Screen Time and Children

Screen Time and Children

When was the last time you saw a toddler playing with their parents i-phone happily?  I suspect it was yesterday.  It seems that the new developmental stages are roll over…crawl…hold a hand held device…then walk.  Most parents of older children look at new parents with envy at all the convenient electronics available to them to occupy their child-most especially when they are at a resturant.  I didn’t even know what the inside of a resturant looked like when my now 17 year old was a baby.  And forget about plane rides.  Years later my back still hurts from the humungous bags of toys I had to carry on planes just in case I had to occupy her for the whole trip.  As an exhausted parent I certainly see what a God sent these modern conveniences are.  However, while I recognize that change is necessary for evolution, as a child care director I also see what real damage screen time can do to our children’s future academically, physically and certainly socially.

It is important for children’s healthy development to participate in a wide range of activities from physical exercise, imaginative play, hands-on explorations to activities that involve relationships and interactions with real people.  Even having the TV on in the backround interferes with children’s ability to concentrate-especially on those other important activities that are better for their development.

What is screen time?  TV, DVDs/videos, using a computer, playing video games, hand held devices and mobile phones.

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages media use by children younger than age 2.  Babies learn best through interacting with real people.  In addition it is hard for a child under the age of 2 to get good visual infromation from a 2D image.  The recommendation for children 2-5 years old is no more than one hour a day. There are obvious effects to excessive screen time which hurt children’s healthy development.  For example desensitizing children to violence, teaching children that violence is a possible solution to conflict and absorbing their time for constructive acitvities like reading and creative play.  However, there are other serious health and social issues which result from too much screen time which should be of conern to parents.

Too much screen time has been linked to:

Obesity- via increased snacking and comsumption of high caloric foods.  Children are also subjected to increased exposure to food and beverage advertising and especially the displacement of physical actvitiy.  Having a TV in a child’s bedroom only increases these effects.

Irregular Sleep- the more screen time a child has the more likely they are to have irregular sleep patterns and difficulty falling asleep.  In addition sleep loss, leads to fatigue and in turn could cause academic retention issues, increased snacking and obseity.

Behavorial Problems-studies have shown that children who have more then 2 hours of screen time per day are more likely to have emotional, social and attention problems.  Remarkably excessive screen time in 4 year olds has also been linked to bullying at ages 6 to 11.

Academic issues-Studies have shown that for ages 8-16 months, viewing baby DVD/videos for 1 hour a day is associated with 6 to 8 fewer words learned compared to those who did not watch them.  Large amounts of screen time in 3 year olds has been associated with decreased cognitive test scores at age 6.

In today’s environment of social media and video gaming, limiting your child’s screen time might seem a daunting task, even a punishment for your child-especially if all his/her friends are doing it.  However, there are some simple ways to curb your child’s screen time without having to be the “mean parent”.

-Keep TV’s, computers and gaming systems in public spaces in your home.  Not only will it give you the ability to monitor the amount of screen time they are using, but it will also help you monitor which sites and shows they are watching.

-Set school day rules with limits.  Since most children have limited time after school, it is important that they utilize it effectively and wisely.  For example, for an hour after homework is done.  Also, do not use screen time as a punishment or a reward because it sends the wrong message to children by placing a perceived importance on its use.

-Offer your child a variety of alternative activities.  TV and computers have become our societies addiction and the answer to boredom.  Make sure that you have a host of easy and accessible fun activites that they can engage in alone or with your assistance.  For example, Shrinky Dinks, craft sets, Legos, coloring workbooks, or games like Jacks, Pick-Up-Stix, Jumanji etc. that help their fine motor coordination.  Even an old set of cards or a set of dominos to build with is a really fun activity that takes up little space and can be pulled out quickly.

-Set a good example for your children by limiting your own use.  Equally important is unplugging the electorincs for family time and not using TVs as backround noise. Engaing your child in meal preparation is a family win/win.  It is something you can do together, it lightens your work load, you can talk about nutrition while cooking and it will give you some great bonding time.

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