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How Much Screen Time Should My Child Get?

This is a reflection piece after attending a 1.5h live event hosted by Jeanne-Marie Paynel (Your Parenting Mentor) and Simone Davies (writer of The Montessori Notebook). They are both the hosts of The Montessori Show.

Greatest Takeaways:
  • Should you need to use screen time to give yourself a break, make an effort to watch videos together and explain what the character is doing/feeling
  • Starting from 8-10 years old, you can encourage healthy habits and limit screen activities
  • Think out of the box, without the use of screens, to teach and introduce new concepts e.g. swimming to your child
  • Model appropriate usage of screen time in front of your child 
  • It’s never too late to undo screen time!
1

What Is the Montessori Approach?

Montessori Approach

After reading The Montessori Toddler book by Simone Davies, I fell in love with the Montessori Approach and here’s what I gathered, which I hope can be useful for you. 

In Montessori education, children are in charge of their own learning, and they are supported by the adults and the environment. This dynamic relationship allows the children to learn at their own pace, and meet their own needs. Dr. Maria Montessori states that the objective of Montessori education is “not to fill a child with facts, but to cultivate their own natural desire to learn”. 

We all believe that children have an intrinsic motivation to learn and these discoveries that they make for themselves occur within a prepared environment.

The Montessori approach believes in hands-on concrete learning – they should make discoveries for themselves, with their hands. We should involve our children in our everyday lives – cooking in the kitchen, helping with household chores, etc.

toddler helping out in a kitchen

Children are given the right amount of freedom and autonomy to choose, and also are given limits and boundaries that keep them safe. For example in schools, children can move around in the classroom (freedom) as long as they respect and not disturb others (limits). At home, children can wear anything they like (freedom), as long as it is suitable for the season (limit). 

Through the Montessori Approach, children learn to be independent quickly. Children are naturally keen to do more, contribute more, and be able to help out at home. Through independence, the child learns how to be responsible for themselves, others, and the environment. 

2

My Background

Who Am I

I’m Serene, a mother of one 2-year-old daughter (as of Nov 2022!). 
I’m an elementary school teacher teaching children between 7 to 12 years old. As I am aware of the detrimental effects screen time can have on babies and children, I do not allow my daughter to have mindless screen time. Yes, she does catch glimpses of screen time here and there but I do not allow her to watch them at home.

After reading The Montessori Toddler, I followed @themontessorinotebook on Instagram and knew I had to join this live event held together with Jeanne-Marie @jeannemariepaynel

This online event talks about the montessori approach when it comes to screen time. 

After attending the 1.5h event, I felt reassured with my own decision to not let my daughter have screen time, and am so inspired to keep things this way till she’s older. I’ve learnt so much in this 1.5h that I feel the need to share my learnings with you too. 

Whether or not you give your child screen time, it’s really up to you. However, I’d like to tell you that it’s never too late to reduce the screen time if you feel convinced after reading this article. You can do this, mama!

3

Effects of Screen Time

Screen Time
Young boy watching videos on a laptop

Research has shown that screens can be a form of addiction, and it is clear that screen-addicted brains look a lot like drug-addicted brains in mice. There may be crucial windows early in life where addiction can occur – especially so for children under two years old. 

Hence, the general guideline is to limit screen time for children under 2 years of age. 

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, they recommend this as a guideline:

  • Under 18 months: limit screen use to interactive video chatting
  • Between 18 months – 24 months: limit watching educational shows with a caregiver
  • Between 2-5 years old: limit non-educational screen time to about 1h per weekday, 3 hours during the weekends 
  • From 6 years old onwards: encourage healthy habits and limit activities that include screens 
  • Turn off all screens during meals and outings

According to The Montessori Notebook, children under 6 years old experience things through their senses. We should give these young children real hands-on experiences for them to explore the world and discover things around them. They recommend only introducing screen time only when your child is around 8-10 years old. 

I don’t deny that screen time is everywhere. When your child visits your relative’s place, or your friend’s place, there is a high chance that some form of cartoon is playing on the screen. There is then the pressure to bring screen time into your house because your child may start asking for it.

Parents need to fight this pressure! There is no need to introduce screen time at home just because someone else is doing so.

Jeanne-Marie and Simone Davies

If your child feels it’s unfair that they do not get to watch it at home, we can explain to them about how we choose to parent differently, and how we choose to spend our time and money. We may not get to watch shows on the TV all the time, but we do get to travel, and go out to have fun. These experiences may not be something that your friend or relative might have done.

Pictures of father and baby girl riding a bicycle
4

Why Is Screen Time So Enticing? 

Why People Consider Screen Time

Why do parents still introduce screen time despite knowing its detrimental effects? Parents introduce screen time to:

  • Teach children certain things. For example, a parent may want to teach a child about how the camera works
  • Prepare children for upcoming activities. For example, a parent may want to use swimming videos to prepare the child for an upcoming swim class
  • Take a break or do something else e.g. cooking

How to avoid screen time

As enticing as it sounds to use screen time to give yourself a break, or to use it to teach certain concepts, the professionals encourage you to think out of the box. 

Instead of using a video to show how a camera works, we could buy a child a simple camera to teach them how to look through the viewfinder, how to take a picture, how it looks after it’s developed and even create a scrapbook together! 

Instead of showing videos on swimming to prepare a child mentally for a swim class, the parent could bring the child to a swimming pool to get him/her to feel what it’s like. Also, we could borrow books on swimming to prepare them too. However, I’m sure we are not able to find books on everything we want to teach our children, so we could possibly print resources out and create our own books.

Pictures of a young girl happily playing outdoors

In a nutshell, parents should bring children out more often for real life experiences and tap on their inquisitive minds. We should think about how we can tap on their interests and let them explore and grow to their potential. 

5

What if You Really Need to Use Screen Time

The Need for Screen Time

I don’t deny that there were times I was tempted to use screen time to buy myself some time to take a rest or do something else. I’m sure as working parents, there are times when you just can’t find the mental capacity to deal with your children after work.

If there is really a need to use screen time, always choose:

  • Slow paced videos
  • Realistic videos for e.g. shows on Animal Planet or National Geographic 

During these screen times, make an effort to watch the video together – talk about what the characters are doing, how they are feeling and what they may be doing next. Screen time should be an interactive discourse. 

How to Undo Screen Time

You may have already been giving your child unsupervised screen time and you feel like undoing it, but it seems impossible? The professionals beg to differ – there is intervention that you can do!

Reduce screen time a little every day until there is nothing. Try planning outings so that we aren’t dependent on screen time at home. Screen time tends to come with a certain routine for e.g. when they come home from school etc. Hence, we need to observe what kind of routines we are setting up our child for screen time. Try eliminating screen time altogether before 2 years of age.

Jeanne-Marie and Simone Davies

If your child is pushing boundaries to watch TV and throwing tantrums, that means they aren’t ready to regulate their emotions yet. We need to use compassion and empathy for a child, who is having a hard time trying to let go of screen time. 

Role-Modelling for Your Child

Children model after us, so we need to relook at how we are using technology. Do we find ourselves mindlessly scrolling? Or are we constantly checking our phones at the dining table? 

Do what you preach – model the way you want your child to act. We should use our phones purposefully and verbalise to our children why we are using our phones. For example, we should tell our children why we are using our phones – maybe because we are calling daddy to inform him about dinner. 

It is important that they do not see you scrolling your phone mindlessly (I’m so guilty of that because I do this whenever my child is playing independently). After today, I am definitely not doing that anymore!

Something I took away from the online event was to keep my phone away, e.g. in a cupboard, so that we aren’t distracted by the notifications and we can be fully present with our children. 

6

Now Your Child Is Old Enough for Screen Time

Screen Time Guideline
Girl sitting on a chair watching a video on the computer monitor

This is the general guideline the professionals have for screen time for older children:

  • Set up an agreement and be consistent
  • Look for engaging ways to use technology: making films, watching well-produced educational videos 
  • Keep screens in common areas where parents can supervise what they are doing 

As they grow older, they will take more responsibility in different aspects of their lives, including screen use. We should be there to step in when necessary and if they need some limits. 

To balance off screen time, we should give them lots of opportunities to head out to experience  the world, and for more concrete learning experiences. 

7

What I Feel About Screen Time

Concluding Thoughts

Every family is different. We cope differently. There is no judgement when screen time is being used. It is just my personal take to limit my own child’s screen time. My environment and situation are also in favour of this arrangement as well. 

I do understand the struggle with limiting screen time because sometimes they are just so effective aren’t they? They allow you to do something your child hates – cutting fingernails, cutting hair, and even eating!

You do you, mama! I just hope that you will think twice about offering that iPad or that phone the next time you feel the urge to do so. It’s also never too late to undo screen time, you can do this!

8

Frequently Asked Questions About Screen Time

FAQ

If you have any questions about screen time, feel free to leave a comment below.

How will my child learn about technology if they don’t have screen time?

Our digital landscape keeps changing. There’s no need to worry. When the time comes, our child will figure it out. Don’t let the pressure get to you.

Disclaimer: Nuevamae is not sponsored by any of the mentioned brands or platforms. This article expresses our honest opinion based on our experience and research. Read more about our mission. This article includes affiliate links so we may earn a commission (at no additional cost to you) if you make a purchase via the link.

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