Montessori Parenting: 13 tips to reduce and manage screen time

In the series of posts about “Simplicity Parenting”, here is how to reduce your child’s screen time.

Many parents are more and more aware of the dangers of over-exposure to screen time.

In our family, we have greatly reduced screen usage for our children over the years. For the last 3 years, our children had sporadic exposure to screens. Very recently, as they are now 6 and 10 years old, we have introduced more screen time but in a controlled way. They have access to screen only at the weekend.

In this article, I explain how we simplified this area of our family life.

But first, why should we reduce screen time?

What are the negative effects of screen consumption on children?

  • There’s no evidence that screen time helps children under 2. In fact, some studies show that it can delay learning new words and upset babies’ sleep.
  • For children over 3, limited use of thoughtfully produced screen media can contribute to learning, especially when a caring adult is involved.
  • The more time our youngest children spend with screens, the less time they spend interacting with caring adults or in hands-on, creative play, which are both proven to be important for learning.
  • Too much screen time is linked to learning, attention, and social problems, as well as childhood obesity and sleep disturbances. Screen time before bedtime is known to mess up with the release of melatonin, hence disturbing sleep. Screen time should be avoided for at least 2 hours before bedtime for young children.
  • Screen also exposes kids to a lot of harmful ads. Even a little exposure to violent, sexualized, stereotyped, or commercialized content can be harmful to children.
  • Screen media can be habit-forming. Young children who spend more time with screens have a harder time turning them off when they get older.

Avoiding screen time all together can be near impossible in our modern society.

I believe that, as most parents are isolated, with no direct day to day extra pairs of hands, screen time is used as a baby-sitter. While it’s not ideal as parents we do our best. I was guilty too to use screen as a baby-sitter.

For us, when the screen was causing more trouble, when I was constantly monitoring who was allowed what, when one wanted a video game but the other one didn’t want that, when they were fighting over what to watch, I knew it was the end of the screen as a baby-sitter.

I had to find other ways to keep my children busy. I had to find other ways to get things done or to take time for myself without relying on a screen to occupy my children.

What is the Montessori point of view about Screen consumption?

Television and screens were “invented” after Montessori time so we don’t know what she would have said.

But if we take into account the first plane of development as described by Maria Montessori, we know that children under the age of 6:

  • learn in concrete hands’ on way,
  • Need to manipulate
  • Needs to have sensorial experience.

All that is necessary for a healthy development in early infancy and that is not provided by screen time. It is even more critical for babies and toddlers from birth to 2 years old. Neuroscience has shown that most of the brain’s development occurs during the first 2 years of life. Neurologists have identified 3 types of stimuli that optimize brain growth:

  • Interactions with parents and other caregivers
  • Manipulation of their environment
  • Need to do “problem-solving” activities.

Again, screen time doesn’t provide any of that.

Screens take the time away from proper nourishing experience.

A study done in the United states shows that on any given day:

29% of babies under the age of 1 are watching TV and videos for an average of about 90 minutes.

Twenty-three percent have a television in their bedroom.

Time with screens increases rapidly in the early years. Between their first and second birthday, on any given day:

  • 64% of babies and toddlers are watching TV and videos, averaging slightly over 2 hours.
  • 36% have a television in their bedroom.

Data vary on screen time for preschoolers. But even the most conservative findings show:

  • that children between the ages of 2 and 5 average 2.2 hours per day on screens.
  • Other studies show that preschoolers spend as much as 4.125 to 4.6 hours per day using screen media.

As children grow older, screen time increases and they tend to use more than one medium at the same time. Including when they’re multi-tasking.

8- to 18-year-olds consume an average of 7 hours and 11 minutes of screen media per day—an increase of 2.5 hours in just 10 years.

All those hours spent on screens are hours a child doesn’t spend outside, or drawing or cooking with his parents.

You might be aware that the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that children under the age of 2 watch no television.

And more recently, in 2008, France has banned tele programs aimed at the under 3. No Baby Einstein in France!

Kayne John Payne in his book “Simplicity Parenting” recommends to get rid of all screens for children under age 7. I was not that radical with my own family. But we went cold turkey for a month with no screen allowed at all for the children. How did we do that?

Here are my tips:

13 tips to reduce and manage screen time

  • Make a commitment to be available for your child. We knew we had to be clearly available for a few weeks as television will not be our baby-sitter.
  • Go cold turkey at first, reducing a bit didn’t help. We did say no to all screen for around a month. After that they were able to manage a bit of screen time, once a week.
  • Replace by lots of outdoor time,
  • Replace by family game nights,
  • Encourage creativity by having the right creative tools at their disposal: stock crayons, playdough, magic sand, and other creative material.
  • Prepare a few crafts activities to be ready for them to enjoy. A subscription box can help to ease the transition.
  • Use media in a practical way: print a colouring for your child, research a topic that she is passionate about, show a video of blue whales diving… Let your child takes pictures of his days on your phone or with a real camera. Let your child record himself singing or dancing! That might be enough to satisfy his wants of technology.
  • The most difficult things might be to control your own addiction. You are your child’s role model. If you are constantly on your phone, they will want to be on screen too.  Find a space to put “away” your phone for a few hours. Disable apps so they don’t send you notifications. Put your phone on silence/don’t disturb mode when you are with your children. Use your phone’s alarm clock to remind you to only check your notifications at specific chosen time
  • Reduce your tv package: less temptation for everyone
  • Replace tv show by recorded programs to avoid advertising
  • Have a clear rule about time of screen. Decide as a family what to watch, for how long and when. If you are clear with those limits, there is no messing around. No extra dvds, no tantrum because you suddenly changed your mind, and no parental guilt because for letting your child watch too much or denying her the telly.
  • Enjoy the movie with your child or play with him on an app. Make the experience “verbal” and interactive. Make it a family time that everyone is looking forward to it such as “movie night with popcorn”
  • While consciously using your child’s 20 minutes’ screen time as a baby-sitter, make the most of your time. Don’t be tempted to let the tele takes over the full afternoon. Remember that most daily chores can be done with children. They love to help!

So are you trying to reduce the screen time in your house?

We also simplify what our children are exposed to in terms of music and we have stopped listening to the news years ago. Read more about this here and find my positive songs playlist!

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About the Author Carine Robin

Carine Robin has a Master’s Degree in Psychology, specialising in child psychology. She worked for various social services in her home country of Belgium, before moving to Ireland in 2006. It was there that she started working in a nursery and discovered Montessori education. After having her first child, her passion for the philosophy grew and she qualified as a Montessori teacher and managed a preschool. Carine has been running a Montessori based parents and toddler group and coaching families for 9 years. She now also runs an online group for over 14000 parents, sharing her knowledge and passion with people from around the world. In 2018, Carine realised families needed more support and launched her popular online parenting courses and monthly subscription boxes, full of personally designed Montessori materials.