Many American children are spending nearly as much time in front of screens as they do in school. On average, teenagers spend 6.5 hours a day in front of a screen. Tweens average 4.5 hours a day and children under eight approximately 2 hours a day.
Less than half the time children are spending in front of a screen is spent engaging in educational activities. Too much screen time can lead to attention problems, sleep complications and obesity. Excessive screen time can inhibit social skills, impact a child’s ability to recognize emotions, and lead to behavioral issues. Unsupervised internet access can provide opportunities for inappropriate and risky behaviors.
There have been many positive contributions that technological advancements have brought and screen time does not need to be demonized; it can be a part of our lives in a sensible way.
Later this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics will be updating its guidelines on media. Currently, the AAP recommends avoiding screen time for children under 2, and suggests a maximum of two hours per day for older children. The AAP is conducting research to be certain that its policies evolve at the same pace as that of technological advancements. Whatever research will show about what children can learn from screens, young children still need engaging human interactions for language development and learning. Concern exists about screen time replacing what children need. Prioritize how your children spend their screen time, as the quality of content is important. Seek balance.
• Put your phone down during meals or when your child is seeking your attention. Engage with your child when playing, feeding, or in the car/bus/train together. Model social skills such as eye contact and active listening. Explain the reason for using the phone, so children understand the functionality of phones, i.e. “I am looking up a recipe for dinner”
• Encourage children to play outdoors. Offer educational media and non-media such as books, board games, and crafts.
• Make some areas/times Screen- Free Zones where there are no TVs, computers, phones or video games. This should include children’s bedrooms and meal times.
• Decide ahead of time what programs your child will be watching and turn off the television when the program is over.
• Charge electronics in your bedroom overnight. Forcing kids to disconnect at night can lead to better sleep habits.
• Coach children on how to engage appropriately online (on social media, when gaming, etc).
• Research the apps your children are downloading. More than 80,000 are advertised as educational, yet there is no researching backing this claim. Consider research apps, TV shows and movies on websites such as www.commonsensemedia.org that rate the educational value.
We want children to be adept at using technology without exposing them to excessive screen time that compromises healthy development. Children need to learn the skills to become functioning social beings. It is critical that they receive face-to-face interaction. Though technology is changing, parenting is not: Set limits, play with your children, and be aware of what they are doing. Plan a media diet that teaches children good choices and limitation and, when possible, sit with your child and engage when they use technology. If you sit your child in front of the television while you make dinner, do not become overwhelmed with guilt. The key is balance and thoughtful choices.
Graziella Simonetti is a parent educator for EAC Network’s Long Island Parenting Institute and works as an early childhood social worker for the New York City Department of Education. She holds an advanced certificate in parent education from Adelphi University and is a NYSPEP credentialed parenting educator. Simonetti is a former kindergarten teacher.