Azka Shafiq decided to eliminate screen time from her toddler's routine 7 months ago.
She's noticed clear differences in her daughter's behavior and is sharing her journey on TikTok.
Here's the story of how she said no to screens, as told to Charissa Cheong.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children 18-months and under get no screen time, and children between 2 and 5 years old limit their screen time to one hour a day or less. But a 2020 study from the Cleveland Clinic of 1,000 children found that 79% of two-year-olds and 97% of three-year-olds exceeded the recommended amount.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Azka Shafiq, a 29-year-old instructional designer based in Toronto, Canada, and it has been edited for length and clarity.
I got married seven years ago to my husband Adnan. We had our daughter, Alayna, five years later, and she's now 21 months old.
Having a kid was definitely a big, big change to our lifestyle. I work from home full-time, and during my maternity leave, my husband was working really long hours away from home, so I was alone with Alayna often. My daughter's always been very attached, so the TV served as a good distraction for five minutes here and there when I needed to run the washroom, for example. We'd also give her a phone to watch something in the car during road trips when we knew she was crying and cranky.
Screen time always helped, but I always felt kind of guilty doing it. What really bothered me was the way that she would stop listening to me or interacting and just be focused on the screen.
When my daughter was one, my in-laws visited us for two months, and there was a lot of TV on all the time. Alayna would often turn towards the TV if it was on when she was in the room, and I started noticing a big change in my daughter's behavior. She had a really hard time playing by herself, she couldn't focus for long periods of time, and her sleep shifted dramatically.
My husband started noticing the same things, and we decided that once my in-laws were gone we would do a detox from screen time with her.
Cutting out screen time was challenging and it started with us guiding her toward play
In January, we went cold turkey with screen time and tried to help my daughter understand that her job was to play, but it was hard at the start because she wasn't very used to playing independently.
I started taking her to play centers near where I live to get her used to free play. We initially had to do a lot of guiding with her on playing independently with toys, because she was previously used to someone engaging with her all the time. Since January, I've seen a huge improvement in her imagination in this area.
We've also made it a daily practice to spend a lot of focused one-on-one time with her in the mornings instead of rushing into our routines. Our mornings are very slow, and she usually plays with her own little play kitchen while I make breakfast for us.
If we're not at the play center during the day, she usually plays at home. I do a toy rotation, meaning I swap out the toys that are available to her.
Offering too many toys can be overwhelming for little ones which can hinder play as they don't know where to start and face decision fatigue. This is why we limit to 4-6 quality and developmentally-appropriate toys at a time and rotate them out frequently so they stay engaged.
We also started giving her books on long car rides instead of a screen, and she's gotten so good at blitzing through them. I can see and hear her talking to herself and pointing at pictures in the backseat, or just observing things outside.
I've noticed she can actually enjoy seeing the small things now, which I feel is a big change. For her, standing in the line at a cafe and seeing all the little things going on is an experience in itself, because she isn't used to seeing something greater on a screen. I think a lot of kids who watch screens are so used to seeing unique, fast-paced things that everyday life things become boring.
It's been about seven months since we started doing no screen time, and it's working great. We're thinking of keeping her on no screen time until she's at least two, and then start thinking about when or if we might like to re-introduce screens in the future.
I've been documenting my journey on TikTok to show other parents that zero screen time is possible
I feel really passionate about zero screen time, and I wanted to share my experience on my TikTok account, while also being very conscious about not judging other parents.
When I was a new mom, especially a first-time mom, I felt so much responsibility to entertain my child all the time. If she was just lying there looking at things, I'd ask myself, "Oh, is she bored? Does she need me to be near her? Should I be playing with her?"
I think part of my messaging has been that we have to, as parents, especially as mothers, let go of the guilt that we have to constantly entertain our child, which I think is a reason some people rely on screens. I feel a lot of the time, parents, and especially moms (who often end up carrying a larger load of parenting), feel so paralyzed by the thought of not having something to rely on, that they just don't know where to start when it comes to limiting screens.
I don't think that zero screen time is achievable for everyone, as people are in varying life circumstances. They might be single parents, parents of multiple kids, or having rough pregnancies while also raising a toddler.
But I do think that everyone can begin to acknowledge and accept that screen time can have a negative impact, and then start to think about when you're giving your child screen time, what type of screen time you're giving, or make sure it's not a routine that every day you're just coming home and turning on the TV. I think those kinds of things are very achievable.
Overall, my hope is just to say, yes, you can limit screens, and you should limit screens, and here's the kind of impact that we've seen, this is how we did it, and it is possible.
Just showing the possibility of it has been my biggest goal, to help parents feel like they can do it too.
Read the original article on Insider