My kids watch TV

And they are little. They’re both under 3.

I’m not living in a box, and I know that “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping all screens off around babies and toddlers younger than 18 months. They say a little screen time can be okay for older toddlers, and children 2 and older should get no more than an hour of screen time per day” (source).

And I do believe that TV is not great for kids. I believe that in a perfect world, kids would be screen-free.

So why do my kids watch TV?

Is it because I’m a terrible mother, not remotely invested in their well being?

Is it because I’m lazy and can’t want to interact with them (or because I need some good quality time with my phone?)

Is it because I just don’t care?

Truly – I promise you… it’s none of the above. And it’s not like I let my toddler watch tv all day, either.

My kids watch some TV because as moms, we have to prioritize – there are A LOT of things on the list of “priorities” to choose from, and you just freaking can not have it all, somethings gotta give, and that’s that.

My kids HAVE TO eat vegetables. They HAVE TO help me pick up their toys. They HAVE to say please and thank you.

But do they have to be screen-free?

Nah.

I think as long as there are a few rules around screen time, we can just relax a bit about it. Maybe the same rules will help you relax about it too!

(If you’re not interested in my rant here about WHY I don’t feel guilty about the TV, just scroll on down to the screen time rules we implement for our toddlers heading below.)

Let’s talk about our roles as mothers, in the year 2019, shall we?

Hands up – moms – if you do:

  • the household running
  • the cooking
  • the cleaning
  • the keeping everyone (mostly) happy
  • the keeping everyone alive
  • some sort of work that doesn’t include the above but contributes to your family’s financial security

I know that list APPEARS short.

But we all know what it entails.

I could have written it like this:

  • the budgeting
  • the bill paying
  • the appointment making
  • the to-appointment-running
  • the meal planning
  • the grocery shopping
  • the meal prep
  • the cleanup
  • the laundry
  • the dusting/vacuuming/mopping
  • the bathroom scrubbing
  • the organizing
  • the picking up every freaking toy 3 times per day or more
  • the child entertaining
  • the child teaching
  • the bum changing
  • the baby/kid washing
  • the putting the kid to sleep
  • the putting the baby to sleep
  • the putting the baby to sleep again
  • the giving up and sitting with the baby for 2 hours at 1 am
  • the worrying about everyone’s health
  • oh yes, and then all the work you do at that job you have
  • like meeting deadlines
  • and worrying about falling numbers
  • and also the other things that pop up day-to-day because we live in a busy, busy era
  • plus, you know, your own personal life complicating issues (mine is insomnia)

Moms, in 2019, we are BUSY.

We are TIRED.

And – I need to add – this is not to say that my husband (or yours, or anyone else’s) isn’t also busy.

My husband is not sitting on the couch as I type this.

He’s working on things on HIS list. Sure, I might do all the cooking, but he takes care of vehicles, does all the yard work, and does all the household maintenance. He also works full time and parents, just like me. He does lots of baby bum changing and putting the baby to sleep over and over again too.

He doesn’t have free time either.

So this isn’t a commentary on how women have it so hard, and men have it so easy.

(And, while I suppose it’s hard to tell, it’s also not a commentary on how awful or hard I think life is. I LOVE my life. I wouldn’t trade all the baby bum changing and child entertaining for the world.)

This is just to say that as a full-time mom with a full-time business, I have choices to make – yet neither moming nor working can fully take a back seat.

Related: How to Keep the House Clean With Small Kids
Related: 10 Ways to Simplify Mom Life

I can’t completely prioritize one over the other.

Reality, Priorities, and Compromises

The thing is just this – we are busy, and there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things we have to do. There just ARE NOT.

Maybe your list looks different than mine. Maybe you’re a single mom putting yourself through university, so you can do better for your children in the future. (Go YOU!)

Or maybe your husband ISN’T awesome. Maybe he’s lazy, and the majority of the work falls on you.

Regardless, I bet you’re NOT just sitting on the couch 8+ hours per day.

The reality is that you can’t do child entertaining and deadline-meeting (or for-exam-studying, or cleaning the toilets) simultaneously. (No really, you can’t, I’ve tried.)

Unfortunately, somethings gotta give.

Somethings. gotta. give.

As mothers, it’s up to us to decide what has to give.

And for me, what gives is this whole no screen time nonsense – and the guilt that comes along with screen time.

It’s up to us to PRIORITIZE, to the best of our abilities, all these things that we have on our plate… and then choose which compromises we must make, to make the best we can of this life. And more importantly, to do the best we can for our children.

(Yes, I will readily admit that allowing my children to watch TV under 2 years old is a CHOICE I have made – I have not been bullied into it.)

When I prioritize my to-do list, there isn’t enough room for every single high priority item to hold the few single high priority slots… and so some compromises must be made.

And so I weigh the tasks on my to-do list against one another.

What are the likely repercussions of choosing not to contribute financially to our family?

My husband would have to work more… maybe even take a second job. My kids would grow up without a ton of dad time. And I think present fathers are SO important to the overall well being of a family.

We’d be under financial strain OR my children would be under lack-of-dad-in-their-life strain. .

So not working (outside of motherhood) seems like a non-option… what about not cleaning the house?

Well, I want my kids to grow up knowing how to clean. And also, it strains my marriage when our home is filthy. Both my husband and I appreciate a clean house (and we work towards one together) and we both get touchy when it falls apart completely.

Is THAT good for kids? Thinking that an uncleaned home is normal, or not knowing how to clean a home? What about parents that fight?

None of this is good… so maybe I should just give up cooking and all that goes with it!

We can get take out. And spend a small fortune on that. Not to mention the unhealthy habits it creates, or the high-fat high-sugar diet it lends itself to.

Uggghhhhhhh.

In my mind, cooking for my family just has to remain a high priority task.

And I could go through the whole list this way…

You get it, because it’s really not that different for you. In the end, the realities of my priorities dictated that a good compromise was that my kids watch some TV, and I accept that.

So if I have to get something done – like work… or DAILY, when I have to put the baby down for a nap, for example, and I need my older kid to be sort of semi quite for 15 minutes – I put the TV on.

The screen time rules we follow for our toddlers

Now that my rant is over… let’s have a sane discussion about screen time for kids under two (or any age).

Compromising is not the same as throwing in the towel.

So yes, my kids watch TV, but I make the rules about how and when they do.

Rules are the best way to ensure that your kids have healthy screen time you can feel ok about. Here are the rules we follow and the considerations we make about toddler screen time:

1) Limited structured screen time (is not the same as endless screen time)

For one, they don’t watch ENDLESS TV.

It doesn’t run all day every day. It doesn’t turn on every time the ASK for it to turn on.

My kids also don’t have access to phones or tablets or computers… so the TV is their ONLY screen.

I make good use of their screen time. I get things DONE.

(Recently, I was discussing this screen time thing with a friend whose kids are the same age as me. She said – even back in the ’80’s, when life was “simpler”, she’d put a Disney movie on and mow the lawn. It was the only way.)

2) Monitored screen time (is not the same as free-range screen time)

I can’t come up with a good word for what it would be called when your kid is just allowed to watch ANYTHING but free-range sounded about right.

My kids are only allowed to watch the shows that I have deemed acceptable.

If we’re trying out a new show, I watch it with them, and then I make the call as to if it’s ok for my kids to be exposed to it.

Does it teach good values? Is there something in the content that might frighten them or cause them to act in a way I wouldn’t want them to act?

Then we don’t watch it, and I let their dad and grandparents know we don’t watch it as well.

3) We avoid commercials when possible

I CLEARLY remember having nightmares for years (as a kid) about a commercial I saw. It was day time, prime family-tv-viewing hours, and my mom called the network and let them know how unacceptable it was that this commercial ran long before the average kid was in bed, but that didn’t change the fact that I saw it. The damage was done.

Today things are a little better – with dedicated Kids TVstations – but I still don’t trust commercials. You can pre-watch shows all you want, but you never know what your kid might see in the commercials.

For that reason, we stick to Netflix, Amazon prime, and DVDs – and avoid commercials all together when possible.

4) We talk about the shows they watch (and don’t allow the TV to be their only teacher)

I really think the major damage done by TV comes from parents stepping OUT as the TV steps in.

This article would agree – they state: The problem lies not only with what toddlers are doing while they’re watching TV; it’s what they aren’t doing. Specifically, children are programmed to learn from interacting with other people. The dance of facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language between a toddler and parent is not only beautiful, it’s so complex that researchers have to record these interactions on video and slow them down just to see everything that’s going on. Whenever one party in this dance, child or parent, is watching TV, the exchange comes to a halt.

If we continue to actively parent, to work on language skills, to have conversations with our children, if we take intentional time teaching them… we can help to negate the damaging effects of watching TV.

The idea that a child has to be interacting with other people 100% of the day to grow up healthy is utterly ridiculous, not to mention basically impossible to do.

I’m quite confident that in the crazy-busy era of 2019, we – if we are intentional – should be able to interact with our children MORE than our ancestors were ever able to.

5) We try not to start or end our day with screen time

I said TRY.

I do find my kids are better behaved and ask for the TV less when our day doesn’t start with TV. (My sister tells me she sees the same trend.)

Since the TV can be stimulating (blue light blah blah I know), we do turn off the kids shows a while before bedtime when possible. (We end our day pretty late. My two year old goes to bed at 10 pm.)

As long as I remain the boss of TV time, and remain intentional about quality one-on-one time with my children, I believe they will be fine.

Ultimately I have to ask myself:

Is it better for my children for me to put them in daycare, or for me to NOT contribute financially at all, or for me to let the house fall apart, or for me to stop cooking nutritious meals… than to just let them watch a little TV now and then?

To me, the answer seems obvious.

(Plus, my mom assures me I watched TV growing up, and I’m doing ok 😉)

Do your kids watch TV? If you work from home and they don’t… HOW do you do that?!

screen time for toddlers