As we celebrate Safer Internet Day on Tuesday, Feb. 7, we take a look at screen time of all kinds—and how reduced screen time is beneficial to our kids. But committing to time away from the screen is easier said than done for busy families.
We have all been there. It’s 5:30pm. You have just gotten home from work and the clock is ticking down to a 7 o’clock bedtime; time to get dinner on the table, a load of laundry into the washer, lunches prepped and that one last e-mail fired off to your boss. Meanwhile, your partner is stuck in traffic, your
18-month-old is in a climbing phase and your 3-year-old has come down with a case of “boredom,” which they claim can only be cured by playing Sneaky Snacky Squirrel with you right now.
Perhaps you have seen the research: too much screen time may be linked to childhood obesity, sleep problems, cognitive and social delays, even reduced empathy. Beyond that, Waldorf educators, who follow the teachings of Rudolf Steiner to encourage experiential learning and creative thinking, have additional reasons to proceed with caution in regards to screens.
They harbor concerns for their detrimental impact on children’s developing capacity for creative thinking. While watching a screen, children simply don’t have the opportunity to create images using their imagination. This may hinder important aspects of brain development. And yet, there are many times in our busy caregiving lives when a show really does seem like the only solution. Yes, we’ve all been there!
Families with children at the Waldorf School of Baltimore, a famously slow- to no-tech educational philosophy, know this struggle well. So how do they do it?
Read on, and take heart: We asked ten seasoned Waldorf parents to share what has most helped them quell the media monster in their own homes.
Make Boredom Your Buddy
Children don’t need rescuing from their boredom. Boredom can lead to a wellspring of creativity. Parents, you are not responsible for entertaining your children; time for self-directed play is invaluable.
“When my kids said, “I’m bored,” I would tell them, “You’re either tired or you will come up with something creative to do soon.” I might leave out a roll of duct tape and a pair of scissors near the recycling bin. An hour later, I would find an elaborate creation or a napping child. As they say, “Boredom is the mother of invention.”
Have Audio in Your Back Pocket
For sick days, long car rides or moments when you just need a quick “me” break, audio books and podcasts are great options for some families. Listening to a book is not cheating!
“Library Playaways have been a game changer in our family. My kids (6, 9, 11) listened to books in the car all the way to New Mexico and back over spring break, and to Maine and back this summer.”
“As parents of two preschoolers, we find Sparkle Stories and We Nurture provide excellent free resources for great, engaging, developmentally-appropriate stories that hold our children’s interest.”
While the modern mindset tends to associate house work with something unpleasant, young children disagree. Even small tasks, like setting the placemats on the table or sweeping alongside you, can give kids a sense of connection, competence, and contribution to the household.
“Allowing my children (2, 6) to join in with dinner prep, taking charge of a kid-friendly cooking task or washing dishes in warm soapy water, has been a joy and seems to really build their self-esteem. There is a whole lot less complaining before supper when we all work together.”
Rely on Routine
When children know what to expect each day, they know equally what not to expect—and that includes screen time.
“We have Friday family movie night, and the house rule is that they only watch something on the weekend. That way, they don’t even ask during the week.”
Decenter the Screen
Starting at a young age, avoid giving your TV prime real estate in your home. Keeping the screen temptation at bay may be as easy as moving the TV to a less central room of the house….but of course not their bedrooms.
“When it comes to TV, ‘out of sight, out of mind’ has ruled the day for us. We made the decision early on to pack away the TV for a few years when my children were toddlers and suddenly became fascinated by the remote, and as a result have never found ourselves depending upon it.”
Model, Model, Model
Children learn through imitation. We must examine our own relationship with screens (phones!) and consciously model the behavior we wish to see.
“When I saw the paper phones or computers emerge in creative play, I knew I needed to dial back my use in front of my children. One of my favorite lessons from Kim John Payne, author of my favorite parenting book, “Simplicity Parenting,” is to put your coat and shoes on first, and then the child will likely follow in imitation.”
Normalize Rest and Quiet Pauses
In our chatter-filled world, many of us have forgotten the fine art of sitting comfortably in quiet with our thoughts. Not every silence needs to be filled.
“We have the quote “Don’t just do something, sit there,” coined by mindfulness/mediation expert Sylvia Boorstein, taped to our fridge like a family motto. It’s as much a reminder for me as much as for my children.”
Creative play often means messy play. Loosen your reins on keeping a spotless house for the time being and rejoice in the creative free play that children undoubtedly need and desire.
“Our house embodies periods of creative mess. While it’s true I may be inwardly cringing at the couch cushions strewn throughout the living room, the pencil shavings all over the kitchen table or the sound of the LEGO box being dumped upside down, I also notice these are the times when my children are most thoroughly engrossed in the type of imaginative play so vital for their growth and development. We can always clean up later”.
Lean on the Library
Children’s creative free play time is all too easily hijacked by TV/movie characters and images. Media-exposed children find it harder to develop their own creative worlds of fantasy and adventure. Building their own story lines free from media images and plots (often with gender and cultural stereotypes!) helps form foundations for lifelong learning and problem solving. While many Waldorf parents prefer to sidestep characters with a fixed storyline altogether, others find a middle ground in books.
“Reading the occasional Paw Patrol, Disney Princess or Pokémon story at the library has helped our screen-free children more easily join in with peers at our neighborhood playground.”
Make it Fun
The 1000 Hours Outside Movement, created by parent and Ph.D. Ginny Yurich, is a new and notable way to attempt to match nature time with screen time. For kids and caregivers with a competitive streak, meeting your daily quota can prove just the thing to opting nature over Nick Jr.
“Last year we took the 1000 Hours Outside challenge, committing to spending an average of 2.7 hours outside every day of the year. Creating a family culture around prioritizing nature by tracking our adventure time together dramatically reduced the urge to turn to screen-powered stimulation. The kids take pride in filling in their hours each day, and I love all the memories we have made along the way.”
Give Yourself Grace
The world over, it’s been another hard year. Many have come to depend on devices in a way that we wouldn’t have just three short years ago. Approach screen time with your family values in mind, and go easy on yourself.
“For the times we welcome screen time, for a movie night or other planned time, Common Sense Media has been a great tool for helping decide which media I allow my children access to. Their rating systems allow me to double check that the pacing is gentle and the characters are kind (values of ours). On the other hand, when I turn to TV out of desperation, I’ll simply stick to media I am already familiar with, and set a timer.”
Morrow is the outreach and marketing director for the Waldorf School of Baltimore.