All the best solutions are simple. That seems to be a universal law. But simple does not mean easy. So it goes with limiting your kids’ screen time. The answer to the problem is so simple it’s already present in the phrase ‘screen time’. If you want your kids to be away from screens more you have to give them more of your time. So you see, simple but not easy.
This doesn’t mean to say you have to spend the entire two hours you let them watch a Netflix movie in their company. After all, I’m assuming there was a good reason you allocated that screen time in the first place – i.e. you’ve got stuff to do. And having a four-year-old using you as their own personal climbing frame makes catching up on that stuff close to impossible.
But you might need to spend a bit of time setting them up with a creative project like painting or crafting or building something from Lego. You might also have to accept that you’re more liable to be interrupted.
But it’ll be worth it in the long-term, and in the short-term. Because, I don’t know about you, but it’s really clear to me what the impact is when I’ve let my daughter watch too much TV (and it happens – I’m no saint in this regard, I promise you.) There’s a marked decline in her ability to regulate her emotions and her interest in external reality drops. All she wants to do is get back to her ‘filmy’.
A mom’s solution to too much phone time
Thankfully she’s still too young for the online world. That’s a whole other set of problems we’ll have to deal with further down the line. But I did read about a really interesting parenting solution for getting kids to take screen time seriously. Whenever her kids want to download an app this mom actually insists they write her a one-page report on who founded the app, their business model and – most importantly – how they benefit from you using it.
This is a brilliant way of making kids wise to the fact that many apps have a financial incentive in getting you addicted to them. This is the same for a lot of the kids TV, much of which is like the visual equivalent of a sugar bomb and leaves my daughter with a similar sort of artificial high.
Our favorite movies
There are some notable exceptions of course. Some kids’ movies are genuinely soulful, real works of art. Here are three suggestions if you’ve not already seen them:
Song of the Sea – I can’t tell you how incredible this film is. It tells the story of a sister and brother in Ireland who live with their father, the lighthouse keeper on a remote island. It’s about grief, Irish myth and the healing power of art. I was in bits at the end 🙂
Spirited Away – There are so many amazing anime films put out by Studio Ghibli. This is the first one I saw and remains my favorite. It’s so imaginatively rich and while the adventure at the heart of it is wild and exciting, nothing about it feels contrived or manipulative. I’ve not watched it with my 4-year-old yet because I think parts of it would be a little scary for her. Better-suited to a slightly older audience.
The Snowman – This is one from my own childhood. Like a lot of my favorite children’s art there is a note of melancholy in this beautiful, haunting animation that follows a boy’s relationship with a snowman that magically comes to life. It’s only 30 minutes long, with no dialogue but a gorgeous soundtrack and – best of all – you can watch it for free on YouTube (with an intro by David Bowie no less).