Our children are growing up in an age of booming technology at an unprecedented pace. The Information Age is in full swing and for a while so has the Digital Revolution. The Digital Revolution referring to the digital industry creating an ever increasingly efficient and convenient digital electronic technology. Every year there is a newer, faster, and more advanced computer, iPad, TV, mobile phone, computer game, music device, games console that has our children staring into a screen.
What impact does this have on our children? Where and how much do we as parents, need to monitor and limit our children’s access to the various forms of technology at their fingertips.
Dr Arid Sigman is concerned about the medical issue related to a child’s screen time. He is less concerned about the educational games, applications or TV shows and more concerned about the entertainment aspect however still encourages parents to manage their child’s screen time.
Young children of today’s generation have become extremely proficient at using touch screen devices.
More and more children are spending a considerable amount of time in front of some form of a screen. The TV has for many years become the new babysitter. In today's age parents tackle a great deal in everyday life. As parents struggle to meet daily demands on them between parenthood, careers, and financial responsibilities they turn to technology to assist them in coping. The TV as Dr Arid Sigman says has become the new babysitter! The working parent gets home late and still needs to fulfill parental duties of cooking supper, bath time and individual attention for their children as well as down time for themselves. This is why it is so much easier for the parent to simply turn the TV on or give your little one an iPad or smart phone. How else do they get things done? Although screen time has become a life line for many parents if not all parents, if we do not manage screen usage we are placing our children at risk of a variety of negative effects.
The Effects Of Too Much Screen Time
The American Academy of Paediatrics encourages children less than two years of age not to have any screen time at all and those over two years old should have no more than 1 to 2 hours per day. When children have too much it increases their risk to the following:
Being in front of a screen means less physical activity. This coupled with poor eating habits can be a recipe for disaster! If the child is watching TV, TV ads could encourage poor eating habits or taste. Too much can interfere with physical development in which the child isn’t being physically active enough and developing their muscles and coordination.
It can interfere with sleeping patterns, creating difficulties in sleeping. This in turn causes fatigue and an increase in snacking.
There is a link between too much screen time and children’s social, emotional and attention abilities.
Impaired academic performance
Children with TV’s in their bedroom show impaired academic performance.
Too much exposure to violence on TV or in games can desensitize children to violence, this in turn can normalize violence to children which could create an increase in aggressive behavior.
Less time for play
This is exactly that. The more children spend in front of a screen the less time they are being physically active, using their imagination and playing.
Ways To Reduce Screen Time
The amount of screen time your child is exposed to might be a lot more than you might think. Take note of how much screen time your child is getting over the course of one week. Make quick notes of when and for how long your child has screen time. Once you have established the amount of screen time your child is getting you can start to look at ways of reducing this time if it is above the recommended limit. Some helpful tips for you to reduce exposure are as follows:
- Turn off any background TV. It’s not necessary to have the TV on constantly if you are not watching something. If the TV is on then your child will get easily distracted by it and it will draw their attention.
- Keep any TV’s or computers out of the bedrooms. Children who have a TV or computer in their bedroom get more screen time than those who don’t. It also makes it more difficult for you as the parent to monitor it and the format your child is getting.
- Try not to eat in front of the TV. This encourages mindless munching and can lead to weight problems. Instead have your supper as a family and encourage family interaction and communication about the day or upcoming events.
- When it is a school day screen time should be even more limited. It can interfere with homework and in turn academic performance.
- Discuss how much screen time your child is getting at school or day care. Encourage limiting the screen time and if they do not want to then you may need to consider a different school or day care for your child.
- As the parent it is your responsibility to encourage your child to do different activities. Make alternative suggestions for screen time.
- As the adult in the household you should set an example to your children by managing your own screen time.
- If the digital device causes tension in the family simply unplug it! Turn off the TV, smart phone or computer.
Boys having fun playing a game together however as a parent it is your responsibility to account for the amount of time allowed daily.
The Realities Of Parenting and Balancing Screen Time
It is clear that professionals encourage reducing and limiting screen time for children. However the realities of parenthood do create challenges in trying to reduce it. If you, like me, took note of how much your child is getting and what kind, I’m sure you will see that they do in fact get far more screen time than recommended.
In my own experience our son did receive screen time from the age of one year’s old. He would play educational games on our iPad. We never had any cartoons for him to watch so the only screen time he did receive at this young age was educational. My husband and I were fascinated at how quickly he learned and mastered educational games. Entertainment cartoons were only introduced to him in our household after he was two years old. This wasn’t done on purpose but simply because he was not interested in cartoons until much older. Our son enjoyed more active and engaging activities which was quite fortunate. Even when he was first introduced to entertainment cartoons he would only watch them for a very short time and would get bored, rather wanting to play.
I will admit that when our second child was born, cartoons had become an effective coping strategy for us to adjust to the new roles of parenting two children. This didn’t last too long though because as the second child grew older there wasn’t the need for the 'cartoon babysitter'. I’m sure like many other parents the screen time our children are exposed to vary from time to time depending on what is happening in our lives.
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Do I feel the screen time my children are exposed to is harmful? No, and I say this because of a few reasons:
- We manage what kind of digital device is accessible.
- Aim for it to be 80% of an educational value.
- Our children have learned about technology and how to use it, preparing them for this age we live in.
- Our children get more active play, imaginative play and attention from us their parents than they do screen time.
- We do not have satellite TV, exposing them to senseless advertisements that could encourage bad eating habits.
- We do not have TV’s or computer in the children’s rooms.
- We are active parents and encourage activity balancing screen time.
As a parent I recommend you look at your own lifestyle and assess in your household whether or not the kind and quantity of screen time is being potentially harmful to your children. For example, I support that children need to be able to process their own emotions and not allow it to interfere with this. Encouraging children to be expressive, talk amongst the family and not allow constant distraction for them to be unable to process their feelings or the day’s activities.
At the end of the day professionals are educating us to be responsible parents, to be aware of potential harm should we allow screen time to overtake normal childhood activities that are vital to their healthy development.