I’ll be the first to admit that I have given my little guy my smart phone so I could get a few moments of mommy time, ahem, bathroom time, phone time, or just a breather time. As a book seller and literacy promoting mom, the guilt factor kicks in quickly. Have I created a screen-loving monster? Ruined his chances of getting into college? Say goodbye to social skills?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours of cumulative screen time per day for kids 2 and older. And a big fat ZERO hours for children under 2! What’s the big deal? Well, it turns out screen time hinders a baby’s development of their perception of the world. What’s real? What’s fake? To him, a cartoon character on the screen is every bit as real as his mommy or brother. Scary right? There’s also good evidence that screen viewing negatively affects language development, reading skills, and short-term memory. Perhaps equally important are the activities that our children miss out while they are glued to a screen. Activities like listening to a story, “cooking” with you (banging pots together), constructing (building a tower), etc. Studies show that active playing is essential to human development.
So what’s a parent to do? Our culture is so infiltrated with media, so much so that it’s even hard to escape as adults. How do we limit screen time and protect young brains during this sensitive time? While it might be impossible to eliminate all electronics and live in a cave, implementing some of these practical tips that might help you navigate through the quagmire of technology.
- Lead by example: Nip your own screen-time habit. Children do what we do, not what we say. Turn off the TV. Designate email times instead of constantly checking your phone. (This one is hard for me… “ooh, another email, I wonder…” No, checking email is everyday at 9pm, after kids are in bed.
- Smart placement: Situate the TV away from the main activity area. For example, if the kids spend most of their time in the living room/kitchen, move the TV to the basement or parents’ bedroom, preferably on a different level of the house. iPads and smart phones can live in their docking stations on a high counter, somewhere not easily visible or accessible.
- Fill in with fun! Play the radio or CDs in the background. Books with read aloud CDs are wonderful! With babies and toddlers, give them as much eye contact as possible! Cuddles, storytime, singing nursery rhymes, it’s all good! For school aged children, try puzzles, games, activity books to keep them engaged. Of course reading aloud is wonderful, especially when an older sibling is able to read to the young ones!
- Go outside! Whenever possible, let children explore the outdoors. Allow them to burn off excess energy, learn about God’s creation, and have fun with friends! There is increasing evidence that nature time reduces ADHD symptoms and has a calming effect.
- Book Nooks! Create book nooks throughout the house, bedroom, bathroom, dining room, kitchen, in the car. Make books easily accessible everywhere. Create a book bag that can be taken with you to doctor/dentist appointments, waiting at restaurants, etc. While there are tons of ideas on pinterest, you can keep it simple and cost effective too.
OK, so you’ve tried all the tips above, and made some dramatic cut backs on screen-time. Now what? What if there’s still that few minutes a day or once every few days that a distraction is truly needed? All I can say is, stay strong, and pray, and that curation is key. Make sure your little one is getting high quality, age-appropriate content. Be sure to subscribe to this blog, just enter your email in the upper right, and we’ll send you an email when the next post is ready. We’ll have a list of age appropriate top rated apps for kids, for screen time, if you must. =)