A couple weeks ago I got a message from a reader asking me about kids and screen time:
How much, if any, TV/iPad do you let a 4 year old watch? I have a lot of anxiety in my personality and it stresses me out if he watches an hour after school, but I also need that time to get dinner ready and care for our 15 month old. Also, he is a bear when he first comes home as he is sooo tired. Maybe I shouldn’t stress.
I started out, like most parents, telling myself (and everyone else) that my kids wouldn’t watch very much TV, if any.
Then I had kids, and of course, all that went out the window.
Then, also like most parents, I only allowed the first kid to watch Sesame Street and other shows you’d only find on PBS.
By the time we got to Number 7 she’s watching all the garbage that the ten and eleven year old like to watch. The stuff that would have made me twitch were the older kids to watch it when they were in kindergarten.
About two years ago, when the kids had Turn Off the TV Week at school, we did it. We actually turned off all the screens for the entire week.
At that point, I was feeling like the screen time was a little out of control.
The kids would be sitting on the couch, in front of the television, and half them were also on another device while watching TV.
I found it to be a little disturbing.
And what happened for me then was that I had been counting on all this technology and TV to act as a babysitter for my kids so I could get some stuff done, and it wasn’t even holding their attention anymore, and there were shows and video games and movies happening simultaneously but nobody was even paying attention to it and the kids weren’t really behaving or cooperating.
When we made the decision to turn off the TV for a week, I thought we might all kill each other.
But something interesting happened.
My kids’ behavior changed. Kind of drastically.
Once the screens were turned off, there was less fighting.
There wasn’t fighting over what shows to watch, who got to hold the remote, whose turn it was on the iPad, and who killed each other in Minecraft.
All of that was gone.
And sure, the kids still fought and bugged the crap out of each other on purpose, but for the most part, they all started cooperating much better.
They also became much more creative and proactive.
They started playing board games and “school” and with their Lego sets and Play-doh and Lincoln Logs and they started coloring and drawing more.
I know it sounds very Duggar Family of Pioneer Woman, but it’s true.
The less screen time they had, the more they did stuff together.
And the less time I was spending listening to them fight over whose turn it was on the iPad and breaking up fights over video games.
So when that Turn Off the TV week was over almost two years ago in April of 2015, we decided screen time and TV were off limits on school days.
And we have stuck to that.
Monday through Friday, the kids do not use any technology unless it’s required for school.
There was a little whining at first. But now it doesn’t even cross their minds.
We are so busy during the week that it’s not really even an issue.
So that is what we do here.
I know this doesn’t really answer your question.
My situation is different than yours.
My youngest is now five, so the kids can (in theory) occupy themselves most of the time.
I don’t have any kids trying to play in the toilet or take the knives out of the dishwasher or leap to their death from the top of the stairs.
But with a four-year-old and a fifteen month old, you are in survival mode.
So my answer to you would be you gotta do what you gotta do to make it through the day.
If that means an hour of iPad time or TV for your son to unwind and let you get some shit done when everyone first gets home, then do it.
An hour of screen time is okay with pediatricians and child psychologists, anyway.
The one suggestion I do have is that if you can find some time to do something one-on-one with your four-year-old when you get home, it might help you out with him occupying himself for a while without electronics.
And I only mention that because you said the screen time stresses you out.
Mondays are Number 7’s short day at kindergarten.
She gets home almost two hours before anyone else.
Sometimes she can be a little clingy when she first gets home.
I have found that if I do something quiet with her for about fifteen minutes, that buys me a bunch of time.
Today we played three rounds of Uno when she got home. Sometimes we read a book or two.
Every once in a while, I will break the no iPad rule for her, and let her use it for a half hour or so. We don’t tell anyone else — it’s our little secret.
But since the technology time is nonexistent during the week, when she does use it, it’s a really big treat, and I am able to get a good thirty minutes of productivity in.
So to answer your question, when Number 7 was four, she didn’t watch TV or use any electronics at all during the week.
But my situation is not the same as yours.
And I had to make some changes with what we were doing with regard to TV and screen time based on what was happening under my roof.
What happens under your roof is a whole different ball game.
So you need to go with your gut and not worry about what a doctor says or what your friends do or what I do if what you are doing is working for you.
And you need to look at your kids’ behavior.
If they are well adjusted and socially competent and polite and they don’t have a level 10 meltdown when you tell them it’s time to put the iPad away, then I don’t think you need to worry about anything at all.
In my experience, screen time with limits is beneficial for everyone.
If it starts to cause more problems than it alleviates, then it may be time to reevaluate.
Until then, take a deep breath, do your best to spend a few minutes of one-on-one time with your four-year-old every day, and then,
If you’re anything like me, you grew up watching at least an hour of television every day, and we turned out just fine.