Zero Screen Time on our 2,551 Mile Summer Road Trip

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What would you say if I told you that I took my 7 and 9-year-old children on a road trip this summer—without screen time or devices? Ah, so antiquated, so quaint! Nice for one challenge, but good luck keeping that up, right? 

It was not only a wonderful experience, but a regular one for us – and I’m betting you can do the same with your kids.

I know most of us WANT there to be less screen time with our kids, of all ages, but the pull of technology is just getting so strong, and we’re just so tired, and it’s JUST SO EASY to say yes.

But.  YOU CAN DO IT.  How? Just say no. 

Just Say No.

Say no and have the confidence to stick to it.  You know when enough is enough.  And the evidence is piling in on the negative effects of overuse of technology – just type in “screen time” and “teens” and the articles flow.

It doesn’t matter that you yourself love movies and TV.  It doesn’t matter that you indulge in word games on your phone with friends. We are adults. We have a different brain developmental status. We’ve (sort of) mastered self-discipline. 

It doesn’t matter what age the kids are.  Of course, parents have a huge advantage in limiting screen time if their children are under 2 years old and therefore haven’t begun.  Since 1999, pediatricians have advised no screen time for kids under two, not including short interactive video chats (so glad that docs agree that keeping peace with the in-laws tops any negative behavioral effects from screens!). Even if your children are older and have been watching and playing on devices for a few years now, you can still JUST SAY NO. And the change will be VERY worth it for their long-term health and behavior.

Yes, my kids enjoy long car rides without entertainment from movies or games.  They relish days playing at home, with each other, alone, or with friends, without watching or playing on a screen.  We even made it through those early years in restaurants or airplanes without the need for such devices. 

Yes, you could call me fortunate. And I am. My kids are engaged, curious, calm, and independent. 

But, so are many other kids.  Many. In fact, I have friends with more active kids who have had the same success with limited screen time. Your kids can, too!

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Know that it won’t always be easy.

The young ones will cry that first six months or so when you say it’s time to turn it off.  They will get mad when you take the iPad away. You will have to check your texts in secret for many months.  And you will be tempted to let go of your limitations.

When you are tired, or want to cook in peace, or you think they are bored, or need to calm down, you will be even more tempted to let go of your limitations. 

The older ones surely will complain about you and your rules when you instill more limitations that weren’t previously there. I’m betting they will act out for a while during their transition to less screen time.

But. I’m hoping to give you the strength at these moments to resist.  Just say no.  More screen time is not an option. Yes, our culture makes technology a big option for our children.  But if you don’t believe in that option, stick to your guns.

Think of how strongly you stick to your guns on other issues. Whether it is limiting their sugar, or requiring nonviolent play, or adhering to a nap schedule.  Foster that same confidence in saying no to screens as well. And watch how easy it will become – especially once you get over the initial hump of breaking the screen habit.

Make your screen time limitations, and stick to them. 

Feel free to look at my full scren time limitations here. Be sure your other caregivers, including your partner and parents, understand and respect your screen time limitations and therefore support them.  And at your weakest moments, remember that you don’t need to give in.

I found the toughest time was when my children were around 3 years old. That’s when I introduced them to three reasons why we can’t watch as many shows as we want. 

  1. It hurts our bodies, sitting in this stuck position for so long.

  2. It hurts our eyes, staring at screens so long.

  3. It hurts our brains, having something else thinking for us for so long.

We would act out and laugh about the blobs we would be if we sat there staring for so long. Soon after, they were sharing these reasons with their friends, and they felt good about it, as most preschoolers do about rules they believe in. And… wow, to hear them share… that made my heart glad. And it empowered them over time to be able to say NO themselves when their show was over. I am certain it helps fuel their self-discipline as they get older.  When special events like the Olympics came along, we were able to be flexible with our limits in moderation.  Once again, I was honored that they were not gluttonous but preferred balance.

Finding ways to enjoy time together, but challenge and entertain our kids is doable without screens. YES, all those basics things like books, puzzles, art, games, and activity books are stellar.  If you want more creative ideas, they are easy to find on the blogosphere, like this fun page or this one. You don’t need a list of ideas though. Just remember what we did in childhood before such a strong prevalence of screens. 

Also, it’s ok to be bored without screen time.

We should feel encouraged and empowered to resist screen time.  It’s more than ok to be bored. It is so helpful and healthy–so much so that I think I will write a different post on the benefits of boredom and unstructured play. Stay tuned!

Any questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave them below.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this! We don’t do screen time for our three year old either. He’s seen parts of shows with cousins and at the hair cut place, but doesn’t mind them being cut short and doesn’t mind hearing “no” when he asks whether we can watch at home. We did a little World Cup soccer, we face time with relatives, and we have begun to introduce a “rainy weekend loophole” with an episode of Daniel Tiger here or there, but I’m sure that he is benefitting from exploring his world without screens (and he much prefers rainy weekend play doh with his dad).

  2. I resonate with this so much. My kids are almost 3 and almost 6, and we don’t do screens or devices of any kind either. It’s refreshing, freeing, and calming. Once that initial “no” is there, it’s so much easier to keep saying it. Thank you for your perspective and validation that this will work for us in the long run.

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