We All Scream For iScreens!

March 10, 2016
by Dr. Melinda Shelton

At the risk of exposing my age, I have to admit to a childhood of corded telephones, limited channel televisions and school lab computers. So as the current parent to three children, ages 8, 12 and 13, I often find the number of digital devices in our house overwhelming. I struggle to keep up with my children’s knowledge of apps and different platforms, and I spend more time than I would like looking for chargers and resetting passwords. But I have also come to appreciate the educational advantages of good media and proficiency in technology. Like many areas of life, media is neither all bad nor all good.

A recent American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) paper says that, “children now spend more time with digital media than with any other single influence”. Digital media includes TV, video games,  tablets, smartphones and other electronic devices. Given that previous generations have not been exposed to these same stimuli, we do not know the long term influence of this much media on developing brains. We do know that excessive TV time leads to problems with sleep, attention, behavior and obesity. But digital media can also help build problem-solving skills, executive function and pro-social behavior. So what is a 21st Century parent to do?

The answer lies in moderation, limits and monitoring. Below are ten guidelines every parent can follow to reduce the bad and take advantage of the good when it comes to their kids’ media consumption.

Avoid Screen Time Before Age 2

This has been the official AAP recommendation since 1999. While new guidelines are coming Fall 2016, in the absence of updated policies, remember that any time on media is taking away from a child’s time interacting with people. This substitution can delay language development and interfere with attention. If an infant is going to use media, an experience that approximates two-way communication (think Skype and FaceTime) will be your best choice.

Limit Recreational Media To a Maximum of Two Hours a Day

Although high quality programming can be educational, children also need to exercise, read, socialize and play (among other activities) to grow and remain healthy. It is preferable to limit background TV as well since this decreases discussion and can delay language development.

Set Up Media Free Zones, Especially In Bedrooms

Sleep is negatively impacted by having screens in bedrooms and by media use before bedtime. A bedroom location also makes it difficult to monitor content and time/duration of use.  We have a central charging location for all screens at our house-I did this after discovering that one of my children was on social media at 2am on a school night!

Limit TV During Mealtimes

Watching TV during mealtimes leads to higher calorie consumption and discourages conversation.

Teach Good Digital Citizenship And Emphasize Digital Footprints

Make sure children know that everything online is public and permanent, so making good decisions about what sites to visit and what they post/send to others is important. Setting restrictions on devices is one way to help keep this under control. “Friending” your children on social media is also a good way to monitor what they are doing.

Participate in Watching Media Together

Co-viewing will help you monitor content as well as promote discussion on values. We love “Family Movie Night” at our house. We watch a movie that is appropriate for everyone and even make an exception to our “no eating in front of the TV” rule.

Avoid Multitasking

Greater than half of teens study while texting or on social media. This is not only inefficient but decreases learning.

Model Responsible Behaviors

Children will develop similar media habits to their parents so ask yourself if you want your children to emulate what you are doing. The fear of my children ever driving distractedly keeps me from looking at my phone in the car.  My daughter has helped me avoid temptation by telling me that she will take a picture of me texting at the wheel if she sees me doing it!

Monitor Content

Focus on educational choices and media that encourage good values. A great site to help in making age appropriate decisions is www.Commonsensemedia.org .

Make a Media Time Family Pledge

Visit https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Media-Time-Family-Pledge.aspx for a sample pledge and review it with your family.

Do you have Media Guidelines in your family? I would love to hear them, so please share!  We are all in this together.

Enjoy this thought provoking video and its powerful message about screen time.






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