09 August 2018

Screen-Free Babyhood: The First Six Months

Before Cyrus was born, I declared to the family at large that he would be a "screen-free baby." Now, I don't even know if this is an actual term or not, but I knew what I wanted for his babyhood, and it was a life of entertainments other than backlit screens with flashing lights and sounds and colors.

I'm not anti-technology. I'm a blogger! I appreciate social media, and the potential it gives me for creative expression and staying in touch with long-distant family and friends.

But...I am a little bit anti-technology. I appreciate all of the benefits...but...I think in many instances, the plethora of screens and technology we now live with sometimes deteriorate our quality of life rather than add to it. In the smartphone epidemic, to me, I see played out some words written by C.S. Lewis in his work of genius, The Screwtape Letters. Advice from a more experienced demon to his nephew on making his human's life less than worthwhile:

"You will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday's paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but also in conversations with those he cares nothing about, on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say...'I now see that I spent most my life doing in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.”

I have many good memories of family movie nights when I was growing up, and time spent watching Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood while my mom was cooking dinner. I'm not intending on a screen-free childhood for Cyrus, but during this very early time of his life, I see no reason to start laying the groundwork for a future in which he naturally turns to any available screen at any available moment, simply because that's what is his ingrained habit.

We're nearly six months in to screen-free babyhood at this point, and I am under no illusions--I know the first six months are the easiest! But I have every intention of continuing as long as these habits are beneficial to our family life. 

What does screen-free babyhood look like?

For us, it just simply means that the baby isn't allowed to look at screens for entertainment purposes--with exceptions only for video calls with faraway family, and photo-taking. We do use Youtube for Cyrus, but not for videos, just for playing music for his daily dance-parties with Angel...and sometimes for playing hymns or classical music when I'm rocking him to sleep.

In addition, Angel and I generally stay off our computers or phones when we're taking care of him while he's awake. He often can't have our full attention, as there's lots of housework and other work and social activities that happen during his waking hours, but whenever he can have our full attention, I don't want a habit of taking care of him with one hand and checking email with the other to develop. This means that any blog post writing or photo and video editing or emailing happen while he's asleep, and times when Angel and I sit down to watch a movie at home have become rare indeed! Cyrus mainly hangs out in our main room of our home, and our computers are kept in the office, which means that we have to be more intentional with our use of computer time instead of casually turning them on whenever (this is easier for me than for Angel, haha!).

What have the results been?

Well, he's a not-quite six month old baby. I don't think there are any results at this point, but I know I sure appreciate our playtimes and watching Angel and him play. I like the family dynamic we have going--because the option of laying baby in front of a video while we busy ourselves getting something done is not an option, we have to be more creative with how we accomplish tasks, and we use available family time intentionally. One interesting comment we received when he needed to get some physiotherapy at the hospital. We got out a toy for him to watch and reach out for during the session, because this boy loves his toys, and the therapist made the comment, "Actually, that's really good that he can be entertained by a toy! Most of the babies that come in here, the parents have to get out their phone and play a video in order to calm them down and entertain them."

What makes screen-free babyhood possible?

I will admit that we have some awesome factors that were in place long before he was born, which have helped us in choosing entertainments other than screens for our little guy.

- My family is totally on board, they understand my heart behind wanting to delay the introduction of screens as fun entertainment for the baby, and completely adhere to Cyrus's rules about screens--yes for Skype calls, no for anything else. If the family does want to watch a movie together (recently they watched The Hobbit trilogy over the course of a week), various people end up taking turns with Cyrus, taking him on a walk outside or reading to him in another room...or sometimes he naps and we all watch a show together for a bit (rare, but it has happened!).

- Angel and I don't have a TV set up in our home. When we do watch a show together, we watch it on the laptop. A small screen works good for the two of us. We haven't had a TV set up since we moved overseas, sort of by accident, but at this point, we're just used to it.

- I don't watch TV alone. I initially imagined that I might want to sign up for Netflix when he was born so I'd have something to watch during long nights of taking care of baby. But I never signed up for it, because I just don't naturally want to watch TV by myself. For me, it's a social activity, which means that my late-night nursing activities have been mostly reading or....semi-sleeping. ha!


I'll write another update when we're approaching one year of Screen-Free babyhood and we'll see where we're at by then! I have some idea that when we do start incorporating videos or cartoons, I'd like to keep all of his video entertainment in Spanish since he has less exposure to Spanish in his everyday life, but we'll see if that works out. All of you experienced parents can go ahead and sigh and shake your head at the bright-eyed ideals of young parenting...but in the meantime, just let us young parents have our fun. Because it is so very much fun, isn't it? :)
Unknown said...

This is so interesting to read about! I think it's awesome that you guys are intentionally doing this. We did not do screen-free babyhood with our firstborn, but I do really limit screens during the day (he only really sees a screen if he sees me texting my husband briefly, or if we decide to upload pictures to my computer, or if we're having a dance party to music from youtube). One rare occasions if I really need a break and I'm desperate, now that he's a toddler I'll put on an episode of a show for him. But not relying on technology, and not really using much technology with our little guy (especially for the first year of his life), was really good! We've played outside loads, read tons of books, and done lots of creative play and cooking together. I also like that exposing him to less screens and technology than the average kid has meant that I'm surrounded by screens less often, which is a very good thing :)

Kay R. said...

I think this is great. I would totally be limiting the screen time of our kids when and if we have them also. At least I hope to. PS your boy is really cute!

Michelle said...

We did that for Gracie’s first year too. I did watch some shows while I nursed, but it’s not like she was looking at the tv or anything. We still do not allow her anywhere near tablets or phones, but she is allowed to watch some tv. I won’t lie, it’s been a lifesaver for me at times and I won’t feel guilty about it. With no family around or babysitter, and with a husband who travels and who was working extremely long hours when she was younger, sometimes it was the ONLY thing to entertain her when I was sick and unable to do anything. As a rule we keep it limited, but I’m thankful it’s there for desperate times.

Jenny Evans said...

I always read when nursing. In fact, that's basically the only time I get much reading done! That's how I keep track of the books I've read: by which kid I was nursing at the time.

The Lady Okie said...

I am a lot more anti-technology than I thought I would be, but R does watch TV sometimes. She doesn’t play with tablets or use our phones except to look at pictures of herself, which I like. My in-laws have the TV on a lot when the kids are over there, and it bothers me, but I’ve chosen to not say anything because part of me thinks, well they aren’t over there all that often, and isn’t that part of the fun of grandma’s house? But I wish she wouldn’t let J watch it since he’s so little

Rachel said...

Love it!! I can’t believe what the therapist said about kids not being entertained by toys ��
We have a similar approach, and it’s great hearing that others do, too.
We do let Zoe look at screens sometimes. Firstly, we’re away from all our family so video calls have always been allowed. And secondly, we do let her watch some kind of kids video occasionally; the aim is a maximum of 10-15 minutes a day and I’d say we stick to that really well - many days she doesn’t watch anything, and very rarely we might intentionally sit together as a family and watch 30 minutes of a family movie together.
Now that my daughter is nearly 2, I notice such a difference in her attitude when I am on my phone or the computer when she’s nearby! She gets needy, grumpy, etc, as if she knows I am not fully present!
Here in Australia I’ve seen some shopping centres provide shopping trolleys with iPads for kids to sit in and watch a show or play games etc... this horrified me! Shopping centres are full of new, interesting things for babies/kids to look at!!

Anna said...

We don't have rules about us using technology around our kids, but we don't have tablets or let either of them play games on our phones.

The current recommendation is no screen time before two, and I've actually found it really easy to stick with. We might just be lucky with kids that entertain themselves, but I think that never putting them in front of the TV as infants, and letting them play independently from the start, has made them comfortable with entertaining themselves.

That said, my toddler has definitely watched the same movie five times in one day.

Brita Long said...

I love this! My in-laws are careful about screen time for my nephews. The little one (about 10 months) probably has more screen time at his age than the older one (3 years) did because it's harder with two kids, but even then, it's just movies on the TV and phones for video-chatting.

Laura said...

I absolutely loved reading this I swear when I have a child this is exactly what I’m gonna do and it’s for six months maybe even a year I’m not sure but your post really opened up my eyes thank you so much for talking about this topic it’s so important!!! Xoxo