Technology is wonderful for our kids. It allows them to learn and explore things in amazing ways. However, most experts agree that too much screen time for children can be detrimental. So how much is too much?
With the latest release of the iPhone 4S, I think we can all attest to how advanced our society is when it comes to technology. It is rare to see a person without some sort of smart phone in their hands, most children proudly tote around their iPod touches, even children as young as 2-years-old seem to have an impressive grasp, literally and figuratively, on how to use an iPad. Since we didn’t have all this technology growing up, one might stop and wonder, “How is this going to affect my child?”
Studies were conducted long before the invention of the iPhone that showed overuse of screen time had a negative impact on the developing brain. What does overuse mean? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics it is more than 2-3 hours per day, which used to only mean TV or video games but now encompasses much more.
So, how do we as parents teach our children to use all of this technology responsibly, to be able to take advantage of the good it can offer, without losing themselves to it? One way is to set limits and boundaries on how much and how often they can use these devices. Some parents are afraid to curtail its use because their children may fall behind. I am confident in countering that thought because children are literally surrounded by the technology. They receive computer classes in most schools beginning in kindergarten. Our children will surpass our skills by the second grade and will have no problem keeping up with the technology.
What is all the fuss about overuse?
Research has shown that the vast majority of screen time is passive. That means that there is no interaction on the child’s part while watching. They get into a zone, blue lights flickering on their faces, eyes fixed on the screen. Television shows are purposely designed for scene changes every 3-5 seconds which trains the brain to need things to be very fast-paced. The problem is, the brain cannot process information at that rate, creating a mind blur of images and sounds that cannot be comprehended. Is it any coincidence that we find an increase in the number of children diagnosed with ADHD? I think not.
When you are out for dinner, look around and see the children who are sitting at the table behaving so well. If you look closer, you will see that child has some sort of device in their hand; they are either watching a movie or playing a game. While it makes for an enjoyable evening, we are setting habits that will be hard to break in later years.
Create a fun bag
In order for our children to grow up and be leaders, respected by peers and able to effectively communicate, we need to teach those skills while they are young. If they need to have something to do while waiting, create a fun bag, which only comes into places where waiting is required. Those things are put away when the food arrives so the family may be connected rather than interrupted by devices. If you go to a restaurant that is notorious for taking a long time to serve, many will allow you to order ahead, minimizing that time.
Ways to limit screen time
How do parents go about decreasing exposure? I know it sounds old fashioned, but there is nothing better than a good day at the park! A park may not be convenient for some parents, so how about setting screen free times at home? This encourages the children to utilize their imaginations and creativity to come up with ideas about how not to be bored. Here are some other tips that we can implement at home to make a difference.
- Setting limits and boundaries on how often and how much we can use screens
- Keep (or make) your child’s bedroom TV free
- Schedule weekly one-on-one activities with your child — they want nothing more than your time and focused attention
- Reducing screen time by only 15 minutes a day, until you reach the target goal of no more than 1-2 hours per day
- Having a screen free day: an evening free of TV, texting, computer or Wii. No electronic devices! These can be replaced with board games, books, family activities etc.
- Encouraging think time or imagination time
The percentage of time spent abstinent from electronic devices does not need to be the goal, but being more mindful of how we utilize them is. They are wonderful machines and have made life much easier for us, but we need to remain alert, mindful and certain we remain participants in our own lives.
So the next time you think about passing your iPhone to your child to get fifteen minutes of peace, you may want to consider passing on a book instead.