Motherhood introduced me into a new world. After natural childbirth, it was a logical progression to learn about breastfeeding, cosleeping, cloth diapers, and then Elimination communication. More recently our diet includes a greater variety of organic foods. It's something that is important to my husband and I. We know it's rubbing off on our kids because our daughter will now ask "is this organic?" about new foods.
So how do all of these practices and beliefs mesh with having no limits on our kids' screen time? The two don't seem to jive together at all! Believe me, there are plenty of times when I feel like we don't really "fit-in" anywhere, so I understand why there may be confusion!
To be honest, when my daughter was little I was on the "limit screen time" bandwagon. Then I found unschooling and it rocked my world - literally turning a lot of things I thought I "knew" upside down. Since my daughter was about 2 years old we have pretty much let her decide what she wants to watch/play and when. I know it may sound kooky to some people, but it has actually worked out really well for us and I see so many benefits every day. I'm going to quickly address a couple of misconceptions people have about "no-limits" and then let you know what the major benefits of having no limits have been in our family.
1) "No limits" means kids watch things that are not appropriate for them. This is not true. Kids generally don't want to watch things that are not meant for them. Marisol will close her eyes and cover her ears if an advertisement comes on for a scary (usually adult content) show. "Finding Nemo" was her first favorite movie and for a while we fast forwarded the part with sharks every time. Kids know what they can handle and are ready for. (What may be needed is the consistent presence of an adult to guide them as they navigate. But given support, they will find their way.)
2) "No limits" means they will watch 24/7. This is also not true. Now, I will admit that there are times that my kids get lots of "screen time" - and their average is probably more than most kids'. But every time I find I'm not comfortable with how much they are watching I first examine my own feelings and actions. Perhaps I am being lazy and not offering enticing alternatives. (An important caveat to this statement - I don't offer things to lure them away, because I truly believe TV, computers, and other technology are beneficial in their own right. I just want to feel secure that they are CHOOSING these things and not turning to them out of boredom or because they can't think of other things to do. That is my role. If I offer a few things and TV/computer is what they really want at that time, then I let go - I don't continue to push them to try and get them to stop watching.) Maybe we all NEEDED a day of rest around the house and enjoying favorite TV shows and catching up on Facebook. Now that my kids are even just a little bit older, this is becoming much less of an issue for me. We are so active and busy that I just don't worry about it any more.
1) My kids learn SO MUCH from technology (shows, games, computer, apps - you name it!) Often times Marisol uses a word or expression and I'll ask her, "How do you know that??" and she can almost always name the show (she likes to say she learns most everything she knows from shows. It kind of tickles both of us when she says that!) The other morning she said to Gerry, "Your skin is so soft - do you use moisturizer?" and after I was done laughing (one, because I've never said that word - I say "lotion" - and two, because neither of my kids are fond of any skin products!) I found out she knows the word "moisturizer" from the Disney show "Shake it Up".
On the last night of our vacation in September, Gerry used sidewalk chalk to write out and name the numbers 1, 10, 100, and 1000 by adding a zero to each preceding number. Mike was impressed. That gem of knowledge came from Curious George.
I could go on and on and I know that some people may be shaking their heads thinking, "Come on, this sounds like a flimsy argument defending unlimited media use. How much can they really learn??" I think it's one of those things - you have to see it to believe it.
2) Our relationships benefit. This is a multifaceted statement. Our relationships are made stronger by watching and playing together. And they are strengthened because our individual wishes are respected. We don't have any fights or battles over any of these things (except over who gets to use the Big TV!) I believe that statement alone is worth it's weight in gold. How many parents and children would love to never fight over "one more show" or more computer or game time? It's really this simple - you can stop, you don't have to fight over it.
3) My kids don't value TV over other things. What I mean by this is: because I'm not the one deciding when and how much they can watch, the value of it isn't made greater to them. (Think about anything that is limited in your life - if it's something you really like, you want it more when it's limited. Read this great article for further clarification.) How I know that this is true is that my 7 year old now prefers for the TV to be OFF when friends come over - especially if they are friends that don't get to watch TV a lot. Why? Because she wants to play with them, and when the TV is on they don't want to play. I also can see it in our everyday lives all the time because we choose to do lots of other things - including getting outside to play most days.
I wrote a while ago about how getting outside and using technology are not mutually exclusive. And it does seem counter-intuitive that someone who is all about "natural" ways of living would allow full access to TVs, computers, and smartphones to her kids. But you know what is natural about this decision? Honoring my kids and their innate drive to explore and utilize everything in their environment to learn and make sense of the world. And in doing that I also honor our relationships and we continue to grow together. And that feels 100% natural and right.