How to Manage Screen Time with a Toddler

We know that one of the most difficult things to manage is screen time when you have toddlers. Because man, you can hand them that little device. We call it a tranquilizer. We were like, “Oh, we have peace and quiet.” It is like so tempting to overuse screens with kids. 

There’s a perspective, I think, that’s been really helpful for us to think about when we think about this topic. You guys probably have heard a lot of the research done about the dangers of screen times with kids. There’s a article out by the New Zealand Herald called Smartphones, Tablets Causing Mental Health Issues in Kids as Young as Two. They say just an hour a day, staring at a screen, can be enough to make children more likely to be anxious or depressed. They had this research to talk about, the zombie mode kids get into at nearly five hours a day, just looking at electronic devices. Research from San Diego State University and the University of Georgia say time spent on smartphones is a serious but avoidable cause of mental health issues. 

Our kids are living through an experiment of how much and how early can they really absorb all this screen time? Obviously, we can just talk about how bad that is, but that still leaves the question, what do we do with our kids? What did our parents do with us? One of the things that I think is really important to sort of just expose here is that modern parents believe it’s their responsibility to keep their kids entertained. They do not want to absorb the cost of having bored kids on their hands. That is actually very recent. It’s important for a minute lift up the value of boredom. 

One of my favorite quotes about boredom was by Albert Einstein where he says, “Creativity is the residue of time wasted.” Neil Gaiman, an amazing author, he said, “The best way to come up with new ideas is to get really bored. Steve Jobs, who gave us these nice devices, he liked to say, “I’m a big believer in boredom. Boredom allows one to indulge in curiosity and out of curiosity comes everything.” What these guys are saying is that we need to actually not see boredom as a enemy in the family. What we want to see is we want to foster a spirit of creativity. 

The biggest problem with screens oftentimes is that it’s a consuming device. It’s a consumption, so what we want our kids to be doing is creating. We want them to be exploring. We want them to be indulging their curiosity. There’s often a step that happens before that. That is they have to get really bored, and that’s really hard for us to handle. That’s kind of created a cultural sort of angst about we have to keep kids entertained all the time. Jeff, what are your thoughts on this? 

Yeah, well, when you’re talking, I’m thinking. I don’t know where it is, but I remember reading an interview by Ed Sheeran, who’s actually one of my favorite musicians. He’s not just a good singer and a guitar player, but he’s like brilliantly creative and different with his pedals, looping in all these kinds of different ways. Almost August Rush style if you guys have seen that movie. August Rush, hard to say. 

I remember reading an interview by him, and someone just asked him like, “Hey, how are you so good at all this and all this kind of different quirkiness about the guitar?” He literally just said, “Because my parents never let me have video games.” He goes on to expand. He just goes, “I now look back and reflect on the fact that I just tinkered and messed around with the guitar in my room for like a decade because I had nothing else to do.”

I just think like, “Man, there would be no Ed Sheeran if Ed Sheeran had an iPhone at age 12. There would be no Ed Sheeran if Ed Sheeran was playing fortnight.” That’s crazy to think about. You’re actually like completely deleting that person’s future potential at some level. Now of course, let me give the counter side of that because I don’t want there to be any shame or guilt here at all. I think screens are… There’s couple things I’ll say. We can’t solve this problem in this episode. 

Not all screen time is created equal. There’s a difference between a kid on an iPad in the corner, who’s whiny, grumpy, and doesn’t want to be with the family, and a family movie night. Those are two very different things and do two very different things to family culture. You just create your own filter is what I’m saying and know what you’re pointing your family towards. 

We use screens, but we use them as tools for sickness when we’re sick. It’s just like watch 19 movies. We don’t care. You’re throwing up. I’m throwing up. Planes when we’re traveling and then treats. So it’s like sickness, travel and treats is usually how we do it. Treats is kind of treated like a treat. I’m not going to give a cookie every single day, but it’s a blessing. You love it, “Here, here’s this.” 

Our kids are now older past the two year age, which is when they say that the first two years are really critical. There’s really no need up until a kid gets two, they just kind of sit there, walk around, and do nothing anyways. They don’t even know what it is. If you don’t tell them, they don’t even know what it is. Yeah, so that’s just what I would say. It’s just be thoughtful about it and like Jeremy said they’re totally fine. They’re totally okay. But are you pushing your family culture towards creation or consumption? That’s the big question we have to answer.

Latest Episode

Listen To Our Latest Podcast



Start Building a
Multigenerational Family Team

Live events







Family scouting report