Raising a (Mostly) Screen-Free Toddler


When my husband or I tell other parents we don’t let our 3-year-old watch much TV, we get a lot of weird looks. I don’t blame them. In this world of technology, it’s definitely a different style of parenting. But what people don’t understand is that this actually makes our lives easier.

We’ve always turned to the American Academy of Pediatrics for parenting recommendations. According to the group of experts, kids are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media. Seven? My husband and I don’t even do that as adults! Anyway, the AAP recommends no screen time for children under 2. So that’s what we decided to do.


It was difficult at times, but until our son was 2-years-old, he wasn’t allowed to watch TV. Sometimes we had sports or the news on in the background, but that was it. He was occasionally allowed to use our phones to look at photos or videos of himself, but nothing else.

We gradually started introducing TV after his second birthday. He wasn’t that interested, but it did make it a little easier when we flew to Florida. Still, unless he asked, we didn’t put on the TV for him.

I know putting on a ‘kids’ show can allow some much-needed downtime for parents. But because our son never experienced that, he learned to play on his own. From a year old, he’d sit by himself and look at books for 45 minutes at a time. Or he’d get out his cars and play with those. By not giving him TV, we allowed him time to learn how to play independently. We also spent a lot of time outside – a win for everyone!

Another bonus? He doesn’t know the Paw Patrol characters. He doesn’t know who PJ Masks is. He doesn’t see commercials or ask for toys based on his favorite shows. It makes going past the toy section at Target a little less painful.

Now, we haven’t always had the strict no-TV rule.

When our toddler’s younger brother arrived almost a year ago, we let him watch more Disney+ than I’d care to admit as we adjusted to life as a family of four. After the first couple months of quarantine, we did get desperate and the TV went back on for a couple of weeks.

Do I feel guilty about that? Sometimes. But it also taught us a couple of valuable lessons we wouldn’t have otherwise learned.

Our son’s behavior is much better when he doesn’t have screen time. When TV time increased, so did his whininess and tantrums. He threw a fit when a movie was over, and sometimes, it took a while for him to get over it. He also got bored more easily. He didn’t play by himself very well. 

We also get to enjoy so much more by living in the moment, without a screen distracting any of us. We witness so many special moments as we watch our son learn, problem solve and interact with his brother. We’ve started doing the occasional weekend movie night, where we’ve introduced him to classics like Homeward Bound and The Rescuers Down Under. It’s a special family time.

I will admit, he now sometimes gets to watch a movie on my phone so I can run. He otherwise refuses to sit in the stroller and his little 3-year-old legs aren’t ready for a three-mile run just yet. My husband or I will put on an episode of Daniel Tiger for him after a long day, but that’s rare. Sometimes, he watches an episode of The Office with me before bed. He doesn’t understand it, but thinks Dwight is hilarious (who doesn’t?). It helps him calm down more quickly before going to sleep. But it’s definitely a special occasion to get screen time. We still don’t give him an iPad.

I get that everyone has different parenting styles, and guidelines when it comes to screen time. No judgment here. Do what’s best for your family. But if you do want to go screen-free, it’s easier than you’d think… and you gain a lot more than you’d expect.


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