Whole Parenting Family

4 steps to keeping my kids screen-free

Oh, the irony! Is it ironic? Nell is super excited about her new blog design (thank you, Jamie!) and yet her own kids have zero access to screens. 

Wellll they get to watch the occasional movie, but we don’t own a TV, gaming system, or devices. We have one battered old laptop, one newer one, and one very almost dead desktop I’m hoping to get data recovered from. And two iPhones. Everything is password protected and the kids don’t know those open sesames.

Why? Why deprive our kids of what ostensibly seems to be cutting edge, skills they’ll need, and also, what everyone else is doing socially?

Because increasingly science and researchers tell us what we kinda knew but hoped wasn’t true as a society of exhausted parents looking for something for their kiddo to do that’s enriching and not fighting us/each other. Screen time is damaging to their developing minds. Social media is damaging to their emotional development. We are performing an experiment on this generation of kids and we simply don’t have enough data to know it’s safe to allow developing brains tablet, gaming, online socializing, and passive consumption of screen time in the levels we’re letting in.

SO soap box aside, maybe you’re here to shift your own strategies as a parent, and maybe you have great tips for the rest of us. Here’s how we live screen-free for the kids. (Had a great discussion on instagram right here.)

  1. REPLACE // when we’ve watched a Magic School Bus episode, they want 10 more. As with any pattern you’re trying to stop, cold turkey isn’t always successful, but replacing desired object with something else? Could be the ticket.
    1. we’ve found audio stories (Jim Weiss forever) help keep little and big minds engaged
    2. interactive books for non-readers (Usborne have a million flaps (my friend Sarah is our fav to buy from)
    3. board games like dog monopoly, catan, and NFL game day are big hits right now
    4. household chores: stick with me: people who fight clean toilets and people who complain loudly wipe out the fridge so . . . suddenly the desire to find an activity increase dramatically when I remind them of this rule
    5. outdoor play: we must get outside or they languish and want to “be” entertained
  2. REMIND// our family is going to do things different in many respects from other families we know, love, and cherish. Screens are one of those differences. Being Catholic is another. Not doing sleepovers is yet another. But I do try to remind them that we have special family traditions we’re building up so we’re not just the family of terrible-no-fun-rotten-mama-is-so-mean.
  3. BRIBES// every child needs a carrot. Okay maybe not all of them like to eat actual carrots, but we need inducements for behavior, homework completion, politeness, etc. And while screen time is an attractive option perhaps, what are a few others?
    1. staying up late for special time with one of us
    2. going out for dessert//book club
    3. suckers, literally
    4. older kids can earn money “babysitting” aka watching so the 2.5 year old doesn’t bite the 5 year old while I finish something in the other room. The going rate is . . . $.15/half hour. Steep dollah dollah bills.
  4. MODEL// My work is nearly all on a screen for writing, editing, and Blessed is She work. My husband barely uses a screen ever when he’s home and he’s a luddite about social media (I’m um the opposite). BUT we both want to model that screens aren’t as interesting as people and that human contact and engagement is far superior. That means, for me:
    1. not having my phone out in their faces all the time
    2. not having my phone in my face in front of them
    3. stepping out of a room to take a call or answer a text if they’re playing or eating in there
    4. setting time limits/constraints when I’m compulsively checking for updates (tail wagging the dog much?) on all the platforms
    5. not being on my phone when I’m engaging and interacting with them
    6. trying to remember to do all of these every day

I’m not leaving my screen anytime, but as my kids age, I will probably feature them less and even less. They have a right to privacy from the world, and their stories are their own. Part of my slowing down on blogging about parenting is that so many of my really juicy ripe stories I wanted to process with you were no longer my own to share.

Happy new site day to me! Happy launch of my summer rompers you can now buy right here! And hopefully you’ve heard some tips that can help you, and/or please share yours on limiting screens with your kiddos and yourself.

Spending summer enjoying this kids book on virtue from Blessed is She!


  1. Aileen on July 19, 2019 at 6:01 pm

    Love the new blog look! These are very helpful for us grandparents too as our grandchildren are growing up in a different world than our own children did. I don’t want to be on my phone constantly in front of my grandkids.

    • novicenaturalmama on August 17, 2019 at 9:03 pm

      I hear you!

  2. Jacqui Skemp on July 19, 2019 at 8:01 pm

    Great tips! We do own a tv, and have an iPad that is super duper protected, collecting dust somewhere in the house. I don’t anticipate going totally screen free, but our kids only get to access one screen, that being the tv that only we can control (the remote is on our phones which they don’t get access to). We allow a family movie night on the weekends, and Saturday morning cartoons. But we’ve had to work up to that. We definitely went through seasons where the tv was on for hours when I was trapped under nursing babies and demanding toddlers. I definitely notice an uptick in naughty/annoying behavior when screens are present in excess.
    I guess I just want to encourage anyone who is not totally screen free that they can work towards being screen free or incredibly limited screen time.

    • Laura Range on July 23, 2019 at 1:08 am

      I really appreciate this. I have two 2 and under and use the TV way more than I wish I did…yet we have goals for someday like yours. Thanks for the encouragement.

    • novicenaturalmama on August 17, 2019 at 9:02 pm

      great points!

  3. Julie on July 19, 2019 at 9:08 pm

    Yes! I love these ideas. Our kids learn so so much from us. I suppose that’s how they get addicted to the screens in the first place.

    • novicenaturalmama on August 17, 2019 at 9:02 pm

      haha yes

  4. Tasslyn Lesley Magnusson on July 19, 2019 at 10:34 pm

    And as children age into screens – we are much more “open” with screens. Lots of personal story on that. BUT, you need to be by their sides. If not literally, at least within earshot. Just last night E interrupted us 2 time. To please “pause what you’re watching.” Sometimes she wants some whatever – small. And sometimes she needs us to navigate an issue with her. I paused our story and went to talk. She had loaded some pictures onto an art site. She got some really mean feedback. Really inappropriate. She was upset and immediately wanted to “destroy” – “never do art, leave mean comments, delete everything.” I sat with her through all the feelings. We walked through the tools the site has for reporting people and for privacy and security. I also walked through having her notifications of comments or actions on her account feed back into my email. And then, when she was calmer, she said, “I still don’t want to be on that site anymore mom.” I said, that sounds like a good decision. And I sat with her as she deactivated her account. she didn’t need me to “do” anything. But she needed me to be her guiderails as she processed and made decisions. She ended up making a decision to continue her art – but for herself and her friends that she knows in real life. And wanted affirmation as she processed that. She’s 13 so more and more the online decisions are about trusting her and supporting them making decisions. And always being available when they want to reflect on what they are experiencing. It’s hard. A few months back we walked through on a site called “Wattpad” where lots of teen girls post fan fiction how to report someone talking about suicide. One of the unexpected points of light was Wattpad has a forum run by a trained person (maybe counselor) just for the individuals who reported someone’s suicidal thoughts – so just for someone like E who needed reassurance that she did the right thing and how hard it is to be on the other side of someone feeling such deep bad thoughts. So, esp for her, until P who pretty much lives jumping off cliffs, part of my new online journey with them is to be witness and guardrails and guide as they venture into this world. It’s not easy!!! xo to all the mama’s doing what is right for them!!!

    • Tasslyn on July 19, 2019 at 10:35 pm

      E and I share an email and I see that my profile avatar still has her favorite anime character! But its safer for her to share an email in her eyes than it is to have her own email. I don’t read her stuff – unless she asks me to. So we also build trust.

    • novicenaturalmama on August 17, 2019 at 9:02 pm

      You’re a really great mom and you’re doing all the right things!!

  5. Meg on July 21, 2019 at 2:02 pm

    Curious how this works when you’re super sick during pregnancy? My first used to only get screen time in the winter for 30 minutes while I exercised. But during an HG pregnancy she was basically parented by Daniel Tiger because I could not get off the couch, unless it was to stick my head in the toilet and puke. ?

    • novicenaturalmama on August 17, 2019 at 9:02 pm

      We used audio stories in lieu of it because they didn’t know better. Now when I’m sick we’ll have some of the old magic school bus on hand 🙂

  6. Kelly on July 25, 2019 at 1:53 am

    Not sure of your kiddos ages, but I am wondering how to approach this as my daughter goes into 1st grade next year and will have homework online each night. What are your thoughts on screens in schools? How do you handle that when you’re screen free at home!?

    • novicenaturalmama on August 17, 2019 at 9:01 pm

      So ours are going into 2nd and 4th and have some screens in schools but not much. None of their homework is on screens so that’s nice. I’m not a fan of screens at school and while, yes, they need to learn to type and deal with email, not in the early years! They need interaction with a teacher not a screen and handwriting practice, not keyboards 🙂