This post contains affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. For more information, please read my disclaimer here.
In this high-tech, fast paced world, our family is making a radical move… we’re deliberately going LOW-tech. I’ve always dreamed of a simple, classical childhood for my children. I want them to read books, play outside, explore, go on adventures, build forts, color, and build. And I want them to want to do these things. Not to do them as a way to pass the time before I allow them to watch yet another TV show.
Technology is increasing much faster than research and studies can determine what is actually best for children’s developing brains. The American Academy of Pediatrics already recommends no screen time for children under 2 years, and a 1 hour limit per day of high-quality programs for 2-5 year olds. I always wonder if that limit will become more stringent as time goes on and we can really see the effects of technology over time.
Raising a low-media child is a major challenge in today’s world; one that requires a true desire and a commitment to a simpler way of living. Children are naturally inquisitive, capable, creative, and adaptable, but too much technology stunts these traits and creates an addiction. You know exactly what I’m talking about…the kids who have their phones glued to their hands who won’t engage with the actual human world.
I want to preface this post by saying that while we do limit technology for our children, we are still an average family. We know that technology is an important part of the world and will eventually give our kids access to it (slowly, as we see fit). But until then we are committed to giving our kids a simple childhood filled with nature, lots of experiences, and even boredom (see below!). Here are 7 practical ways you can raise a low media child:
Out of sight, out of mind
One of the best things you can do if you are seriously committed to raising a low-media child is to get as many electronics as you can out of sight! Out of sight, out of mind. Several years back we took the TV out of our living room, and it made such a positive difference in our home. The constant whining for television shows and movies ended almost immediately and my son became so much more engaged with his toys.
While scary at first, it challenged me as a mom to find other ways to deal with frustrating moments. Instead of turning on a show to curb tantrums, I found other solutions that led to more long-term success. If taking electronics out of your living space isn’t an option, another good solution is to have it in a cabinet that can be closed.
Recognize the need for quiet activities
One of the biggest reasons we resort to technology is our need (and our kids’ need) for some quiet “down time.” Trust me, I’ve been there. Before we really committed to being a low-media household, I would put on the TV for my son so I could simply take a breath and sit down for a half second. Anyone who knows my son can attest to the fact that he has a TON of energy. He literally never slows down unless he’s eating or sleeping. But when we stopped using the TV as a means of getting him to sit still, we discovered that he is actually capable of many other quiet time activities!
Books on tape became a household favorite. We grabbed one of these boomboxes, got some disney books with cassette tapes on Ebay, and he was the happiest child on the earth. He also absolutely loved these books because he learned how to push the buttons to “read” them to himself. He could sit for up to an hour at a time turning the pages and listening to a book on tape. And since books on tape are excellent for pre-reading skills, it’s a win-win!
Other quiet time activities that we’ve utilized are puzzles, stickers, chalkboard drawing, lift-the-flap books, and sensory bins (we usually just put water and some animals in a bin).
When my son stopped napping we implemented a mandatory quiet time which consisted of him staying in his room with one of the activities I mentioned above. We use this alarm clock and he knows that he needs to stay in his room until his alarm clock turns green. This way he still gets the rest time that he needs to get through the day, and mama gets a break too!
Allow some boredom… at the right time
Most people know that some boredom is good for kids, because it allows room for their natural curiosity to shine. What most people don’t think of however, is that the timing of the boredom is critical.
Children have windows of time during their day when they are at their peak of curiosity, creativity, and ingenuity. They also have windows of time during their day when they are whiny, tired, hungry, or just plain old cranky. When your child is in their optimal state of learning (usually in the morning, after breakfast, or after their nap and afternoon snack) that is the best time to allow your child to get bored so that they can utilize their creativity.
When your child is in that whiny or cranky state, you need to help them select and get settled in an activity. If you try to allow boredom during this time, they will likely spiral downhill. Planning ahead with some simple go-to activities will help you resist the urge to turn on the TV or stick an electronic in your child’s hand when they get cranky.
Phones are for grown ups
You see it everywhere… little kids before they can even talk have their parent’s phone in their hand watching youtube or playing games. Not letting our kids hold our phones is something that my husband and I committed to from the very beginning. Phones are for grown ups! Think about it…we all grew up without smart phones and we were just fine. We found ways to keep ourselves busy. Remember building little houses out of the sugar packets at restaurants? Kids are still capable of that!
The most tempting time to hand a child your phone for entertainment purposes is when you are out and about and need a quick distraction. Pack your diaper bag with other distractors (we use snacks, magnet pads, reusable sticker books and small figurines) that you can pull out when your child needs something to keep his or her hands busy.
Note: If you start implementing the “phones are for grown ups” rule, expect a few rough outings as your child adjusts to not having it as an option. But don’t worry…if you stay consistent, your child will eventually stop asking and it will get easier. I promise!
Own less technology
If you own 3 tablets, 2 video game systems, 4 TVs and 3 computers in your home, no wonder it’s difficult to cut back on screen time! It’s too hard to avoid the temptation of using those electronics when they are so readily available. Simply having less technology is an easy way to naturally reduce screen time in your home.
In our home we have one TV and one laptop, and that’s it. No tablets, no video games, no other fancy gadgets.
The beauty of having less electronics is that it forces your family to share and make decisions together. If there’s only one TV in the house, then only one show can be watched at time, which requires teamwork. You have to decide as a family what you are going to watch and you have to watch it together. No more of each family member watching a different show in different rooms.
It requires sacrifice, planning, and cooperation. It may take some getting used to, but I promise that your children will learn to adapt. Some of my most favorite memories as a child was watching disney movies on VHS with my brother on a teeny tiny television screen.
If you decide as a family to cut back on electronics, explain to your children why you are doing it and what you hope to accomplish. Even if they can’t see or express it in the moment, your children will ultimately be grateful for the increased family time that comes from having less technology in the home.
Set a good example
It is so important to set a good example when it comes to media usage for our kids. How can we expect them to understand the value of being present in the moment if we are constantly on our phones in front of them? As best you can, try to avoid being on your phone when you are spending time with your kids. Being fully present for your children communicates that they are important and worthy of your time and attention.
Decide on your limits, and stick to it
As a family, decide when and what kind of technology is allowed and stick to your plan. Since we don’t have cable, my son basically only watches movies or the occasional Netflix show. We totally avoid screen time during the week, and allow one movie on Friday night. If we aren’t busy during the weekend we may also allow one movie on Sunday afternoon. This is what works for us, but find what works for your family!