Screen Time for Toddlers: Why We Keep Our Little Guy Away

Before our son was born, my wife and I agreed that we would keep him away from screens for as long as possible, mostly because this is what’s recommended by the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP). Their guideline is clear enough:

“For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.”

This is mostly what we’ve done, except we don’t turn the TV on at all for our little guy. We FaceTime with out-of-state family members, but he’s almost two years old now, and we still don’t let him touch our phones otherwise. We don’t allow him to watch TV, either.

The thing is, saying that we “don’t allow him” to do these things almost makes what we’re doing seem punitive, as if we’re taking something away from him. Instead, it has felt like a gift to him and to us.

And I promise we’re not judgy about parents who choose to have their kids watch TV and play with iPhones. There are plenty of good ways to monitor that use of it so that it can be educational. It’s just that, for us, the benefits of our decision seem to be endless, and I’ll explain a few of them.

Here are three reasons why we keep our toddler away from screens:

(1) You’re encouraged to spend quality time with each other. For the record, I absolutely think it’s possible to enjoy others’ company while watching TV or a movie. It’s a shared experience.

I’m not sure it’s possible to enjoy others’ company if the parts involved are using their phones. Definitely NOT a shared experience. Nonetheless, when TV and phones aren’t options for entertainment, a kid is much more likely to explore their world — the real world that’s all around them.

We go for walks together. We wrestle on the floor. We chase the dog in the backyard. It’s all so much more physical, and it allows us to have many of those small-yet-profound moments that are often the highlights of our days.

You know what I’m talking about — those brief moments of love and connection during which you realize you are doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, and the world is indeed a beautiful place.

Photo by Clement Chai on Unsplash

Photo by Clement Chai on Unsplash

(2) You get outside. Full disclosure: we have a dog, and a dog gives you a heck of a good reason to get outside more often than you would otherwise. And it’s not that my wife and I wouldn’t want to be outside as often as we can, even in the New England winter. (Otherwise we would both go crazy.)

But when screen time isn’t a thing in the home, you’re naturally more inclined to get outside for a change of scenery. And the natural world is endlessly fascinating to kids.

It can be fascinating for parents, too. Maybe for the first time since they were kids. In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv puts it this way:

“If getting our kids out into nature is a search for perfection, or is one more chore, then the belief in perfection and the chore defeats the joy. It’s a good thing to learn more about nature in order to share this knowledge with children; it’s even better if the adult and child learn about nature together. And it’s a lot more fun.”

(3) You notice the small stuff in life. In his world without screens, our son gets more time sitting on our lap for story time, jumping in puddles outside, and searching for the moon through the window. All the normal, everyday stuff that actually helps kids’ brains develop the way the way they’re supposed to.

In an article on HealthyChildren.org, Dr. David L. Hill says that “[toddlers] are . . . learning to pay attention for prolonged periods, and toddlers who watch more TV are more likely to have problems paying attention at age 7.”

The crazy thing is that you start to pay more attention, too. Your kid will see and hear things that you’ve stopped seeing and hearing. Our son is absolutely fascinated by airplanes. He hears them before we do, and he sees them before we do.

His little body is attuned to the world in such a way that all stimuli is new, and there’s something magical, and contagious, about this. You find yourself slowing down to appreciate the airplanes, too. You think to yourself for the first time in a long time: Oh, airplanes are amazing.

And so is that sky.

And so are those trees.

In this way, the world becomes something to delight in, and suddenly the last thing you want is for something like a screen to conceal it.