Jun 1, 2011 by Martha Burns, Ph.D
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Limiting screen time

Technology, in the form of videos, television, computers, tablets, and video games increasingly dominates our entertainment time.  In the United States, there are videos and other technology products available for children as young as a few months old. For many, as soon as babies have the coordination to sit up by themselves, we have them looking to screens for entertainment. The success of these videos geared towards babies and toddlers speaks to our growing parental dependence upon screens to entertain our children.

The problem is that, while this media does entertain our children and can even be educational, too much can create serious, lasting issues. According to the Mayo Clinic, too much screen time can lead to obesity, irregular sleep, behavioral problems, reduced play time (obviously), and other problems. (See Children and TV: Limiting your child's screen time, Mayo Clinic.)

So, living in this modern, media-addicted world, what are some ways to that we can mediate appropriate access to technology?

 

  1. Limit time.Pediatricians recommend that toddlers continue to limit TV time and exposure to baby videos.  A little time each day (1/2 hour to an hour), especially before dinner, when your child may become cranky or your need to do chores or prepare the meal, will probably not be detrimental.
  2. Choose educational content.Try to find age appropriate educational programming on PBS. Public broadcast companies work very hard with child development experts to make certain their content is appropriate and beneficial for young audiences.
  3. Avoid highly commercial programming.This is a tough one, but the commercials on network television can “glorify” toys that your child really does not need, and create expectations around “buying” new toys that are neither necessary nor constructive for your child. As your child gets older and plays with other children, which you do want to encourage, he will probably be exposed to plenty of commercial television. This is your chance to keep it to a minimum, at least in these formative young years. 
  4. Unplug your toddler to free their creativity.Try to avoid toddler computers and electronic books for children this age. A one to two year old needs to master walking, running and climbing as well as speech and language. Electronic books, toys and games do so much on their own that they leave little opportunity for your child to “invent” new ways to play with them or new things to do.

In the grander scheme, it comes down to a question of time. Every minute of childhood spent in front of a screen is a minute not spent doing other things. Imagine what those “other things” could be: playing outside; riding a bike; building a castle out of rocks and twigs; reading a book; creating a piece of art.

The more mindfully we can help our children manage their time when it comes to screens and how that balances with their other activities, the better off they will be in the long run.

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