix & you tube & On rainy days, or when I need a break, I will put on a Blues Clues or Signing Time video.

    And I LOVE your number 4. Because really, play is SO important. Even when (especially when?!) we don’t want to. I’ve found too that when I really need (want) to get something done on my own, if I make myself available to my kids – on the floor, playing – for even just 15 minutes, they are far more likely to go & play on their own for a bit while I get some computer work done. Without TV.

    Screen time has it’s place, and I’ve become more lax about it in the last half year or so – now that both kids are in school more often, but still, limiting screen time is a worthy goal. Love your post!

  11. Kateisfun / Nov 11 2010 2:36 pm

    GREAT post, MrsH! In our household I am realizing that my laptop and the internet are the villains (we don’t have a TV in our teeny apartment) – not for sucking Elijah in, but for sucking ME in! I am totally going to apply some of these tips for myself. I think my favorite suggestion is #1, about starting the day off on the right foot. I find this is true in other areas (diet, exercise, prayer time), so why not with regard to the internet?

    Also, I think your post inadvertently affected my own blogging today on instinctual parenting (I’m only realizing this as I re-read your post). Thanks!

    • MrsH / Nov 11 2010 10:15 pm

      A post which I loved, by the way! And I totally agree with the computer time sucking me in as well. The kids really notice the physical barrier and ask me in all sorts of ways to turn it off. Little One will just walk up to me and crawl into my lap, and now she’s too big to read over or around her!

  12. Kristin / Nov 11 2010 6:01 pm

    Ah, I love this and agree with everything! I have written about our TV habits and they are very similar — I do let them watch some each day, but I agree that scheduling it in (not allowing it willy nilly) is SO important — if its not one of those times, my girls really know not to ask. I am really trying to work on your #4 too (being truly present with my kids) — its a challenge for me a lot of the time, but I do think it is so important.

    I love that you guys work outdoor activity/play into your day so routinely. I strive for that, for sure. My oldest starts kindergarten next year and I think we will be able to walk a lot of the time, too! It will add more time to the school routine, but such well spent time, and time I have really been wanting to work in to our day anyway.

    I was excited to realize you also wrote the rest hour post last month — I am 100% in agreement with that one, too, and do it similarly here!

    • MrsH / Nov 11 2010 10:14 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Kirstin! I love your blog and currently have your Grammie’s oatmeal bread in my bread machine! Walking to school has been SO fabulous! Even when we’ve had a rough morning, it somehow gets all the bad energy out and we’re all laughing and better again by the time we get there. You’re right, it adds to the morning routine but is time so well spent, I find it truly has exponential benefits. Enjoy the walks next year! And I hope you find something that works for you in the meantime.

  13. Lauren @ Hobo Mama / Nov 13 2010 12:14 am

    Such a helpful and practical post! Since we try to work from home, I have to admit Mikko gets more screen time than I feel comfortable with. I do appreciate how much more creatively he plays when there’s a lull in his TV watching, so we’re trying to encourage that. I think your willingness to be with your children and be interrupted is really the key there; it’s when I’m feeling overwhelmed with that task that the TV goes on. I like your idea of having playtime immediately after school and walking to school — great idea to have active transitions that ease kids from one thing into another. I’ll think about how I can adopt that.

    I will add one tip for greater connecting during TV: Since I do like watching TV myself, and don’t want to demonize it for my kids, one thing I do enjoy is watching some of it with Mikko; that way, we can talk about and share what we’re watching, so it’s more of a communal activity. He likes that I’m enjoying what he likes, and he’ll talk to me happily through the whole show about what he’s seeing and what he finds curious or funny instead of sitting passively. That, too, of course, requires not treating TV as a babysitter but interacting, so I’m not always willing, but I think we have some good moments when I am.

    • MrsH / Nov 13 2010 11:36 am

      Aww that’s so cute that he spends the entire time telling you what he sees! When I do join my kids they have kind of a “just be quiet, mom” attitude! Love your idea though, it definitely seems like it’d encourage tv as a more communal and interactive thing, which is how I watch it with my husband as well (Amazing Race, anyone?)


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