Parents: Screen those screens
Electronic video screens have revolutionized our lifestyles and communications; they are in our pockets, homes, cars and desks. American children are spending 4-13 hours a day on entertainment media: TV, computers, phones and other electronic devices. Like habits of food and exercise, healthy screen-time habits start in the family and last a life-time. Quality and quantity of media intake needs as much adult monitoring as nutritional intake.
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers these tips for parents:
1. Set limits: For home TV/screen watching for all members. Suggested: 1-2 hours a day. Children need and respect limits and will internalize and later self-regulate. Prioritize with your child how to best use their time (not just set a timer). Encourage unstructured off-line play-time for creativity.
2. Be involved: Watch programs with your child. Children love to show you games and homework they are doing on line. Reinforce educational gains by reviewing your child’s progress through school recommended sites (Core Clicks, Ten Marks). Compete with them on their electronic games and demonstrate good sportsmanship. Know your child’s friends, both online and in-person. Be aware of the content of the programming /social networks (to avoid inappropriate sexual or violent content). Common Sense Media can review age-appropriate apps, games and programs.
3. Designate Media Free Zones
- Meal times while watching TV/electronics leads to mindless over-eating. The art of conversation and connection with our dinner mates is neglected.
- No Background Media. Background TV noise significantly inhibits adult conversations which leads to less adult-child vocalizations and decreased child language development. The flashing of silent screens distracts.
- No TV/Media for children less than 2 years old. Two-way, face-to-face, human time, is necessary for reinforcing children’s vocalization and language skills. Only after 2.5 years of age do Sesame Street, Barney, etc. have any provisional educational benefit.
- No media in the bedroom. Sleeping without screens affecting our melatonin product will lead to better sleep and self-calming skills. TV and computers in bedroom can increase the risk of obesity and attention problems.
- Electronic Pacifiers: Media can help keep kids quiet but should not be the only way they learn to calm down. They can learn to identify strong feelings and calm down through breathing, talking about ways to solve the problem or other means to channel emotions. Boredom can be managed without screens; engage children’s creativity.
Starting in about 5th grade parents need to talk to their children and monitor the electronic input for:
- Cyber Bullying. Be aware of school regulations about peer bullying intended to spread rumors or make threats.
- Dangerous Strangers. Adults can pretend to be children on a variety of game and chat sites.
- Sexting (sending or receiving nude photo). This is both emotionally harmful and illegal. Teenage girls are especially vulnerable to insistent boyfriends or a desire to be popular.
Parents should cultivate their children’s trust early-on to tell them about anything bothering them. “Telling to be safe” is not “tattling.” Monitoring electronic intake is parental caring not an invasion of children’s privacy.