Raising a Low-Media Toddler: Why Bother? (An Introduction)

Raising a toddler in a low-media home

I’ve mentioned before that we’re trying to keep screen-time to a minimum in our home, especially with a toddler around.

I got a lot of really positive feedback from my post offering suggestions for inexpensive items to keep on your toddler’s toy shelf, and thought I’d continue with a series sharing ideas for simple toddler activities. For me, it’s been an interesting challenge trying to create a low-media environment for my daughter, in which she can learn and play and grow. I really value the ideas for activities and materials I’ve gathered from books, Pinterest, and conversations with friends. I thought I’d share some of what I’ve found that has worked.

But first, by way of introduction, I thought I’d explore why we’re striving to be a low-media family. Then, in subsequent posts, I’ll share some ideas for keeping a toddler engaged and absorbed in the physical world.

(Side note: when I say “media,” I’m referring to entertainment media in general, but particularly digital/electronic media, with a special emphasis on screens.)

I first want to emphasize that we’re not a media-free family. We do have a DVD player, a 26-inch TV, the internet, and two smartphones. Lydia has sat with me and Ben while we’ve watched pirated grown-up TV shows on our computer or a Pixar movie in the basement. Ben occasionally shows her YouTube videos of laughing babies or dogs playing the piano on his phone. She’s seen Curious George and Blue’s Clues at other people’s houses, and I’ve only harrumphed internally.

But we’ve never put on a cartoon or a Baby Einstein video just for her, and we’re hoping to keep it that way as long as possible.

In the meantime, I work hard (some might say obsessively) to create an environment and offer her materials that keep her interested in the real world around her. It can be a challenge in such a media-saturated world. Here’s why I make the effort.

#1: I cannot stand media designed for very young children.

Those grating voices. That jingly-jangly music. And in the case of live-action TV shows, those toe-curling facial expressions. They give me the willies. Have you ever watched The Wiggles for thirty seconds? It’s kind of horrifying. It’s enough to make me want to give up being a human to go join the much more dignified animal kingdom.

In young children’s programming, it’s like they’re doing everything in their power to create something that drives adults absolutely insane. (I know. I know. Kids love it. But still.)

I know other parents say it’s no big deal and you learn to tune it out, but I don’t think I’m that selfless. I just can’t stomach it. And since it’s not supposed to be great for their development anyway, I just keep it out of my home. So my #1 reason for avoiding toddler media is a selfish one: I don’t want to have to see/hear it myself.

#2: It feels consistent with our values.

I’ve written before about striving towards a minimalist lifestyle, decreasing our consumption, caring for the environment, etc. Minimizing screen/media time feels like a natural way to live out these values. Being a low-media family means we own fewer electronic devices, use less electricity/fewer batteries, watch fewer ads, etc.

#3: The Cost.

We don’t have Netflix. We’ve never had satellite or cable or data for our phones. We don’t even have that thing you need to watch television now that it’s digital. (Man, do I sound like an old lady. Writing that last sentence made me feel about sixty years old.)

We don’t own a laptop, a tablet, baby DVD’s, or any kind of gaming system. Living without all these has decreased our living expenses considerably. This is pretty essential when trying to live off of one (unimpressive) income.

#4: To Save My Sanity.

I know a lot of people claim that TV saves their sanity, but I’d personally rather not deal with a toddler whining about watching a particular DVD over and over again or begging for Dora clothes. There are too many negative behaviours associated with TV-time, including tantrums, moodiness, and hyperactivity, that I just don’t want to deal with. I’m not interested in spending precious moments of my day bargaining about screen time.

(We let Lydia watch five minutes of Bugs Bunny in our hotel room a few weeks ago and she couldn’t stop talking about watching “the purple rabbit” for days. No thanks.)

I know that there are lots of ways to watch videos without ads today, but another reason we avoid television is to avoid exposure to commercials. I don’t need a kid begging for Gushers or Fruit Roll-Ups or Puppy Surprise, thank you very much. (Okay, these are the things I begged for when I was a kid. I have no idea what kids beg for these days. Disney princess stuff?)

Instead, I would like to cultivate in my daughter a capacity for self-directed creativity and concentration. I also want to giver her as much opportunity as possible for movement/ exercise, reading, imaginative play, and enjoying nature. Screen time takes away from all that.

I want a kid who’s used to silence, and who’s not used to be entertained. It takes off a lot of the pressure off of me to keep her perpetually entertained. I think it’s easier to cultivate these kinds of things when we keep screen time to a minimum.

#5: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding screens until the age of 2.

I tend to be wary of what “the experts” say about how to parent. But I have to say that the AAP’s policy statement against television for young children feels intuitively right to me. I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject, and I’ve personally decided to avoid screens for my child until she’s older, for developmental reasons. (Here’s an article if you’re interested in reading more.)

A Few Important Notes

1. Please be aware that none of this is meant to be a criticism of families who spend a lot of time using electronic media. If Netflix, DVDs, and iPad apps are working for your family, more power to you. It’s just not something I want for my family at this time in our lives. A time might come when I discover that children’s television is my saving grace (especially if we have more kids). And we just might subscribe to Netflix someday if the Canadian version ever gets a decent selection of movies and TV shows.

2. Also remember that I have only one child. And I make zero dollars. If you are a working mother or have more than one child, you have to deal with challenges I can’t even fathom. So keep that in mind as I share ideas for going screen-free. If they seem unrealistic, feel free to roll your eyes and say, “That lady doesn’t have a clue.” I probably don’t.

3. Lastly, I want to highlight that I personally watched a lot of TV growing up. A LOT. I still feel like I had a richly imaginative childhood. I know I’m not the best judge, but I think I grew up to be a reasonably healthy and creative adult, too, despite all those hours watching Darkwing Duck, Bonkers, and Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers. So I don’t think having a media-heavy childhood is necessarily a recipe for obesity, behavioural disorders, and a deadened imagination.

But if you’re looking for ways to live media-light as well, maybe we can brainstorm together. I have a few ideas that have been working for us. Join me?

Part One: Creating a Low-Media Home Environment

Part Two: 7 Simple Sensory Table Ideas

Part Three: Participating in Everyday Life and Work

Part Four: Montessori Activities


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  1. I love that you’re doing “media light” it’s a much easier goal to attain. I will say for us a few things have worked well – having the only TV (no cable, just a DVD player and Netflix) in our downstairs in which a special effort has to be made to watch (no turning on while making dinner, etc.), limiting the options – H. doesn’t realize that there are channels that play tv shows constantly and we limit what is watched to certain shows and movies, TV time is still a family activity (we watch a movie as a family, not just one person off on their own). I still wish we were a little less screen free, but I’m so far glad we’ve not brought smartphones, tablets, and e-learning tools into the house. Can’t wait to hear more!
    Molly recently posted..Preparing the Pantry: Quick and Easy Vegetables to PreserveMy Profile

  2. Looking forward to hearing more! So far our 16 month old daughter has been pretty much media-free, but with a tech-mad web developer for a husband I think the older she gets the harder it will be…. It’s not something many of my friends/family agree with, so I am always keen to hear of how it works for other families :)

  3. I identify as being media/tech-lite, to avoid the addictive behaviours (have you read The Shallows?) as well as the consumerist/branded web. That said, I seem to be way more relaxed about tv and movies. We use netflix and dvds usually every day that Ambrose doesn’t have preschool. I went from being vehemently against screentime to using it daily when I got pregnant when he was 18 months. The pros suddenly outweighed the cons!
    Visual media really can provide rich fodder for the imagination, when programs are selected well and when used in moderation. We like Fred Penner and Franklin the Turtle.
    Toy Story snuck into our lives through my inlaws, I think when I was pregnant that time, and it is a story I feel ambiguous about. We have a lot of toys and all three books; the books are out of reach right now and the toys are being newly kept in a drawstring bag as part of a plan to phase them out. So my advice is that if and when a storyline is introduced that you don’t feel comfortable with, don’t let it get a second viewing, or it’ll be much more work later to phase it out!
    Amy recently posted..a fresh startMy Profile

  4. We also don’t have a TV, tablet or any of those things — my husband, a highschool teacher, carts a banged up laptop around and I’m lucky.if I get on it once a week. Maybe it’s not from choice we don’t have gadgets, but it is not something we feel we lack. My oldest (almost 3) has grown up playing with a ball of string, some blocks, a trainset, mud, his little brother and climbing trees. Neither of my boys are interested in watching TV at all…in fact when someone tries to play them a child’s DVD they will sit for a few minutes before inventing their own game and tootling off. I must add, we live in forty square meters, and our long, wet winters in Cape Town have often had me near introducing them to TV…but then I watch how they read for hours at a time, build train “castles” and I realise this decision to be “media lite” is benefitting them hugely! I hope I can keep this up as our family grows!

  5. We have been trying to keep things fairly low-tech for our 16 month old, but that became a lot more challenging when our second daughter was born in July. Since then, I sometimes resort to Netflix in the afternoon, because sometime around 3 or 4 the baby needs to eat and the toddler is clingy. I started out trying to find things that I thought would be interesting to her, and gave up because the shows made for small children drove me crazy, and they didn’t really interest her anyway. She’s more interested in grown-up shows that have things she recognizes in them. So I get to watch things like Pride and Prejudice in the afternoon, which I much prefer to whatever might be targeted at the pre-school set these days. I think that it’s good to cultivate an interest in other things in the real world, but for this season of life it has been handy to have the TV around.

  6. Good stuff here. I had to laugh… we checked out Chip N Dales Rescue Rangers at the library yesterday. :) Guess that makes me … lame? Anyhow, really good stuff.
    tacy recently posted..Simplifying for the Fall and Fasting for SyriaMy Profile

  7. Thank you so much for this post! My wife and I are actively trying to have children and though we know that you can never be “ready” we believe that it’s important to educate ourselves and prepare. I have strong feelings about kids tv time and we are surrounded by mom’s that depend on tv. They use tablets and movies in the car and cartoons to entertain their toddlers/kids so that they can get housework done or bribe them to go to sleep. I don’t want that to be my kids!!! You and all these mom’s here that believe in low/no media make me feel like it is possible. Thank you!


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