Take a minute to think about how much time you spend, daily, using some form of media. More than likely, your cell phone has turned into a fifth appendage. What about our kids? In today’s world, media use is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid, or even limit. Offering a little wiggle room to parents, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its guidelines on screen time usage in late 2016, recognizing the educational value of high-quality programming (media such as PBS shows, including Sesame Street) for children over 18 months of age. But before you plant your kiddo on the sofa in front of the TV, take note of one important distinction: parents or caretakers should actively participate in viewing and talking about the program with their child.
Confused? Read on as local Pediatrician Dr. Susan Clay-Hufford of Promedica Toledo Pediatrics offers help with deciphering the new guidelines.
Age 2 and under: no screens is best
Babies are most vulnerable to screens– it can impair their brain development. The AAP advises that for children under 2, there are significantly more negative effects from media usage than positive, the exception being video chatting. Dr. Clay-Hufford agrees: “Face-to-face talk and interaction is so important for children’s development of language skills; we are seeing more speech delays because of media overuse. Instead of using television as entertainment while you’re cooking dinner, it’s better to have your child in the kitchen with you hitting a pot and pan with a spoon.”
Most children under 2 do not have the cognitive development to process information, even from purely educational programming. If the TV is droning in the background while you’re feeding baby, she can be overstimulated by the lights and sounds, causing distress. Screen time can also impair quality and amount of sleep.
2-5 year olds: keep it under an hour
In this slightly older age group, screen time should max out at an hour per day, with parents actively engaged with their kids in the process. Reading to or with your child as well as encouraging imaginative play are preferred ways for kids this age to learn. Dr. Clay-Hufford advocates, “Don’t use media as a babysitter or to calm a kid down– it doesn’t enable the child to learn the important life skills they need to cope with difficult situations. Learning to play a game or a puzzle with someone is much more educational than watching 30 minutes of TV.”
Laura Gruneisen, mother to James, 4, and Georgia, 8, has adopted some great habits to keep screen time to a minimum. “My kids love playing with Magnatiles, dolls and trucks, basically anything they can use to create their own imaginary space! To encourage this, I’ll often set out a scene or build something and leave it there in the morning. Sometimes they just need an example to get them excited! We really try to limit screen time, especially when the weather is nice. We try to keep it to an hour each day. It mostly works, though of course, there are days that we fail. Often, if I keep the TV off and the activities out, they naturally gravitate towards their toys instead,” Gruneisen shares.
Develop a family media plan
For children ages 5-18, the AAP recommends establishing a family media plan with clear limits of television, cell phone, computer, and video game usage (two hours total). Online homework or other such uses of media does not count as screen time. Most important, parents should remain aware of what their kids are looking at (use parental controls, have access to your child’s phone, and try not to allow a television in a child’s room).
Some families enforce a technology-free dinner time: no texting, no distractions. Why not try it out tonight? Put down the phones, turn off the TV, and take the time to connect face to face with your family. You just might love it.