Apparently I am just coming out with a bang with my posts after Flynn. Leave it to me discuss something that gets a lot of hype and still some controversy.
Media. Screen Time. TV. Ipads. Phones/YouTube. Toys that make music and light up and are what I would call a bit flashy. Has your pediatrician or family healthcare provider discussed this at baby’s well-child visits? Some don’t. But they should be.
As a parent, you will do what you think is best for your child and that is perfect. You know them best. I also know that the idea of no screen time can be hard to come by in some situations. All I am here to do is give you the science so you can make a fully educated decision when it comes to your child.
The American Academy of pediatrics recommends:
- NO SCREEN TIME BEFORE 18 MONTHS OF AGE
- Video chatting is an exception as they are exposed to friends/family and can interact and develop language skills
- 18-24 months: very limited screen time with the caregiver co-watching and reteaching the content (<30 minutes)
- 2-5 years: < 1 hour of screen time/day AND the caregiver should co-watch with the child and help them make sense of the high-quality content
- >6 years: limits screen time and ensure it does not interfere with recommended amount of sleep, at least 1 hour of physical activity and other essential activities such as eating, brushing teeth and schoolwork.
What is high-quality?
Typically programs like Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers and other PBS shows are educational and continue to address children’s health and developmental needs.
What is the big deal?
Screen time is harmful to brain/thinking development, language/motor/social skills development, controlling impulses, regulating emotions and developing creative thinking. These skills are learned by babies from infancy and are learned through unstructured and social play, NOT media. Children at this age cannot transfer the content from a screen into their 3-dimensional world. It doesn’t make sense to them. This means we need to allow our children to explore their environment, encouraging play-dates with other kiddos and engaging in interactive play with our children on a regular basis.
Increased exposure to media decreases minutes spent sleeping at night. Sleep is essential for our bodies’ ability to fight disease, regulate our hormones and appetite, improve our blood pressure and heart health, repair any stress on our bodies from the day and improve how the nerve cells in our brain communicate with one another. It is important for learning and overall well-being. Plus, a sleep-deprived kiddo often makes for a cranky kiddo.
Increased media use has been correlated to increased BMI (body mass index) in children, setting the stage for obesity later in life. Obesity, as we know, puts stress on our hearts, lungs, kidneys and musculo-skeletal system. It also increases our risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and all of the complications associated.
Even having media on in the background as a parent can be damaging. This includes being on the phone and/or having the television on as background noise. This is simply because as parents, we are more likely to be distracted by the media ourselves and as a result, we are less likely to interact with our children.
Learning to self-regulate and self-soothe
Some studies are showing that kiddos who are given a screen when they are restless or upset have a much harder time developing the skills to be patient in these situations. Think about how upset we get as adults when we are impatient, bored or not getting our way. Now put those feelings into a child who does not yet have the brain development to cope in these situations. As hard as it may be for us as parents, these scenarios are a really great learning opportunity for children in self-regulation, soothing and dealing with frustration.
Why no stimulating toys?
You have seen them. They are everywhere. The toys that light up, make music and seem basically like your baby is at their version of a rave. Bottom line here is that the more a toy does, the less your child has to do. At this point, their toy is no longer educational, but more entertaining. And, the more they are distracted by the toy, the less likely they are to interact and learn from their environment.
So what can I do?
- Social Media Family Plan: after a child is 18 months old, you can develop a sort of guideline/contract for social media use. This includes agreed upon times of day and locations (such as the bedroom and dinner table) that are free from media use. It also makes suggestions such as co-watching TV shows and not using media as a caretaker, but rather as a learning activity.
- You can make a plan here: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx#wizard
- Be a good role model by limiting your own screen time
- Pack a variety of activities for travel to keep children entertained. Some parents I know will introduce a new activity every couple of hours on long road trips. It becomes fun and something for the child to look forward to.
- Get out of the house and attend a local story-time, meet friends at the park or go for a walk with your child.
- Be active with your child. Read books. Create new games out of household objects or rearranging current objects.
- For example, baby F likes to pull all of his books of the bookshelf. So I let him. Multiple times a day. He is exploring his space!
- Babies love to explore. Everyday they are making new connections and categorizing the world around them in their brains. Let them!
- Traditional toys are the best teachers. These are puzzles, shapes, shape-sorters, blocks, kitchen utensils, colors, painting, balls, etc.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2016). American academy of pediatrics announces new recommendations for children’s media use. Retrieved from https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Announces-New-Recommendations-for-Childrens-Media-Use.aspx
Council on Communications and Media (2016). Media and young minds. Pediatrics, 138(5). Retrieved from https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/5/e20162591