Dear Mama Worried About Screen Time

Dear Mama,

I see you, biting your lip in worry over the newest American Academy of Pediatrics screen time guidelines. You mentally calculate how many Paw Patrol episodes your kid has watched today, trying to discern if you fit in their recommendations. It’s okay to worry; everyone does, regardless of whether or not they admit to it.

I spent years carefully limiting screen time. Then work deadlines changed, I found myself in a pinch, and honestly, I just got tired of having to say no. So for a season, I gave up on following those recommendations. Do you know what happened when watching TV was no longer a special occurrence, but instead something that was said mostly yes to?

My kids asked to watch TV less often.

They’re currently 3 and 6 years old, and we went through a season where they were definitely watching more TV. When I started saying yes more often to Puppy Dog Pals and Team Umizoomi, they binged a little. Likely, they were making up for lost time and subconsciously worried this yes phase wouldn’t last forever. But as time went by, they asked less and less.

Granted, we don’t have much in the way of live TV, just a digital antenna. So when they watch TV, they get to pick a show from the DisneyNow App or NickJr app on our AppleTV. There aren’t any ads, so that’s something to consider with how much TV they’re actually watching. We also rarely do non-TV screens, because at least they’re watching something together, talking about it with each other, and just experiencing it together. Watching together encouraged them to work things out as a team, as they had to agree to a show. We also removed YouTube as an option, because it isn’t something we can allow them to watch with minimal supervision since horrid people try and slip awful things through.

Also, basically every show is educational in some way these days. So if you’re feeling guilty about how often your kids watch TV, or for having the TV on in the background while they do puzzles or play with Play-Doh, here’s some ways in which their everyday shows are teaching them valuable things, even if they aren’t paying close attention:

  • Paw Patrol: Friendship and teamwork
  • Team Umizoomi: Shapes, patterns, team work, helping, generosity, responsibility
  • Shimmer and Shine: Friendship, honesty, creativity
  • Butterbean’s Cafe: Helpfulness, friendship, working together, cooking
  • Puppy Dog Pals: Family, being a good sibling, sticking together, creativity, treating others with kindness even when it isn’t reciprocated 
  • Fancy Nancy: I have yet to see an episode of this show that doesn’t teach something- not jumping to conclusions, following directions, being a good sibling, what to do when you’re frightened 
  • Doc McStuffins: Following your dreams, helping others, asking for help from grownups when you need it
  • The Lion Guard: Doing what’s right even when it’s hard, breaking societal expectations, rescuing those who have done you wrong, helping
  • Mickey Mouse Clubhouse/ Mickey and the Roadster Racers/Handy Helpers: Shapes, colors, patterns, working together, telling the truth, being a good friend, being helpful as best you can
  • Daniel Tiger: THIS SHOW IS BASICALLY A MIRACLE. Okay, so I’m a bit of a fan. I’ve written an entire post for KMB on how Daniel Tiger has made me a better mom, but aside from that, it also teaches kids just the most amazing things. It’s helped potty train both my boys with the potty song. Other songs I’ve heard my kids use in the appropriate situation include the angry song (When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four), Use your words song, the waiting song (When you wait, you can play, dream and imagine anything), the playing together song, the clean up song, and likely even more that I can’t recall. Each episode reinforces an idea with two storylines. No one is perfect, everyone is learning new things all the time, it’s just my favorite non-Disney thing.
  • Vampirina: Don’t judge based on looks, friendship
  • PJ Masks: Friendship, team work, helpfulness
  • Little Einsteins: Music, team work, helping others, being kind
These are just the kids shows I can think of on the top of my mind, but I can likely tell you how any kids show is helping your kid be a good person or learn something valuable. And even if it’s not, not everything has to be educational. Sometimes we just need to decompress and chill, and maybe kids need that occasionally, too.

There are going to be seasons where kids are more into TV and some where they aren’t. As long as they’re also being imaginative, playing, and being their normal tiny dictator selves, maybe we shouldn’t worry quite as much (even though its normal if you do so don’t feel badly about it!). I, for one, find myself worrying less and being much happier being able to say yes more often in this area.

Do you worry about screen time?

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