“Screen-Free Until Three”: Is It Possible?

screen freeWhen I was pregnant, I had such good intentions. Along with many other unrealistic expectations such as my child only playing with nice wooden toys, and only wearing nice, gender-neutral Scandinavian knitted clothing in rainbow hues, I was adamant that my child would be ‘Screen Free Until Three’. It sounded like an attractive prospect – not only does it rhyme, but it also meant that my baby’s precious, pure mind would be uncorrupted by brightly-coloured, singing-and-dancing drivel on the likes of Cbeebies. Plus, it gave me serious Good Mum Points. Maybe it was my chance at being like those Pinterest-Perfect Parents, whose children don’t have any screens until they’re twenty four and are reading Tolstoy by the age of two. I certainly wouldn’t use the TV to ‘babysit my child’.

Ah, how naïve I was.

It started out fine. In The Night Garden didn’t so much as grace the TV screen for the first six months. The closest we came to a screen was the ‘Big Bug Band’ music on Baby TV, played on a loop on YouTube as she lay under her baby gym (even a year on I can still sing that off by heart).

Then, one evening when Daf was at work and SB was in the middle of an unstoppable crying fit, I’d had enough. Everyone else seemed to describe In The Night Garden as some miracle crack for babies, and – although I was a little dubious about giving my child the equivalent of visual heroin – I found a two-hour version on YouTube, and we lay on the bed together and watched.

At first, there was nothing. No reaction, no interest. Then Iggle Piggle, that little blue beanhead appeared on the screen, and not only did she stop crying, but she laughed. Not a little giggle – full on chuckles, going as far as to squeal with delight as he danced his little dance and Derek Jacobi said inexplicable phrases like “Hurry up Pinky Ponk” and “We’re going to the Olly Bolly Dob Dob Tree”.

As I watched, wondering if I was having some kind of crazy trip, SB just couldn’t get enough of it. It truly is like baby crack – there’s something about In The Night Garden that is just addictive to babies and toddlers. And thus, an obsession was born. From then on, whenever she cried, we just had to put In The Night Garden on YouTube and she would cheer up, squeaking with joy. Eventually she’d recognise the first plinky plonky notes of the theme song, and that would be enough to raise a smile.

SB didn’t tire of it, but after a while, I’d had about as much as I could take. I was done with the Tombliboos, finished with the Harhoos, couldn’t take one more second of the Pontipines and Wattingers and their neighbourly feuds and charming garden folk dancing. I couldn’t go back now – screen time was well and truly implemented in my parenting toolkit. All I could do was find something new for SB to obsess over.

Peppa Pig was a no-go. I don’t think it’s over-ambitious to say that we will remain a Peppa Pig-free zone until SB is old enough to grab the remote and physically put it on herself – I hate the little porker and everything she stands for. The same goes for Mike The Knight – I find both of them (despite being children’s characters) obnoxious, irritating, and a bad example to children.

I had a look at what other Cbeebies shows were available on YouTube, and stumbled across Waybuloo. Now that is a programme aimed at parents rather than at children. SB wasn’t totally sold, but I was. It’s like half an hour of meditation and tinkly wind chimes, if you can ignore the weird flying pastel-coloured animals. Still, it kept SB fairly happy, and provided a welcome relief from In The Night Garden, so everybody wins.

One year on and ‘screen free until three’ failed miserably. SB knows how to turn my phone on and take a selfie. One of the few ways I can reliably keep her quiet is to put the ten hour loop of ‘Let It Go’ on YouTube. She has an obsession with technology, to the point where we’ve had to give her an old, non-working phone and tablet to keep her amused. She’ll happily sit with an Xbox controller for hours, pretending to play along with us on Minecraft or Assassin’s Creed.

Has her brain turned to mush? So far, the answer is no. She’s developmentally ahead and seems very bright (although, of course, every parent thinks that about their child). Maybe for some parents, screen free until three is feasible – if you’re not a big gadget whizz yourself. For a couple of YouTube loving, Xbox-playing, laptop-using, tablet-owning, phone-obsessed geeks like us, however – I think we’re giving her the next best thing – a full grounding in technology before she’s even two years old.

Coding by four? The world wide web is her oyster.


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