In 2013 my husband and I moved from the town I grew up in, to a tiny village a hundred miles away so that our daughter (5) might attend the local Steiner school. We were all set to home school for a few years whilst waiting for her to get a place as it is oversubscribed, however we moved in May and she started in September of the same year.
The school asks all parents to sign an agreement; one of the recommendations is that technology be limited until after about 8 years of age.
We knew before we planned our move that limiting TV was important, as we had discussed it and learned of the link between screen time & concentration & attention. Our daughter now does not watch any, and the change has been much easier than we imagined it might be.
I can remember her playing a kids game on my phone when we looked around the property we are now renting. The lovely lady who was due to move out told us about her experience of cutting out TV for her own child, who attends the same school. She said ‘if you give them screen time every now and then, they end up constantly asking when they can have more. But if you take it out if the equation completely they just stop asking and amuse themselves with other things’.
We sold our large flat screen TV and downsized. We bought a second hand TV cabinet from a charity shop and hubby did it up. So although he and I still watch the occasional film, the TV does not dominate the living space, and the fireplace has become the focus of the room instead.
We do not have a TV licence as we do not watch live TV, preferring to use BBC iPlayer and other channel ‘watch again’ websites if we want to see something in particular.
Since cutting out TV I have noticed our daughter’s imaginative playtime on her own is happening as it ever did, but she now has more time for quiet reflection and silence, and her comments and questions have matured. This may have happened anyway; we are spending more time together, I am working less hours, she has a new routine. But I am sure the changes I see are down to the combination of things making up our new environment.
For example, all our meals are now at the kitchen table together; a simple premise and common sense to many. Our last home had an L shaped kitchen-diner where the table & chairs were in the same room as the corner sofa and the TV, so sometimes we ate on the sofa for a treat. Some days I would get home from work after hubby & daughter had eaten, so I would eat on the sofa whilst I tried to wind down.
Our daughter is spending more time outside than she used to and we are surrounded by countryside, the view of the Black Mountains in the distance and rolling fields and hills stretching out towards them.
Three days a week she finishes school at lunchtime, so those afternoons provide opportunities for her to be in the garden doing jobs with us or playing with friends from the street. There is a car park at the end of the cul de sac and I’m often to be found up there on the bench with a cuppa whilst she rides her bike.
It gives us a break from the house work or jobs & cooking, whilst not requiring a journey in the car; something which can be tiring and over stimulating in itself. Sometimes our neighbours join us with a pot of tea for a catch up whilst the children play together.
I think moving house and quitting tv at the same time has helped hugely. She has never had regular access to in this house so she doesn’t expect it.
Things we do together include the odd board game, lots of reading, playing cards, grooming our (very) long haired cat, finger knitting, cross stitch, writing and performing stories & poems.
Screen time also includes phones and computers. She knows now that she isn’t to play with our phones whereas before we moved, she had apps for several games for kids on both our phones. I think having those games on the phone made it hard for me to say no when she did ask. Now she doesn’t ask because the answer is always no. Something we are always working on is reducing the use of our phones when she is with us.
Looking back, TV was a consistent source of angst between my husband and I, as there were films and programmes which I felt were inappropriate which he felt were fine for her to watch. I think he may have felt I was criticising his parenting, which was upsetting for me because he is such a wonderful father (and husband). I worked full time back then, so I wasn’t always around when these decisions were made.
I once posted on my Facebook page asking others how they felt about a certain cartoon which I felt was inappropriate, for the age of my child. I can see now that this was an indication of my hesitance to go with my gut as a parent. I guess this was something that I found difficult to be confident about for a long time.
One thing I do know is that since I stopped working full time I actually have the space now to reflect on our parenting style. I was so busy in the day at work that decisions about boundaries at home just didn’t enter my head, unless there was a problem or unless hubby called me to discuss something. When I returned home after 6pm I was focused on one-to-one time with our daughter, often getting straight in the bath with her after my dinner, and starting the bedtime routine. By the time she was asleep I either crashed out myself, or was past reasonable thought due to the need to rest.
Practical issues seemed to creep in to my thoughts the closer we got to the morning, as I knew certain things needed doing (feed the cats, her sandwiches, my lunch, my work clothes, her school uniform, breakfast, dinner money). All that before any housework, cooking, bills, or laundry came into the equation.
Subsequently I rarely tried a new recipe or baked for the pleasure of it; something I am learning to do now for the first time.
Hubby made most of our meals and lovingly did whatever I asked him to do, but just knowing these things needed doing in those few hours outside of my job, meant less space in my head somehow.
So cutting out screen time has had a big impact on our daily life and the rhythm within our home. I know children should have opportunities to have access to new technology, especially if it will later enable them to do something they are drawn to, but that is different to the over stimulated environments our babies are born into.
I felt quite vulnerable writing a post about the topic, mainly because I felt that I was leaving myself open to criticism. However if there is a chance that even one parent can take something positive from the blog, then it will have been worthwhile.
Update: Thanks for reading. Our daughter (now 9) and has one movie night a week on a Friday evening, and thirty minutes on a simple computer game on Saturday mornings. In 2015 we were blessed with another child, she is now 8 months. We have had to consider carefully how we manage technology now that our eldest is allowed some, whilst our youngest will not be allowed any for years to come. As with the arrival of any new child it had presented us with a range of new challenges. But that’s another blog post!
Written by Rosie Evans