Television time is tempting. For many parents, it’s a means of placating antsy girls and boys. When work needs to be done, a tablet becomes the most convenient babysitter. A device is often a surefire remedy to a tantrum or unrelenting boredom, especially when work needs to be done by a mom or dad at the end of their rope. What’s a parent to do?
The answer boils down to this: digital media is not an appropriate alternative to parenting. Anger and frustration should be dealt with directly. Rather than trying to divert attention away from the issue, address it. Often times, a child just wants attention.
An active child is an engaged child. Passive watching is best substituted with hands-on experiences. Building blocks, storytime, coloring, dancing and exercise are all great alternatives to a cartoon overload. Rather than distracting a child while work needs to be done, it can be a great idea to include them. Children love to help! Give them some pots to bang or spoons to stir. Keeping your children close engages their curiosity and strengthens parent-child bonds.
Here are some additional tips and tricks to balancing device downtime with your child:
- Goal Based: determine what you want your child to learn or benefit from his or her device;
- Pre-planned: set specific times, places, and types of tools and programs they can access;
- Qualitative: review the quality of the material (non violent, culturally appropriate, educational, entertaining, aesthetic)
- Age Appropriate: select programs that will stimulate your child’s cognitive development and encourage growth
- Timed: the younger the child, the less time they should use the devices;
- Monitored: you should have full control over what your child is watching and preferably be with the child whenever they are viewing/using these devices;
- Evaluative: evaluate and review all programs before allowing your child to use them and also evaluate the impact of the materials on your child’s knowledge and behavior after viewing.
Here are some suggested guidelines to support your decisions on your child’s media use:
- Children younger than two should use their devices when a parent or an adult is present. This is an opportunity to discuss what is being seen on screen to foster understanding of what is being viewed. Limit the use of devices for reading stories, playing games and casual viewing.
- Children two to five years old should spend up to one hour per day using media. This is a period of time where children have become mobile and learn best from physical environments and direct interaction with other children. Choosing good educational materials requires accounting for age-appropriate themes and language as well as the quality of the production. Children love repetition at this age and will frequently rewatch video. Children are also likely to re-enact what they have seen. Picking programs that demonstrate prosocial behaviors (sharing, caring, team work, etc.) are pivotal, then, at this stage of development.
Remember, however, that digital media is a supplement and not a substitute for education. Through interpersonal interaction, children develop their social skills, attention span, creativity and imagination, impulse control, and emotional management much more efficiently. These are honed through family and friends, not devices. Overexposure to media may lead to the following problems:
- Delay in speech.
- Sleep deprivation – especially if they have a device in their room
- Delay in learning and acquiring social skills like sharing and taking turns
- Detrimental affects on attention span, language skills and critical thinking
- Increased risk of obesity due to reduced movement and unhindered exposure to online advertisements
Children are observant. Their environments impact their learning, behavior and beliefs. Love and security is fostered through parent-child bonds reinforced with hugs, affection and storytime. If a child is ignored or neglected, his or her development will be negatively impacted. Digital media is no different. Like a hug or time-out, the lessons internalized through screen time are an important part in a child’s development. This is why it is important to be informed and in control of what children are watching on their screens.