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How to keep kids busy without resorting to screens PART ONE

beach play solo.

My relationship with screens has evolved since having children and through my own research and awareness. Here’s the dichotomy: most of my work as a writer and researcher happens on the computer and, yet, I know the cost of being on the screen. For me, that cost includes back and neurological issues, the reprogramming of my habits so now I can’t “think” as well without a keyboard, and the easy access to distractions that the computer brings (which can be a real death-knoll to the production of original content and I don’t just mean Facebook. When I am writing a book, I have to free my daily life from all screen entertainment.)

The cost for my family is that my children see their primary caregiver focused on a screen. [My daughter once climbed onto my desk chair while my husband was with her. “I’m Mama,” she said. Then she proceeded to pretend to type at my computer keyboard while muttering “F**k! F**k! F**k!”] Our children learn from our modelling more than anything else and thus, at the very least, my children see that my work life “i.e the life of my mind” is concentrated around a screen. What does it mean when they see that their primary model for womanhood doesn’t know how to get to the party without her phone, doesn’t know the answer to the question without asking Google, and chooses to lock herself in a room to “write” (which looks like tapping away on a screen)?

So, while my early parenting involved (and still does) the help of screenless entertainment such as the amazing audio-based Sparkle Stories and lots of audiobooks from the library, the real breakthrough in my family’s relationship with screens has come through me grappling with my own dependence and addiction. I use addiction purposely here, by the way, because I am from a family with lots of addiction so I know a bit about what addiction looks like. And, while, no outsider would ever look at my extremely moderate screen use and say “You are an addict,” just as they would never look at my two glasses of wine a week and say that, I know there is something different about the way I feel about  escapism compared to someone like my husband, who hasn’t been raised in a family with addiction issues. Screens are just the most recent of our socieities acceptable addictions, it likely won’t be the last and it certainly isn’t the first.

In day to day life, this means in my family that we don’t have media “limits” per se. My eldest has an inherent relationship to screens closer to mine and telling an addict that they can have just 2 drinks a day, well, it doesn’t work. Instead, we don’t have media as part of our daily family life. That means we don’t own a TV, my work computer lives in my study, we minimize any radio and especially their access to radio news, and my kids aren’t allowed to use our phones. Every so often we watch a movie. Ideally, we watch the movie together as a family and we watch a movie that is family-oriented and involves real people rather than animation. Doing it this way, by the way, we virtually never have any requests for media. When my eldest daughter was young, before we practiced a more abstinence-based form of screen management, the requests (READ: whining and begging and tantrums) for screen usage would be a daily occurrence.

The gift of this approach to screens has been that now I have kids that entertain themselves and play for hours without intervention, that can be somewhat civil through boredom (or at least not embarrass me at the restaurant), and that find just about any form of entertainment (including long foreign-films) a real treat.

-Manda, mama of 2 girls age 6 and 10.


A three part series on keeping our kids busy without using television, netflix, iPads, and games on our phones.  Stories, inspiration, and tricks from real mamas. How do you keep your kids happy and entertained without technology?




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