“Mom, can I watch a show?” were the first words my three-year-old uttered in the morning when he woke up. No “Good morning mommy” or even “What’s for breakfast”– instead, “I wonder what is on Disney Jr. today?” His obsession with watching morning cartoons began as a convenience for ME to distract him in exchange for a moment of solitude and peace while I got ready and cleaned up the house. Although I was careful about this not becoming excessive, I noticed his cravings for more screen time began to generalize to the ipad, phone, and computer- pretty much anything with a screen.  Soon,  I also began to notice his over-stimulated mind seemed unsatisfied with our mundane yet three-dimensional world. But what was even more alarming to me as a parent and as a child counselor was his decrease in desire for creative play sessions.

He seemed distracted.


But is he to blame?

I was the person who fed this habit in the first place… perhaps he was watching me? Perhaps I was the one who had the problem?

Case in point:


But I realized I wasn’t alone. Did you know that on average there are more screens in a home than members of the family? Definitely true in our home. Sadly, I counted 16 screens of some sort! Studies are showing that the average young person will have had more screen time than they will have had hours in the classroom by the time they graduate!

 Don’t get me wrong- technology is brilliant! We can hop on and instantly learn anything we want with just a swipe of a screen or click of a button.

But with a world surrounded by screens and stimulation- should I be worried for my young child whose brain is forming and developing at such a rapid pace?

 According to American Academy of Pediatrics, an excessive amount of TV, movies, video and/or computer games can be linked to obesity, disruption in sleep, behavioral problems, impaired academic performance, violence, and less time for creative play. Studies are also showing that children under the age of 3 who engage in several hours a day of fast paced programs will have shorter attention spans throughout their life. In short, media appetites begin early on and can have a direct impact on their ability to maintain attention throughout their life.

With all the good that our technology can provide for our children- how do I create a healthy balanced media diet that enriches and enhances my child’s life instead of replacing or distracting it?


Something had to change…and fast. We needed an intervention for every member in our family (myself included) and I was willing to try out a little experiment. After a week of preparation, discussion, and planning- we all unplugged.

This sign was placed on all the screens in our home.


 I knew that I couldn’t ask my family to do something that I wasn’t willing to do myself- so, I too unplugged. Obviously, I knew that my husband and I needed to be available to take phone calls and check emails for work throughout the day, so we came up with a limit for the evenings when the phone was to be off for a duration of time.

We called it the “Media Jail.”


I purchased a clear plastic container large enough to fit whatever item we wanted to lock up. It could be anything such as gameboys, controllers, phones, etc.



Then we cut paper and adhered it with two-sided tape to the container- and it is as simple as that. Out of sight- out of mind. We ate dinner and spent time together without any distractions or temptations- what a beautiful thing.


The hard part was coming up with a limit that worked in our home.  We decided that from the time dad walked in the door for dinner to 9:30- the phone and computer should remain off. That gave us over an hour of  time as a couple to spend together after kids were asleep.




I was nervous at first on how I would manage with deadlines and tasks I had to get done. How would I shower? But planning ahead and rearranging my schedule to create more time for picnicis in park and trips to the zoo somehow seemed to free up more time to get those things done. I felt like we accomplished a lot more. Yes, there were tears and protests from my three-year-old. But after a day or two he seemed to forget about it. I noticed a change in his mood. He was happier. His attention span increased. He was capable of entertaining himself! I learned that it was me who assumed he couldn’t do those things without the aid of an electronic device. And do you want to know the best part… NO MELTDOWNS!! I am not sure if it was because of all the extra attention and outdoor time he was getting but- our home was so peaceful.

 I found that the real key was to REPLACE his old habit with a new one like… house work! Why was I doing all the house chores myself while he watched TV? What was I teaching him? Instead we now begin our mornings working side by side. Check out this post here where I talk about encouraging your child to work and our new chore method.

Even after the experiment was over- I noticed he no longer asked for TV or an ipad. In fact, we drove a total of 10 hours in a car and he never made mention of wanting to play a game or watch a movie…I am not kidding. 10 hours!! I was in shock…I don’t think I even went that long without checking in on my email! I had them ready for when he asked but to my surprise, he talked to us, sang songs, and noticed the world outside of his window. I always wondered how we did it as kids…and then realized that when you don’t have it- you don’t need it!

My favorite part of this experiment was the impact it had on our daily connections. We were experiencing being present and the moment with one another…with out distractions.


Okay, so realistically we are in the 21st century. I know- I get it. And I do really want my child to learn how to self-regulate himself and have a healthy balance that  can enrich his life. So, after several weeks- I knew it was time to introduce some media back into the family. The good kind. So, after a month of replacing morning cartoons with doing household jobs without any external reward- (note: he is three and still LOVES to help!) I decided to introduce a limited amount of approved games back into the house.

Growing up, my dad used to say: “You have to pay to play” and as much as I hated hearing those words as a teenager,  I decided to create a system similar to an arcade where in order to play a a game (parent approved) on the computer one must complete his or her jobs and daily responsibilities first. That way I knew that for 30 minutes of games there was an hour of work that had to occur first. I also set a limit on how many coins could be used on a daily basis. So far, we have been good with one- but I am still playing with that one.


So to make our “Media Money” and banks we bought wooden circles and cardboard boxes.


Then we both painted them.


And glued some paper on the coins…mediamoney6

and on the boxes.


With our guidelines in place- we began this system.


So, far it has worked out real well- it’s a win-win! I actually am happy about the things he is learning on the computer and he really enjoys his time.

The best part is when his time is up- he doesn’t seem to have any problems turning it off- in fact, he sometimes turns it off before the time is up.
  With the warm weather and summer approaching- I am continuing to condition MYSELF along with my family to put aside the screens for designated moments in the day and enjoy this warm weather! But it begins with me in setting the example.
Don’t be discouraged if you are not where you want to be. It takes time and every family and situation is different. Find what works for you and start somewhere.
Here are some tips that I found helpful on starting the process of creating a healthy media diet in the home:
Eliminate Background TV Keep TV and computers out of your child’s bedroom Don’t eat in front of TV Set boundaries and limits Be a good example Make watching TV and playing games a family event Monitor what programs and your games they watch and play Encourage other activities such as books and outdoor play   What other ideas do you have in creating a media balance in your home? xo cristi signature   For more information about the affects on children from too much screen time- visit this post along with others on
    1. May 8th, 2013 at 8:18 am
      Sam M. | Atkinson Drive says:
      I love's fabulous! I constantly struggle with how much tv/game time my 3-year-old gets. But, here's my struggle (maybe you can help?) - I have a job that allows me to work from home, but I have to be on the computer approximately 4 hours each day. I've found that in order to keep my little guy entertained, I just let him watch tv or play on the ipad. I hate how dependent he is (or seems to be) on electronics, but I don't know how to limit him without feeling hypocritical. Suggestions?
      • May 8th, 2013 at 12:27 pm
        Becca says:
        Could you do some of you work while he is in bed, early in the morning or later at night? Does he still take naps? If he does, work during his nap. Try to break up your work time, and spend the rest of it with him, playing games, dancing, cleaning, etc.

        I have been trying to limit my 4 and 2 year-old screen times as well. We go for walks at different parks, nearly every day. And on the weekends, Daddy goes with us and we walk and or hike.

        Hope this helps! Good luck!
      • May 8th, 2013 at 12:59 pm
        Cristi says:
        I totally know your pain! I also have periods each week where I have to spend time on the computer editing photos or whatever and TV used to be my go to. I too saw that my 3-year-old becoming so dependent on it that it was becoming an obsession in our home.

        It was so bad that before I could begin replacing TV with something else we had to have a strict detox and take it away to rewire his brain (meaning NO tv, ipads, or screens of any kind) – I didn’t think we could really do it. But it was surprising how quickly he was able to adapt and was like anew kid! He went from a kid who couldn't even read a book on his own to a kid who could spend hours playing or doing a task by himself. Right now I have him picking up his playroom since he just had a friend over and it's given me time to write this. It's been amazing- how content he is with everything else. But I do notice if I bring particularly TV back into his life- we have set backs and almost have to start over. So, it is sorta up to you as far as what you see with your child.

        The great part is that three-year-olds have such malleable brains and can learn and unlearn things really quickly! So it didn’t take as long as I thought and I realized how much I underestimate these little guys.

        Also- side note: giving a child bursts of undivided attention first thing in the morning gives kids the connection and reassurance they thrive for and they have an easier time spending time alone. They need one on one with time out any distractions- so something to keep in mind when planning out the day.

        I am not sure if you have a rigid schedule where you have to be on the computer at certain times or if it is flexible but some other ideas that have helped me personally with my child:
        -Do play day swaps with friends where he gets to interact with other kids
        -Continue to have him take naps or have a daily rest time
        -Try getting work done in the early morning or after he is in bed
        - Teach him to have personal alone time where he plays in his playroom by himself for some periods of a time
        -Engage in educational games on the computer for SHORT periods of time- I found some great programs where he has been able to learn a lot- especially since he sees me on the computer- that is a hard one to tell him that he can't be on.
        -break up the hours of work I have to do so he gets some attention from me and some alone time.
        -I do explain to him that I have some work that has to get done and then assign him some "work" that he has to do as well and then we plan time after to just play or do something fun. We even set a timer sometimes.

        Hope that helps! I know it's different for every parent and every kid and a difficult thing to find balance.

        I do suggest trying out a media fast and see if you notice any changes? You may be surprised.
    2. May 8th, 2013 at 9:37 am
      Shelley says:
      Possibly my favorite post of all time. I needed this one. Thanks for the inspiration on creating media balance.
      • May 8th, 2013 at 1:03 pm
        Cristi says:
        Oh it is a constant struggle for most of us isn't it?

        When I see that photo of me looking at my phone and carrying my little baby (that is a real moment) I know that it starts with me and what I choose to glad it has created inspiration for you. :)
    3. May 8th, 2013 at 10:08 am
      alyssa says:
      Thank you for this article. Our little one is just over a year old and I have noticed that periodically I have been turning the TV on for him so I can get things done. I knew we needed a change, and I appreciate that your article is a bit of encouragement to me.

      Thank you!
      • May 8th, 2013 at 11:07 pm
        Cristi says:
        That is a tough age for sure- they are so busy. Hang in there- this phase will go by so fast and you will look back and wonder where it has gone.
    4. May 8th, 2013 at 11:41 am
      Julie says:
      Great article! I don't have kids yet, but this is something I've always thought about. I hate how often I am on a screen myself! I actually just read an article that basically said that all our distractions and "multi-tasking" is actually hurting our brains in the long-run. Scary thought.
      • May 10th, 2013 at 10:15 pm
        Cristi says:
        There are some great studies out that are showing some really interesting things! It does make you think!!
    5. May 8th, 2013 at 7:56 pm
      Missy says:
      I loved following your journey and thoughts - I too, can totally relate. Love your ideas on balance. Thanks for walking us through this!
      • May 10th, 2013 at 10:16 pm
        Cristi says:
        Glad you enjoyed it. We all have been there!
    6. May 9th, 2013 at 5:33 am
      Janet Dubac says:
      Thank you so much for sharing this article! We need to use technology at our advantage especially when it comes to parenting but we need to balance everything out as well. If I need my kids to stay still while I prepare their food or while I wash the dishes, I switch the TV on or I let them play with the Ipad to keep them still and of course, books and stories come after that. :)
      • May 10th, 2013 at 10:21 pm
        Cristi says:
        I can relate- I too used to turn on the TV on in the evening to keep them entertained while I prepared dinner but I have found pulling them into the kitchen to cook and do dishes with me is priceless. My son is always asking if he can come and cook with me. Sure it does take longer than if I did it myself but the time we spend together in the kitchen- it's priceless.
    7. May 14th, 2013 at 7:12 pm
      Stephanie H says:
      I aspire to this, but it's going to be a hard one for us! All four of my kids (ages 14, 10, 6, and 4) LOVE their screentime, and I know the older boys especially will balk at an unplug. I'm going to do it, though; they NEED it. *I* need it, and so does my husband. Thank you for such an inspiring post!!
      • May 14th, 2013 at 11:16 pm
        Cristi says:
        It is so hard! Especially for the older ones (adults included!) but it was such a great experience for our family that I encourage everyone to give it a whirl!!
    8. May 14th, 2013 at 7:43 pm
      Laura says:
      This was seriously just what I needed! My 3 year old wakes up every morning asking for a show, or to play games on my phone! I am definitely unplugging!!! Thanks for the inspiration!
      • May 14th, 2013 at 11:21 pm
        Cristi says:
        Story. Of. My. Life.

        My 3 year old was obsessed with all that as well... but I mean obsessed. That is why we had to go cold turkey and shut off completely. Now I am still trying to figure out how much is enough in our home- still working on that one!
    9. May 14th, 2013 at 9:09 pm
      Christy says:
      omgosh..thank you so much. I feel so guilty for all the time that my two boys (6 and 4) spend watching tv and playing on the tablet or my's wayyy too much.....I can't wait to try this and see if it helps us.
      • May 14th, 2013 at 11:25 pm
        Cristi says:
        I know the guilty feeling. I love those ages 4 and 6 and they won't even miss it because they have the best imaginations still!!
    10. May 14th, 2013 at 11:12 pm
      Setjay says:
      I agree with your post... And so did my children lol

      Actually i would like them to watch MORE tv - in the morning - because they wake up very soon, sometimes at 5:30am (3 and almost 2 yo) and the baby is sleeping (1 yo). They run, jump, scream, fall, cry, do a lot of noise that i don't control (terrible word), which i don't want because if someone doesn't sleep enough he's crying for the rest of the day.
      I tried to involve different things such as puzzles, drawing etc, but they always end arguing and crying GRRR
      Unfortunately i can't take them far from the baby's room, because all the bedrooms are centered on the sitting room...

      So i really WOULD LIKE them to watch more tv, but they can't stand it anymore. Too much screens, that's the point lol
    11. May 14th, 2013 at 11:12 pm
      Setjay says:
      I agree with your post... And so did my children lol

      Actually i would like them to watch MORE tv - in the morning - because they wake up very soon, sometimes at 5:30am (3 and almost 2 yo) and the baby is sleeping (1 yo). They run, jump, scream, fall, cry, do a lot of noise that i don't control (terrible word), which i don't want because if someone doesn't sleep enough he's crying for the rest of the day.
      I tried to involve different things such as puzzles, drawing etc, but they always end arguing and crying GRRR
      Unfortunately i can't take them far from the baby's room, because all the bedrooms are centered on the sitting room...

      So i really WOULD LIKE them to watch more tv, but they can't stand it anymore. Too much screens, that's the point lol
      • May 14th, 2013 at 11:27 pm
        Cristi says:
        Wow- you have your hands full...and really EARLY in the morning too!! I don't blame you for turning on that TV- I know how important sleep is at our house- especially for mama! ;)
    12. May 15th, 2013 at 10:10 am
      Morgan says:
      Stumbled upon this post via Pinterest, but at just the right time! Just this week I've started implementing no tv mainly as a consequence, but interestingly enough I've noticed the same thing that you did, when there's no tv, she acts out less. I do think its because I'm not as distracted therefore she's getting more of my attention. So I think we'll be implementing a limit on tv/iPad/phones as well. Great post!
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