Reflections on Screen-Free Parenting
There are many reasons we give our daughter a screen-free childhood. But, really, many of those reasons are beside the point (or in addition to the real point), which is this: Our home and our lives are simply far more wonderful without it.
One advantage of eliminating screen time is that I can be confident my 5 year old daughter’s play is inspired by her real life experiences and personal encounters. On any given day, she is likely to rearrange at least half the furniture in the house to create a scene for her play. The dining room table (covered with a sheet) becomes a camping tent, or a lion’s cage. Chairs are rearranged in any configuration, to create a bus, airplane, or car. As I type this, there is a set of round stackers on the table which she used this morning to play “ice-cream store,” and she has tied several playsilks to a barstool to make a Maypole. She relishes playing the role of the teacher, singing, “Here we go round the Maypole,” and exclaiming “Let colored ribbons fly!” In the living room, she has crayons and paper arranged on a chest, which she announced last night was an auction, plainly inspired by our school’s recent silent auction fundraiser. The package of new socks I just bought for her yesterday was quickly incorporated into a “sock store” game.
As a mother, it is extremely gratifying to see how efficient she is in using her play to process new or difficult emotional experiences. Indeed, virtually every new experience becomes the subject of her play the moment we return home. Consequently, I easily gain insights into how she is feeling about life’s events, whether a trip to a bustling post office or the death of the beloved classroom pet crab. Even more remarkable is how she replays events, either to simply understand them or to heal herself of life’s hurts. Often her play evolves until she has rewritten the story to her satisfaction, perhaps casting herself in a more powerful role, such as the dentist, doctor, teacher, or circus performer.
Even those challenges which tend to strike fear in the hearts of parents, such as plane trips and long car rides, tend to be times of joy and connection for our family. A recent unexpected family trip required that we take a total of four plane rides, including connecting flights. I’ve long since abandoned any inclination to pack up a suitcase of toys to entertain my daughter on trips. Early on, I observed that her familiar and beloved toys tended to stay in the suitcase. Instead, she is endlessly fascinated by the ice bucket or the notepad and pen in the hotel room. If staying with friends, she would much rather play with the family dog or look for snails in their garden than play with any toy. Even plane trips are fun, with plenty of time to chat and discuss the trip. During the last flight, my daughter colored a bit, made a few finger-knitted bracelets for relatives, and sang her latest favorite songs to me. I suppose some would prefer a child be perfectly quiet, but I can’t imagine her sweet singing was any more disruptive than the gentleman behind us droning on and on loudly about his regional quarterly sales quotas.
In the car, with little else to distract us, we amuse each other with conversation, games, songs and stories. One of my daughter’s favorites is a game called “funny faces,” where we just make funny faces at each other in the rearview mirror. Once, we were stuck in traffic during rush hour and I heard my daughter let out a long sigh in the backseat. I asked, “What are you thinking about?” She replied, “Oh, I’m just enjoying looking out the window at the pretty birds.” And many, many times, there is a quiet moment where my daughter begins tentatively, “Mama, it is hard to say, but I want to tell you about something . . . “ Of course, those are the most touching and important conversations of all.