As any mom raising young children in the digital age will tell you, the screen time struggle is real. The way we each choose to deal with this uniquely-21st century challenge is highly personal, but one thing we can probably all agree on is that less is better. To put it simply, for young developing brains, doctors recommend more unplugged playtime, and less digital media. For designer and mama of three Ulla Johnson, her version of less translates into an almost-screen-free environment for her four, seven, and eleven year old kids. When we first interviewed her for The Glow back in 2016, we were so impressed by her steadfast and consistent rules that we decided to sit down with the inspiring entrepreneur (and our perennial girl crush) to find out how she developed her “almost-no-screen-time” philosophy, and, most importantly, how she sticks with it. Here, she shares her top eight tips for living a less-digitally-connected, more creative life with little ones.

Ulla’s Screen Time Philosophy

“First, I want to say that I judge no one on their choices with respect to screen time with their kids and I know many amazing children who play video games and/or watch TV for hours every day. My husband was one of them! That said, if you are interested in dialing back screen time, I’m sharing my approach below…”

THE GLOW: How would you describe your parenting philosophy when it comes to TV/screen time?

ULLA JOHNSON: “In an ideal world I would say none. In reality, I have to make concessions to my son’s sports obsession, to Saturday morning cartoons, to long flights. That said, I never ever allow screens during family meals or drives.

TG: In our interview with you for The Glow, you mentioned that you don’t really watch TV in front of your kids, and at most, you watch nature shows with them on PBS, with a special movie night on the weekends and Saturday morning cartoons. Is your minimal approach to screen time something you thought much about before becoming a mom?

UJ: “I would have to say that yes I did. I grew up in a home where TV access was limited and much of my downtime was spent drawing, reading, or listening to records and I think this creative downtime deeply informed my sensibilities as an adult. It was very important for me to nurture my kids’ creativity in this same way and I just find banal TV shows and violent video games really abhorrent. It’s a daily struggle but one I believe in deeply.”

TG: Amongst your mom/parent friends, is your approach unique?

UJ: “Definitely not. I have dear friends who send their kids to Waldorf where eschewing TV is one of their core tenets. I would say I am somewhere in the mid-range of my friends.”

TG: You also mentioned watching nature shows on PBS as a child—were your own parents strict with you about watching TV as a kid? If so, how did you react to their rules?

UJ: “We watched 60 minutes and Nature and that’s about it. Very very nerdy! I honestly don’t remember being super upset about this but then again screens were not nearly as omnipresent when I was growing up.”

TG: In your home, have the TV/screen time rules always remained the same, or have they gotten stricter as the kids get older? How do you enforce the rules?

UJ: “Oh, it’s an ongoing dialogue. I don’t want to be so draconian that my kids become obsessed, so it’s a bit of a constant push and pull. My seven year old and four year old don’t really mind but my 11-year-old son is more complicated. He is the only one of his friends that doesn’t have a phone, or a game system. He feels deprived on the one hand, but often tells me he is considered the best artist among his friends, and attributes this to all the time he has spent just sitting around with a pencil. I think he will thank me one day.”

TG: Has it been hard on you/your husband to uphold the mostly-no-screen-time policy?

UJ: “In truth, yes, especially since many of our children’s friends are growing up with very different rules. It requires constant dialogue and vigilance.”

TG: With the current political climate, has TV news become more a part of your everyday life, or have you still kept the same routine regarding screen time?

UJ: “In the lead up to the election, we were definitely watching all the debates together. Since November, not as much but we certainly discuss the news very openly with the children and my eldest and I went to Philly to get out the vote together and subsequently attended the Women’s March and several local rallies. Certainly our children have become politicized.”

TG: You mentioned that your oldest son does not have a phone yet. As your kids get older, are you feeling more pressure from them to have their own devices?

UJ: “I told my son I would get him a phone when he starts 6th grade next year. I haven’t decided if it will be a smart phone.”

TG: You also mentioned giving yourself phone holidays when you are with your kids, with varying degrees of success. With so much of our lives happening on our phones, how do you approach the issue of running your own business and needing to be constantly in touch, and also being a mom of three who wants to minimize screen time?

UJ: “This is so hard. They definitely see me on my phone, which is obviously a double standard. As with them, I struggle with my own screen obsessions, especially since I own my business and work never really goes away. Again, never at meals and as little as I can manage the rest of the time.”