• Raising a child in a screen-free home is challenging but worth it. (Getty Images )Source: Getty Images
From borrowing books at the library to resisting peer pressure to watch the latest Disney movie, Nicole Rodwell shares the challenges of raising her 15-month daughter in a screen-free home.
Nicole Rodwell

30 Jan 2018 - 11:22 AM  UPDATED 30 Jan 2018 - 11:29 AM

It's 5:30pm. The entire surface of our living room floor is covered in an assortment of kitchen utensils, books and toys. The clean washing I painstakingly folded into a neat pile this morning has now been liberated from the clothes basket by my 15-month-old daughter.

She's currently attached to my left leg nagging for me to read her beloved book ‘Baah Baah’ and I’m trying to peel a potato, unsuccessfully.

By all accounts, it appears to be a standard evening in a toddler-run household. Notably absent, however, is the background noise of our TV, or the enticing dings of iPads and other iGadgets.

Our daughter’s not nagging for any of these things, because she has no idea what they are. The black rectangle hanging on the wall might as well be art, and all other devices have been stashed out of sight. Welcome to our screen-free life.

 Our daughter is only 15 months old, but we have already laid the foundations for our future as a screen-free family.

The TV is never switched on before she’s in bed at night and during the day our phones are hidden. We even sold our iPad to remove the temptation of switching on Netflix Kids, opting for screen-free stimulation instead.

Our daughter’s not interested in screens yet, but I know that will change in the future. And I’m under no illusion as to how hard it’s going to be. We are only at the very beginning of our screen-free journey, and our resolve has barely been tested.

Unless of course you count the times I've desperately wanted to whip out my phone at a cafe so I don't have to endure another cold breakfast eaten with my non-dominant hand.

So far, I haven’t cracked. I hope we can stay this strong in the future when peer pressure starts to take hold.

 The way I see it, we’re laying the foundations for a happy life for our daughter, and any future kids.

Screen time in children has been linked with poor attention span, stunted creativity, addiction and obesity; and at the more severe end of the spectrum, anxiety, depression and suicide.

It’s an understatement to say we want to do everything we can to protect our daughters physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, and we’ve been screen-free from the day she was born to give her the best chance of that.

 So what does our current screen-free arsenal look like? We rotate toys daily to keep them interesting, go to the park, and spend endless hours at the library reading and borrowing books.

We also reserve the use of our ‘Big Guns’ - A wallet full of old debit cards and a box filled with Tupperware containers that are usually interesting enough to prevent a Stage 5 Toddler Meltdown.

 Long gone are my fears of singing in front of my husband, too. That phobia was resolved in the early parenting days after an epic night of bellowing ‘Bah bah black sheep’ on repeat to a screaming newborn, interspersed with the occasional Snoop Dogg lyric to keep things light.

 If you want to be screen free, your heart and soul has to go into it. And even a vocal chord or two. There's little downtime and you're constantly researching the Next Big Thing in screen-free entertainment.

(It’s toddler ‘busy bags’ if you’re wondering).

Despite making the decision to go screen-free for our daughter’s future wellbeing, concerns from other parents are common. The most frequent we receive is that our daughter will grow up a Luddite, permanently condemned to a cave while civilisation advances around her.

Does this worry me? Not one bit. She’s going to grow up with exponentially more technology in her life than I did (I still miss my trusty Nokia 5110 ‘dumbphone') so I have no doubt she’ll adapt quickly to screen use when the time is right. I grew up using an actual encyclopedia - not wikipedia - and I can tweet with the best of them.

There are some aspects of technology we have embraced, however.

Spotify and podcasting make screen-free life both enjoyable and educational. Not just for my daughter, but for me too.

Listening to podcasts for hours on end has fed my obsession with US politics and I know the Spotify ‘Pop 4 Kids’ playlist track for track. 

When she’s older I’m looking forward to subscribing to Pinna, an award-winning kids audio program by podcast network Panoply, specifically designed to help parents limit screen time.

It’s my hope that by the time we’re truly in the trenches of screen-free parenting there will be many more tools like this available.

 At this point, I don’t pretend to have all the answers, nor do I have a concrete plan of what our family's screen-free future will look like.

We will soon be flying long-haul together, just me and my daughter for nine hours of pure hell, and I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to cope without resorting to turning on the seat back screen in a fit of rage.

I don’t think I could even fit enough busy bags in my carry on luggage to last the flight. Surviving these experiences will make me a much better screen-free parent, and better prepared for what lies ahead, too.

 Our daughter still so young and we haven’t yet faced the difficulties I believe lie ahead for us. Societal and peer pressure, as well as the ubiquitous nature of screens, will no doubt bring steep learning curves as she gets older and desperately wants to watch the latest Disney movie.

But despite knowing these challenges, I truly believe we will be a happier, closer family because of the decision we’ve made to be screen-free.

Just don’t tell her we’re planning on giving her my old Nokia 5110 for her 18th birthday.