A child holding a pinwheel in the air

Katherine Johnson Martinko takes a bold approach to create healthy boundaries around the use of digital media in Childhood Unplugged… So, what does that look like in practice? Today, we’ve asked her some burning questions about how she can set boundaries in today’s world. It includes our winning question from the recent giveaway we held on Facebook and Instagram.

Is it even possible to raise screen-free kids in today’s world?

Yes, it is possible to raise kids today whose lives do not revolve around screen-based entertainment. In fact, it is more important than ever to create tech-free environments where kids have time and space to think, explore, create, interact with others, and move their bodies. We may live in a digital era, but it’s never too late to push back and embrace new norms for your family.

A group of kids in rain ponchos running outside

What does a typical day look like for your screen-free family?

I prefer the term “digital minimalist” family, as my children do have access to screens, albeit highly limited. On a typical school day, my kids wake up early, practice musical instruments, and work through their list of daily household chores (unloading dishwasher, folding and putting away laundry, making beds, cleaning up the kitchen, etc). They make their own breakfasts and pack their lunches, since both parents are working. They walk to school on their own. After school, they play outside for a good chunk of time before starting on homework, running errands for me, helping with dinner prep, or walking the neighbour’s dog (which they do every day for pay). They often have extracurricular activities. We always eat dinner as a family, then any free time is usually spent reading books, playing board games, doing crafts, etc. They go to bed early to get a good night’s sleep. Screen time (in the form of Netflix) is sporadic, usually limited to rainy days or weekends.

Two boys sitting on the start of a wooden fort

Are you anti-tech?

I am not anti-tech. I appreciate what digital technology allows us to do and love having a smartphone, a laptop, and a WiFi connection, which have enabled my entire online career as a writer and editor to develop. What I oppose is letting tech take over every aspect of our lives (social, mental, physical) to our detriment. When it dominates our time and attention, we cease to do other things that are fundamentally important in life, like engaging with fellow humans, exercising, experiencing deep focus which leads to creativity, sleeping, studying, eating well, and more. It’s an all-consuming force that is difficult to balance (especially for kids!) unless you approach it with cautious awareness. So, I am not anti-tech but pro- putting tech in its rightful place—where it’s a tool, not a toy, where it amplifies our life experiences, not amputates them.

Two sets of kids playing "wheelbarrow"

Question about screen time for children under 2….

Children under 2 should not be on screens! The official recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is that children up to 18 months should only see a screen if they’re video-chatting with an absent parent; otherwise, find other things to do. From 18-24 months, it is considered acceptable to watch screens accompanied by a caregiver who’s also engaged in viewing; however, this is not something I would support doing, as screens can be overly stimulating and even distressing to a baby, especially if he or she cannot escape them. It also sets a precedent for entertainment that’s hard to beat going forward.

Fortunately, a baby or toddler is inherently curious about the world and does not need screen-based entertainment. I am a proponent of routines for sleep and feeding, carrying your baby and letting him or her join whatever activities you’re doing, spending time outside, reading books, and using tangible, age-appropriate toys to entertain. You’ll find that a baby does not miss what he or she does not know. Begin as you mean to go on!

A young boy crouched down playing with sand

About the Author

Katherine Martinko is a writer with a decade of experience in digital news publishing. She was a senior editor at Treehugger, a major green lifestyle site, and wrote extensively about free-range parenting and low-impact living. Katherine previously wrote for Discovery Network. She lives in Port Elgin, Ontario.

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