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My Views On Kids And Screen Time

Eva Amurri Martino discusses her views on screen time for her kids

I get asked a lot about what my “Screen Time Philosophy” is, which seems to be a really hot button topic in the parenting community these days! Today I thought I would share my answer, along with the (unofficial, non-scientifically-backed) reasons I feel this way.  As always, what I’m about to talk about isn’t the right way, it’s just my way– and it works well for us!

I’ll start by saying that before I was a Mom, I used to roll my eyes every time I saw a kid with an iPad.  I mean, couldn’t their parents entertain them without technology? Way to be present with your children, Mom and Dad.  Will they ever learn to have a conversation or be able to sit in a restaurant like a normal human being?

Eva Amurri Martino discusses her views on screen time for her kids

LOL.  Oh Universe, what a good sense of humor you have.  Cut to about seven years later, and my two kids watch sesame street on the iPad almost every single morning while I make breakfast.  I’m not above it.  And truth be told, I don’t mind it either.  There are so many great shows and apps these days that are learning based, and that help my kids stay focused while I am trying to complete a family-oriented task.  The way I see it, as long as kids are watching an age-appropriate show on the TV or the iPad for a regulated amount of time a day, WHO CARES.

I have a profile for them on Netflix that helps me regulate the shows they have access to and are watching, and I also let them watch Youtube Kids.  I much prefer the Netflix route, though.  I don’t love them watching the commercials on Youtube! The kids watch about 20-40 minutes of screen time a day.  Or more when they’re under the weather and resting on the couch.  We also will have a movie afternoon sometimes when the weather isn’t nice enough to place outside. 

Eva Amurri Martino discusses her views on screen time for her kids

I’ve found that this amount of screen time works for us, because the kids are easy to pull away from the TV  or iPad, and they both prefer playing outdoors or with their toys than watching a screen.  We’ve definitely gone through phases (Marlowe at around 3 years old, and Major about a month ago) where they’ve started to get whiny about the iPad– wanting to stay on it longer or asking for it first thing in the morning.  Whenever we hit a phase like that, I remind them that screen time is extra to “real life”, and that whenever it seems like the iPad is effecting them negatively, we cut it out.  Both of those times, I took the iPad away completely for two weeks and did a little technological detox.  And it seemed to correct the problem! I think, like with anything, it’s about paying attention to when a product goes from being helpful to toxic…and that line is different for everybody. 

Eva Amurri Martino discusses her views on screen time for her kids

My biggest prerogative is to make sure that extreme regulations on certain things in our household don’t create a reactionary obsession to those things.  When I was growing up, we were only allowed one hour of television A WEEK.  Yep, even in High School.  I used to watch an episode of Friends and an episode of Dawson’s Creek.  And that’s it.  As a result, I always thought about how I was going to sneak in TV time.  I would go over to kids’ houses for playdates that I didn’t even get along with just so I could watch TV with them.  I would sneak TV when my parents went out, and lie when they got home.  The same happened with sugar in our house– we weren’t allowed sweets, sugar cereal, or candy– and so my siblings and I became totally obsessed with it.  My brothers used to sneak sweets all the time. To this day, I still think I have an unhealthy relationship with TV and Candy.  For example, I’ll stay up for hours (past exhaustion) to watch more and more episodes on Netflix or Hulu at night– and if I get a bag of candy at the movies or something I’ll end up eating the entire thing and get a stomach ache. 

It’s really important to me that screen time (and sugar for that matter) can feel innocuous for my kids.  That they can experience it, like it for what it’s worth, and let it go without wondering or worrying about when the next time will be that they’re allowed it.  Everything in moderation, right?  I’m curious about your views on Screen Time, especially with elementary school age kids.  Do you allow it, regulate it, or leave it up to them? Please share in the Comments below!

Eva Amurri Martino discusses her views on screen time for her kids

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Photographs by Julia Dags.

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24 Comments

  1. Kristin F. says:

    This seems like a really reasonable approach. I’m already freaking out. We brought home our first baby two weeks ago and I already feel guilty for having the TV on so I can catch up on shows during feedings. I see her eyes go to the TV and I’m already worried about creating a monster…..

    Do your kids ask for your phone to play with? I imagine you’re on it frequently to post your Instastories – just wondering how they reconcile different rules between adult and kid screen time.

    09.19.18Reply
    • Hannah says:

      The first three months are definitely survival!! Don’t worry about whatever you are watching while you’re feeding and taking care of your baby!!

      Thanks Eva for sharing this. I had similar thought last and even judgements before having kids and now, I’m with you! A little of Pre-approved shows are ok! Also, I like that you’re sharing about “family-oriented” task like making them a meal.

      09.19.18Reply
      • Kristin F. says:

        Thank you! I know I’m probably overthinking it, but I can’t help feel guilty when I see her little eyes travel over to some of the garbage TV I watch 🙂

        Enjoying all the comments and seeing everyone’s different take on this issue.

        09.20.18Reply
  2. Samantha says:

    My kids watch tv during breakfast because I’m usually running around getting all their stuff packed, lunches together and eating my own breakfast before work.

    Dinner time is family time though. My husband and I don’t touch our phones during dinner and none of the kids (1 and 5) are allowed electronics – this includes at home and at restaurants.

    We are similar for the rest. My kids enjoy playing outside so we usually only watch tv to wind down at the end of the day before their 7:15 bedtime or when they are sick.

    My daughter (5) has become a bit obsessed with watching play doh on youtube though. We are working on remedying that!

    09.19.18Reply
  3. Chassidy Hill says:

    So I have seen the “sneaking because it’s reatricted” first hand as a nanny. Kids literally eating an entire box of cookies and then puking. Super super unhealthy and sad.

    On the other hand, I had a TV in my room and I was allowed to watch ANYTHING whenever I wanted to. My favorite movies when I was 4 we’re Drop Dead Fred and What about Bob….. The tv was always on in the background when I was playing (only child for 11 years… I think I used it as company). And I still stay up unreasonably late to watch one more episode of Friends.

    We were on the opposite ends of the spectrum, Eva, but still both very extreme. I’m hoping for my future kids, moderation will be the answer 🤷‍♀️

    09.19.18Reply
  4. Lauren B. says:

    Eva, I love your parenting posts! I’m newly pregnant with our first and I am enjoying reading about different perspectives and where my and my husbands values fit in! Thank you for always keeping it real 🙂

    09.19.18Reply
  5. Laura says:

    I have a very different relationship with screens and so do my children.
    I had excellent intentions, but, my son was diagnosed with ASD, and screen time is very helpful for him to de-stress and reboot after a stressful day of socialising out in the real world, at school. As a result, he has learnt to code, and program really interesting games and such. He also has a book review blog, and plays games.
    My daughter enjoys kids films, and is a huge Disney fan. So she is allowed to chose one to watch when her brother is out (she finishes school before him.
    We do use tech on *long* journeys but otherwise don’t use tech while we are out, not in restaurants etc (we used to when my son was younger, as it helped him block out the noise and smell of restaurants, but now he has a different approach)
    As you say, everyone needs a different approach.

    09.19.18Reply
  6. Suzie says:

    I feel the exact same way. Use it when necessary and as long as it is educational I’m all for it. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do. And if sometimes that means watching a few episodes of seasame street, then so be it. 🤷

    09.19.18Reply
  7. Lauren says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your views on screen time! As a mom of a 3 and 1 year old, we have a similar appproach, although I let them watch while I’m making dinner or to wind down at the end of the day. Some days they watch none, some days more.. all about balance and quality. Love the idea of a ‘tech detox’ when things get whiny!

    09.19.18Reply
  8. Amy says:

    My babe is 18- months old. She loves the wiggles and floogals on universal kids. In the AM I turn it on while I make her breakfast, and we leave it on for 2 hours. Then, it doesn’t come on again until maybe 6:30 pm at night for an hour. The iPad she plays with maybe twice, 20-minutes a day. The rest of the time we are reading books, outside, parks, walking. I think balance is key- I don’t like things to feel restrictive yet don’t think overindulging is smart either-find a balance that’s best for your family.

    09.19.18Reply
  9. Micaela says:

    I, like Eva, had the same delusional views on screen time before I was a parent. Now my son will walk up to me and hand me the remote when he wants to watch TV. Ideally, we watch 1 or 2 episodes of Sesame Street in the morning, he goes out for the day, I go to work, then maybe a little more in the evening. I really try to distract him but sometimes it’s hard to say no, especially when I have guilt over being at work all day and really don’t want to have a battle with him. Oh, and I have a dinner res Saturday night, he’s coming and we’re bringing the ipad. That’s the only time I allow him to use it. I don’t know how I could have been so naïve pre-kids and expect my toddler to behave in a restaurant!!

    09.19.18Reply
  10. Katherine Santana says:

    Awesome post ! I have two boys who are 12 and 10 year old and a 11 year cousin that I am raising. All boys in my house! So my 12 year and 10 year old are obsessed with video games and you tube. && my cousin likes to be on his phone a lot. With my boys since school started I make sure to Instill in them that if they want to play video games during school days that homework and doing their chores are a first priority. I use to only allow video games on weekends only. A detox day from tech time is Sunday because it is family time. Sunday Is day we are all together ! I try to do what works for them and not be too control more like a balance. With video games they use to have a set time like 2 hrs each of game time. One child would play one hr and then switch off too the other child. Now they just take turns and I let them figure it out. I give them a set time to get off like 7:30 and then we read a book for 30 mins and bedtime is at 8pm. They are not allowed on their phone at the same time as video games. They have too choice btw phone or video games but they will try both sometimes. They barely watch tv but hey do it’s also an option. My cousin on the other had it’s a little different he gets picked up by a school bus and is on the phone in the morning until he gets dropped off at school and on the phone when picked up from school and dropped off at home. He wants to be on the phone as well when he gets home and I have to remind him that their are other things to do and maybe I’ll give his phone back an 1 before bedtime. It’s a little bit of everything in my house and I just try and work on being consistent!

    09.19.18Reply
  11. Kate says:

    I can’t tell you how happy this post made me! My husband and I have the same philosophy about screen time – it can be a great family-bonding time to snuggle and watch a show in bed together and there’s no way I could get dressed for work without Paw Patrol.

    But I still get the Mom Guilts when Beckett is watching a movie at a restaurant so he eats quietly and my husband and I can actually have a conversation. Especially if my Mom is with us – wow, the guilt.

    Thank you for making me feel OK about it! And the detox idea for when things get gnarly is genius – I need that too!

    09.19.18Reply
  12. Yasmin says:

    I definitely let my kids watch more than I think they should, buy there are just some days when it’s necessary. I’m a sahm and I have no help and the tv helps lol We used to let my son watch a show on our phones when we would go out. I was afraid I was creating a monster, but now he doesn’t ever ask for it. Sometimes he gets into his iPad and then a week or so passes and he doesn’t care for it. Stages, like you said. I’m really not worried about it. I mean, I grew up on a lot of tv and how I turned out has absolutely nothing to do with how much screen time I had. My issues are due to other factors lol

    09.19.18Reply
  13. Deanna Abbruscato says:

    When l was a kid my parents were incredibly strict about everything. The list is so long of what we weren’t allowed to do. A few things like no makeup, no dancing, no rock and roll music etc. They were very religious. Because of this my sisters and l were obsessed with all the things we weren’t allowed to do. There was no compromise so we did all the things we weren’t allowed to do on the sly. It is unhealthy to be so strict with kids and all it accomplishes is kids that lie and go behind their parents back to do all the things they are denied. Balance is so important with children. Eva, you are a wonderful wise Mother and it shows in the happy faces of your children. I love watching your videos with your kids. They are so free and joyful. I especially love how encouraging you are for their creativity. Allowing them screen time is just another example of being flexible and balanced. I could not agree more with the “all things in moderation”. 👍

    09.19.18Reply
  14. Jacquie says:

    My little guy is three and in daycare for most of the day, during the week. Like many others posting, we usually allow him to watch 15-30 mins of TV in the morning and again at night, as a way to get him to wind down before bed. On the weekends, we are a bit more flexible – often we have fun things planned and want to give him the freedom to watch or play – or both – for a couple of hours early in the day, before we head off to another scheduled activity. This works well for us because he gets to enjoy the screen time, but he is not ruled by it and sees it as one of many fun activities that he can do. I am personally anti-tablet at this young age, though I see some of the merits and don’t judge others for going that route. My sister has four kids under 6 and they all have tablets, which makes so much sense to me 😂

    09.19.18Reply
  15. Megan says:

    This is a great post Eva! My daughter is 4 and we are in the same boat with technology. There has to be a balance between camping out in front of the Tv all day, and using it as a good “down time” tool. I tend to use it during the afternoon hours where some rest needs to happen! I have a suggestion for you in regards to the Youtube Kids app. There is an app calles KidsSafeVideo. It is set up just like youtube kids, however no commericals and no rabbit holing where they can keep clicking on videos which might lead to something thats not age appropriate. Im a big fan of it! There is a favorites category too where you can add videos they like. Hope that helps!

    09.19.18Reply
  16. Erin says:

    This very much mirrors my philosophy on screen time as well. I limit it (I don’t want them on the iPad two hours a day), but I also don’t stress if I need to give them 40 minutes of iPad so I can get supper on the table. I do the exact same thing if I feel the kids getting whiny about it – I remind them it is a special thing they get, and then we detox a bit which always solves the problem! My girls are 5 and 2 and this has worked well for us.

    09.19.18Reply
  17. Ash says:

    My 21 month old watches about 30-60 minutes a day depending how much we drive in a day (we live in Atlanta and I have a TV set up in the back other wise if he cries when I’m driving I feel like I’ll drive off the toad). Some days it’s more or less. It is a topic that my mom friends ask me about all the time. And every time it’s brought up I feel a little guilt. But i stick to shows like Sesame Street and Baby Einstein which he learns so much from and Wiggles only when we’re desperate!

    09.19.18Reply
  18. Jessica says:

    Hi Eva! Thanks so much for this post. I was the same pre-kids. Now with a 1 year old, I judge NO ONE for their screen time. That being said, my daughter rarely watches tv, maybe 30-60 minutes a week and she hasn’t used the ipad (yet), and I think its only because my husband and I work full time and she’s at daycare, so there is literally no time for her to do so. I think my fear of introducing the ipad is that I will create a monster and that’s all she will want to do. I am flying with her in December and am planning on taking the ipad loaded with shows and games. Any tips on how to control the amount of time on the ipad? I’m so scared of opening that can of worms!

    09.21.18Reply
  19. Laura says:

    Thanks for being NORMAL!!!!! I’ve read way to many “no screen time” posts and think, how do those parents survive???!!!!! I especially loved you connecting screen time with you doing a chore or some type of parental responsibility. Kids need so much attention and have such short attention spans. There are too many really good educational or just plain adorable shows and apps to keep the kids happy. Too good to pass up!! Was surprised that no Nick Jr shows were included. Peppa Pig is one of my personal favs.
    Do what you do Mama and thanks for connecting. Xo

    09.21.18Reply
  20. Daynna says:

    It’s sad and frustrating to know that there are people out there looking at me in restaurants or similar, judging me harshly on my parenting. Like how you said you did in this post about how you deemed parents unable to be present with their children if they had an ipad. if my 5 or 7 year old is watching my phone, it’s usually because the service is taking too long and I need a distraction or maybe the kids are fighting and I need to divert attention if I can’t solve the problem right then and there. Or one of them is exhausted after school but I need to be at this appointment, unfortunately. There’s so many reasons we pull out our phone as a last resort (of COURSE I’d rather have a lovely conversation with my kid! But life doesn’t always allow for ideal scenarios every time).

    It’s just disheartening to know negative judgement is passed so easily by someone who hasn’t even had kids yet, like you in the past, or by someone who does have kids but parents differently. As parents, we’re all trying our very best to raise wonderful humans. It’s why I’ll never judge another mom of a kid throwing a tantrum, for example. Meltdowns happen for a variety of reasons and the last thing she needs is my condescending judgement when I know nothing of her situation. Maybe it is crappy parenting, but (high) odds are it’s far more nuanced than that and the parent is just trying to survive or do what they think is best in that moment.

    In life, in general, I think we’d all be a happier, more caring society if we gave the benefit of the doubt to someone else you see in public doing something you think you wouldn’t, unless they’re harming an other person, of course. I think it’s better to automatically jump to the conclusion that assumes the person is doing their best, not their worst, or their laziest. Maybe you’ll be wrong, but isn’t that just a brighter, more empathetic, more kind way to be? Hell, to teach your child how to be, taking it one step further. I’m glad to see that you now look at other moms with less judgemental assumptions. I feel like, as moms, we’re all basically in this thing together, you know? At least it makes me feel better, warmer towards others when I look at it that way. You’ve got a great head on your shoulders and your kids seem to be truly smart and lovely little humans so you’re doing a whole heck of a lot right.

    09.23.18Reply
  21. Tiffany says:

    Thanks for this post! So glad not to be the only parent out there that is ok with some screen time. We have a 6 month old who had the dreaded hand, foot, and mouth a month ago. My husband and I had to work remotely while she was banned from the outside world (haha), which is when we discovered Ruff Ruff Tweet and Dave on Hulu. For some reason our daughter is mesmerized by this shows (maybe the colors, voices, etc..). It is cute, educational, interactive, and doesn’t annoy me. They are each 12 mins. Anyways, this show got us through her illness. She would focus on it for about 45 mins at a time (smile and laugh) and when you have a sick baby, 45 mins of peace is like a lifetime. For some reason she has stayed connected with this show, so it is my go to when you just have to get stuff done. Sometimes after picking her up from the babysitter (where she does not watch tv), I need 25 mins to handle bottles, start laundry, start dinner, etc… I say whatever you need to survive, you do it HA. I have also noticed that she is focused. She can focus on one thing at a time. She is able to sit still in one place and play or sit in your lap and concentrate during story time. I am not saying that screen time contributes to this, but we have a friend whose little girl is not allowed any screen time and is all over the place. She can’t focus on one toy, is all over the place, can’t sit still on your lap, etc… Who knows in the end, but for us this show (for about 30 mins a day) works for us. I still have good memories of Saturday morning cartoons, so we can’t wait for her to experience that. And like you, Eva, we make sure that she is exposed activities other than TV. We don’t put the show on when she is eating or doing tummy time or working on a developmental task. Keeping it as a separate activity helps her focus (at least I think it does).

    We recently bought her the plush animals for the show and the sheer joy on her face when she saw them was enough for me to know that we weren’t causing damage haha!

    09.24.18Reply