We can't ignore the fact that we are surrounded by media. However, our family has made the conscious decision to minimize media use as much as possible. The outcome? We have an abundance of play time with our children and we have realized that there are many ways around resorting to media for entertainment, distractions, games etc. Here are some rules in our household and some ideas to help you minimize media usage in your home.
Our house rules:
1) No media before the age of 2.
The only form of media our children have see before the age of 2 is FaceTime. With our first born, she watched her first online video around 2 1/2 years old. During playtime, we would talk about animals a lot and we decided to show her videos of these animals to help her understand their habitats, the sounds they made and how they moved around. We stuck to the rule of no media before the age of 2 given that the American Association of Paediatrics recommends this based on research. The reason for this is partly because of the flashes we see when watching TV (which is over stimulating for children). Think about looking into someones living room at night while they are watching TV. All you see are flashes of colour and light. This is what children see, day or night. When monitoring a child's TV show, count how many times the image changes in a minute (each change is a flash). You want to minimize these flashes. Here is a video that explains it very well.
2) Lead by example.
We need to set an example for our children. If we are always on our cellphones or watching TV in front of them, then they will want to do the same. Our phones remain on vibrate at home and are placed on the kitchen counter. Our phones never touch the kitchen table or our bedside table. Ever. If our phone vibrates and we are playing with our children we return the call later on. This has also helped us, as adults, learn not to depend on our phones and to take the time to have a conversation with our phones away from us.
3) Supervised media usage after age 2.
When our toddler watches a video (one that we have previously watched and handpicked on Youtube) it is to learn about an animal. We sit down with her and watch it together so that we can describe what is going on and discuss it later on. It is important for us to not use media as a way to keep our children busy while we do something else.
How these rules have benefited our family:
1) Lots of playtime together.
Since the TV is never on in our house, we get lots of time to play together as a family. Also, when we are in the car, we sing songs, play "I Spy" and tell stories (The Three little Pigs and Goldilocks). Even if we are in a waiting room or at the restaurant, we are still playing. We have our busy bag with us all the time. With crayons, paper, stickers, books and a doodle board.
2) Our children are learning to entertain themselves.
When there is some downtime, our children have learned to be creative. I think it is important for children to experience boredom. This lets them use their imagination and learn to entertain themselves. Making dinner with a toddler and a baby can be challenging. As a parent, I have learned to give them activities while I prepare dinner that will keep them busy. There are still many nights where dinner doesn't get done or is burnt because the activities didn't work out, but that is ok. I love using "Invitation to play" activities or sensory bins (get more details by visiting the Curious Neuron Play Ideas page). I also learned to create safe spaces in my kitchen for my baby and toddler to explore. Lastly, I also try to include my children when I can in the process of cooking (read more here).
3) Our children are building their attention spans.
Watching TV or playing for long periods of time doesn't mean that a child has a long attention span. The brain is BEING entertained, not entertaining ITSELF. Reading a few books in a row, or sitting down to do a sensory bin activity or painting activity allows our children to entertain their brain and stay focused on an activity for long durations at a time, which in turn will help them in school.
Tips from our family
- When you are around your children, be mindful of when you use your cellphone and try not to interrupt a conversation with them during playtime.
- Keep your phone away from the dinner table.
- Keep a "busy bag" in your car. A bag with a few items that will help keep your child entertained (some items that they can use on their own and others that you can play with them).
- When you are not at home, play games such as "I Spy", memory games, "Simon Says" and so on that don't require any objects.
- Try to avoid using media in the car. This is a great time to have conversations with children of all ages.
- While preparing meals, try using a sensory bin, Invitation to Play activity or turn on the music and have a dance party! See Play Ideas page for examples.
I hope this blog post has inspired you to minimize media usage in your family as well. I would love to hear from parents to see what they do to help entertain their children in times when using media might come in handy!