Yesterday, we looked at the reasons why the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the use of screen-based media in children under the age of two, even if the programs, apps, or topics are educational. The AAP expects pediatricians to address this with parents:
Pediatricians should explain to parents the importance of unstructured, unplugged play in allowing a child’s mind to grow, problem-solve, think innovatively, and develop reasoning skills. Unstructured play occurs both independently and cooperatively with a parent or caregiver. The importance of parents sitting down to play with their children cannot be overstated.
As we’ve seen previously, cognitive and language development is enhanced greatly when parents read to their children. Technology is no replacement for the face-to-face interaction that being read to allows in order to foster this development. Experts at the Mayo Clinic offer some common sense advice for parents who battle with their children about appropriate screen time:
- Eliminate background TV. If the TV is turned on — even if it’s just in the background — it’s likely to draw your child’s attention.
- Keep TVs and computers out of the bedroom. Children who have TVs in their bedrooms watch more TV than children who don’t have TVs in their bedrooms. Monitor your child’s screen time and the websites he or she is visiting by keeping TVs and computers in a common area in your house.
- Don’t eat in front of the TV. Allowing your child to eat or snack in front of the TV increases his or her screen time. The habit also encourages mindless munching, which can lead to weight gain.
- Set school day rules. Most children have limited free time during the school week. Don’t let your child spend all of it in front of a screen. Also, avoid using screen time as a reward or punishment. This can make screen time seem even more important to children.
- Talk to your child’s caregivers. Encourage other adults in your child’s life to limit your child’s screen time, too.
Most important is that parents set a good example by watching limited amounts of appropriate content on television and the Internet. Helping children choose their viewing options — and watching television with them — is another way parents can limit TV watching and control content. (It goes without saying that parents have the ultimate responsibility to monitor and approve, or disapprove, of screen content in any form — TV, Internet, video games, texts, etc.) Suggesting reading as an alternative activity is helpful, although parents cannot expect their children to be enthusiastic readers if they don’t model that behavior themselves. If all else fails, simply unplugging TV’s, computers, and video devices takes very little physical effort from parents to regain control. If your kids don’t like it, well, they can find something else to do. (Like read a book!)