My house has been radically transformed over the past couple of months. Since I am one of the owners of Your Village Consulting, people naively assume I am a child development expert. I hired these experts, but I am far from one myself. My expertise is nutrition. Ask me a nutrition question and I can give you an answer. My only experience with kids is the three bundles of joy I have at home–definitely good experience, but far from a large sample pool, and I do things as a mama that I never thought I would do. My mantra the past five years has been one of survival, and you can often hear me repeating the phrase to myself and my friends “I’m doing the best I can”.
The past few weeks my husband and I decided it was time to make some serious changes when it came to how much screen time my children see daily. I wish it was an enlightening Oprah-inspired “A-HA” moment but it was much less exciting. We attended a talk by Dr Leonard Sax, author of Girls on the Edge and Boys Adrift, two books I read this past year and have been singing their praises ever since. He is a medical doctor, psychologist and PhD, and has forever altered how I will parent my sons and daughter. He traveled to Austin in February and spoke to an auditorium full of eager parents of kids of all ages.
For the record, I have a 5-year-old and 3-year-old twins, and screen time at our house refers to the TV, computer, iPad, iPhone… any and all of it and sometimes two at the same time with one child (wow that is baring it all). When I decided to add up the minutes (ahem, hours) of daily electronic usage, it was shocking. It is easy to understand how and why a parent uses it as a babysitter to settle a bored, cranky, hyper, (fill-in-the blank) child when wanting to get dinner ready, eat out at a restaurant, do errands, etc. Over the past year the increased screen time my children were subjected to was really bothering me. It has been easy to make excuses: “my husband travels during the week so I need the TV to get the dishes unloaded/breakfast made/kids dressed”, “they are tired from waking early”, “they had a really long day” etc.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children between the ages of 0-2 have ZERO screen time. The recommendation for children ages 2 and older is no more than two hours a day. The scary part is there is no distinction between a 2-year-old child and a 10-year-old child. All of my kiddos fall on the younger end of that scale in the 3-5 year-old range, so I had reason to be alarmed.
A majority of my children’s screen time is the TV. In the past we would turn it on for two, 30 minute shows back-to-back. Once in the morning and once in the evening before bed. And then sometimes in the middle of the day since my 3-year-olds stopped napping about 6 months ago. I am embarrassed as I type that, because when you add that up, that’s a lot of TV! In his books, Dr Sax addresses the modern day challenges facing parents today who are trying to raise healthy, productive little citizens. In “Boys Adrift”, he addresses video games and screen time and the effect it can have on the motivation of boys. When I heard Dr Sax was speaking in Austin I begged my husband to accompany me so we could both be on the same page with any changes we might make. Knowing my husband, it was going to be easier to get him to attend the talk than read the two books. To say the event was life changing for both of us is selling it short.
Later that week, Your Village Consulting held a workshop on Screen Time led by our wonderful child development expert Dawn Herman. While Dr Sax addressed why it was important to limit screen time for all children, Dawn addressed how to make this happen realistically. Yes, I attended the workshop as a business owner, but even more so I was there as a participant. In fact, I had asked Dawn to develop this workshop before his talk last year because of my increased concern about our screen time after reading his books.
Dr Sax spoke on a Monday evening and the following Tuesday we cut our TV time in half, with my husband’s enthusiastic support. We have also completely eliminated the iPad and iPhone. They watch one show in the morning, one during rest time in the afternoon, and one after bath, and then the TV is turned off. They used to watch their show right up until bedtime, but during this transition we have stopped TV time 30 minutes before bedtime to leave room for a family activity, since I learned TV right before bed can interrupt their sleep habits. Whether it be playing memory, Candyland or reading some of their favorite books (Curious George, There’s a Wocket in My Pocket!, and Strega Nona are at the top of their lists currently), we find something that we can all do together.
I bet you are wondering, Was there a revolt on the home-front? Tantrums galore? Not even close. The kids have responded beautifully. We as parents are more engaged and present. My kids are not just passively zoned out but moving their bodies more, being more creative with their play, pretend, and artwork. We are having more fun and connected as a family and there is nothing in the world that truly feels better than that.
Yes, sometimes it is harder and I can’t unload the dishes or send an email when I want to… because I am busy playing and actually being present with my kids. But this has not been nearly as hard as I would have expected. When I work with nutrition clients half the battle is just taking action. Often things in our head seem more difficult than when we actually do them, and this is the case with our reduced screen time experiment. I realize we still have a long way to go, but considering our starting point, I go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning feeling better as a person, mother and human being.
Allison Reyna–Co-Founder & Nutritionist
As a mother of three young children, Allison has become humbled by the experience of raising her children in a healthy, loving environment, working in a field she loves, while also trying to maintain her sanity. She has had to rely on the expertise of professionals in her community when overcoming challenges with her children such as sleep, behavior, and potty training issues. Her experience raising her family, isolated from her own, was the impetus behind starting Cheer Up Buttercups.