Q:My husband and I are starting our family planning journey and were wondering: Are there benefits to being a TV-free household? Or is this unrealistic?
Yours is such an easy and difficult question. Easy because the answer to both questions is yes. Are there benefits to being screen free, and is it unrealistic? Yes, and yes. What is the difficult part? Raising your children in accordance to your values while dealing with the world in which they are being raised.
There are many parents who start their parenting journey making vows of all kinds—to be sweet free, never to say the word “no,” no overnights ever, not allowing commercial television, to name just a few. But being able to keep your vows as your child grows and develops his self, his individuality and his voice is a whole different story.
While our children are ours, they must become who they are. We raise them according not only to our values and beliefs but also in consideration of who each is, and what s/he, therefore, needs. Top that off with the environment outside the home in which your child is also living, you have many ingredients in the recipe for growing an adult.
The benefits to being screen-free abound. Without the pull toward screens, the child’s world is ripe for exploration. They have and take the time to interact with their environments inside and out and to explore their own interests as they blossom. They learn to entertain themselves (without a screen), and they can become truly independent.
As the prevalence and acceptance of a screen culture has expanded, so has children’s desire to play and time for play diminished. Every professional in my field is mourning the shrinkage of play time in young children’s lives. It is through play, both realistic and imaginary, that children develop, process their lives and learn. In fact, we say that play is the business of childhood.
Beckoning screens draw children away from the desire to play, from using their imaginations and creative juices, from exploration, from trial and error, and from interacting with people. And no one can question that young children’s learning is interactive. Screen watching is passive. Forget the babble about educational programing!
Social skills are an outgrowth of interacting with and connecting to people. Conflict resolution, problem solving, compromise, sharing, taking turns, leading, following … the list of social skills to be acquired by young children is endless. Sitting in front of a screen is a solitary activity. No social skill development there.
There is an addictive quality to screens and devices with buttons that make things appear on screens (phones, iPads, remote controls, etc … ). Like sugar, once tasted, the train has left the station. Screens are never forgotten!
This leads to your second question: Is having a screen-free household unrealistic? While I am sure there are those who might disagree, speaking from here in Pacific Palisades, I have to say it is not realistic. Perhaps if you were raising your children in East Overshoe, where your nearest neighbor is 50 miles away and your children attend a one-room school house with five other kids, then maybe this would not be the case. But screens are everywhere.
They are deeply imbedded in all our lives, including children’s schools from kindergarten on up. Parents use their phones to quiet their children in the grocery store, iPads to entertain them while they make dinner. They model phone use 24/7. Peers from different families have different rules about screen use. Children’s lunch table chatter is about recently viewed programs, games they have conquered. As much as I love my phone, I mourn it, too. But I do know that screens are here to stay.
Rather than removing screens from your child’s world, I think you will have greater success by considering the screen limits you will impose and enforce. At the same time, you can bend over backwards to provide your child with a life full of adventure, exploration, and interaction with things and people.
How do you do that? That’s a whole different column.
BBB is a child development and behavior specialist in Pacific Palisades. She can be reached through betsybrownbraun.com.
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