Blog Parenting Hacks to Cut Down on Screen Time

Parenting Hacks to Cut Down on Screen Time

by Marissa Mirbach

Team Starling is no fan of screen time for little ones. We know how tough it can be to avoid… especially when it has been a long day, and you’re desperate for anything to hold your little one’s attention so you can take a shower, finally get the dishes done, or just breathe.

We understand! But researchers keep coming up with more reasons to keep tablets, phones, and TV to a minimum. With mounting evidence about the risks of screen time for young children’s brains, we want to make sure you have the right information and some tips for alternatives to a movie marathon!

Did you catch our infographic about the American Academy of Pediatrics’ new report this winter? In case you missed it, check out the guidelines below.

That’s right, they recommend no screen time for a full year and a half! That means no TV, no iPhone, no tablet. Nada. Here’s how Starling co-creator Chris Boggiano has addressed the issue with his daughters:

“The challenge with children is they lack the impulse control to know when to stop doing something unhealthy. Once they’ve had a taste of something as addictive as an iPhone, they’ll drive their parents nuts to get it. So “just this once” quickly becomes a bad habit that most families never break. I made this mistake with my oldest daughter watching TV, so my approach since is to keep phones and touchscreens completely off limits. My kids think of them as something only for adults, like coffee, wine, or driving a car, and don’t even bother to asking. It has not been easy, especially whenever I needed a quick way to keep them entertained for a few minutes, but boy am I glad I stuck with it. Most adults I know have nostalgia for the days before cell phones, email, and the internet; and so I’m happy to give my children the gift of a distraction-free childhood.”

He’s got the right idea — a study published in the April, 2017 edition of Nature says that touchscreen use is super disruptive for infant and toddler sleep patterns. The research showed that every additional hour of touchscreen use correlated to a 15.6-minute reduction in sleep. That starts to add up fast, and given the importance of sleep and child development, it can have negative implications for your baby’s brain growth.

The study also shows that increased screen exposure leads to more daytime sleep and longer sleep onset (i.e. more fussiness before bedtime). Infants and toddlers are doing most of their brain growth while they’re asleep… so keeping touchscreen time at a minimum is so important to help them reach their full potential!


So, now you know how bad two hours on an iPad really is for your baby’s brain. But what are you going to do about it? How are you going to keep your little one quiet when you desperately need that break?

Every child is different, and the answer depends on their age, too. But here are some suggestions from our parenting experts:

  1. Set Them up with Their Favorite Crafts. Crafts and quiet games are a great brain boosting TV alternative for your kids. Crayons, markers, and paper or legos and blocks are very absorbing and can keep most little ones focused and entertained. Another fan favorite with the Starling Team is the cardboard box trick. It’s easy; just give your kids a large cardboard box or two and watch them play by themselves for hours.
  2. FaceTime with Grandma. As far as screens go, Facetime or Skype actually aren’t evil because there’s a real live person to interact with. This is why they are the only screentime the APA says is ok for kids between 18-24 months old. Put your little one on the phone or Skype with their favorite family member, and buy yourself some time to finish cooking dinner!
  3. Do Chores Together. Have your child help you get some of your chores done, like folding laundry. They will feel engaged with you, but the focus is on the chore. So while it’s not 100% quiet, the conversation isn’t as demanding and will give you some time to relax.
  4. Playdates. Get your kids together with the neighbors. While they are playing together, you can relax and let them keep each other engaged. Homo Sapiens are social animals, so not only does your child benefit from playing with other kids, but you benefit from getting to interact with other adults.
  5. Talk It Out. If your little one is old enough, try being direct! “Mommy needs some time to finish making dinner. Can you be a big girl and play by yourself please? I will come play with you as soon as I am done!” If you need to check your phone while you are with your kiddo, make a big deal of it. “Honey, I am going to check two things on my phone. Please give me a few minutes.” This honesty goes a long way in helping open lines of communication. If your child understands what you’re doing, they’re less likely to feel ignored.
About the Author

Marissa Mirbach

Marissa is part of the Starling Research Team, a Claremont McKenna College graduate and a proud California native. Her job is to provide VersaMe followers with useful, and sometimes surprising, information about early childhood education. You can follow her work on all our social media profiles, and here on the blog! In her free time she loves to cook and ride her bike.

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