Valley Voices

Mom at wit’s end over kids on cellphones? End screen time, says parenting expert

Jill Simonian and her daughters. She limits their screen time each day, preferring them to read or play outside.
Jill Simonian and her daughters. She limits their screen time each day, preferring them to read or play outside. Fresno Bee file

Raising little kids without their own devices isn’t as hard as it seems. Those of you who know me or follow me on social media aren’t surprised by this rash testament. The rest of you probably think I’m nuts. I promise, I’m not nuts.

My daughters (ages almost 9 and 7-and-a-half) do not possess their own iPads, phones, mini-TVs or tablets. Yes, we have a Nintendo Switch that’s hooked up to our main TV in our family room so we can play “Just Dance” -- and the one time my rascals snatched the portable screen into their room (when my sister’s kids were over), I hit the roof. “Devices don’t belong in your room! You want me to take the whole thing away forever?!” My sister then laughed and threatened to expose these shenanigans and hashtag me as #fakenews for pushing a no-screen agenda on my channels.

But seriously: This is our life, especially at the start of a new school year. No individual screens on weekdays (with the exception of watching one of their favorite shows on our main TV after school). No devices that belong to them (they must ask to borrow my husband’s iPad, which we keep in our bedroom). And yeah, I pretty much banned YouTube for kids once we watched one episode of JoJo Siwa hollering like she was amped on uppers while dumping grape juice on her head (I shut down that stupidity quick).

Why so judgy and shrewd about limiting free access to individual screens in this wide, digital world we live in? Because I work in media and I’m getting exhausted from appearing on live national television only to beg us parents to stop making excuses about why our kids are agitated, scared, jumpy, anxious, depressed and/or crabby on a day-to-day basis. I’ve unfortunately learned too much about how too many screens too soon affects brains and behaviors of small kids, thanks to all the research I’ve read, studies I’ve cited for stories, child development professionals I’ve interviewed, teachers I’ve talked with one-on-one and pediatricians who shake their heads about how many avoidable problems so many kids are combatting these days.

As for teaching my kids about tech – absolutely! I teach ‘em all about apps and Internet searches and real fake news using my phone in spurts – they know what Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat is and they also know it’s not for anyone under the age of 13 — at the youngest (by law).

Some of the family rules I maintain?

▪ No screens (ie: movies) in cars – this includes 3-hour road trips to Fresno to visit family every other month. “Look out the window! Sing! Count!” I say. Sometimes they complain (I let them and breathe deeply as I drive), sometimes they just look out the window, sometimes we have the most incredible conversations.

▪ No screens in restaurants. This was super hard & annoying at times (especially when I had two toddlers at once!), but worth it in the long run. Those of you who once read my piece ‘The Real Reason My Kids Behave in Restaurants’ might be triggered.

▪ No individual devices until 8th grade (insert gasp and side-eye accusations about raising my daughters in the dark ages here). Depending on their maturity, I’ll probably allow them an app or two when it’s time – under my password-protection and full and open parental surveillance.

▪ No headphones allowed when watching screens – I want to hear what you’re watching from the other room. Because you’re a child.

Do my kids think I’m mean? Not yet. (For real -- ask them.) Do you think I’m mean? Come tell me in person at The Central California Women’s Conference on Tuesday Sept. 17.... I’ll be dishing much more about this topic and spilling all sorts of sneaky tricks for striking a purposeful balance and raising our kids right with screens, toddlers to tweens.

Jill Simonian was born and raised in Fresno and is creator of TheFabMom.com. She is a Los Angeles based TV/media contributor and author of book “The FAB Mom’s Guide” for first-time pregnancy. Connect with Jill on Facebook and Instagram @jillsimonian.

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