By the time a child reaches their first birthday, they begin to notice that screens play a large role in their world. They understand that phones, tablets, and TVs are sources of entertainment and begin to show interest in them. Our children are considered digital natives- they won’t know a time without technology.
In 1999, the AAP recommended that children under two years old have no screen time, however those recommendations are considered outdated and are being revised. Is it possible or even practical to set strict limits on screen time today?
My daughter will be two in June. She’s been interested in phones and the television since she was 18 months old. As she grows up, we know we will have to navigate many discussions about the type and amount of technology in her life.
Passive versus active screen time
Not all screen time is created equal. Passive screen time has been shown to provide almost no benefit to children. Passive screen time includes watching TV shows and videos, but not all TV shows and videos fall into this category. If the show has an element of interaction, it may spark imagination or teach your child something about the world. Some examples of interactive shows include Little Einsteins, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and Sesame Street. Entertainment that is strictly passive includes movies and shows where the characters do not break the fourth wall and talk to the audience.
Active screen time promotes brain activity and critical thinking. There are a variety of TV shows, apps, games, and educational websites that fit into this category. Active screen time can also include video chatting on Skype and Facetime with friends and family members. These activities encourage the child to interact with the screen. As a rule of thumb, if the medium requires interaction to work – e.g. pushing arrows on the screen to advance the game – then it would be considered active screen time.
Screentime in moderation
I’ve worked from home with Norah since she was 10 weeks old. After she became more active and interested in the world (around 18 months old) she required near constant interaction. Before that she had no interest in what was happening on the TV and barely glanced at it. She was entertained by toys, stuffed animals, and household items. Since she became an active toddler, I’ve used screen time to get things done around the house, answer emails and phone calls, and to take short breaks.
Norah enjoys her shows. She loves to sing along with Daniel Tiger, pat her legs and lift her arms for Little Einsteins, and dance to Mickey Mouse’s Hot Dog song. She gets so much enjoyment out of 25-40 minutes of television a day that I don’t see the harm in it. I also don’t mind letting her play on my phone. Although she’s frozen me out more times than I can count, she learns something new every time she interacts with it.
The two most important things about screen time are not to use it too often and not to feel guilty when you do use it.
I initially thought I would follow the doctor’s recommendation and not let her touch a screen until she was two years old, but it wasn’t doable with our lifestyle. As a work at home / stay at home mom, I occasionally need something to distract her and nothing does the job better than a TV show or smartphone app.
There are so many factors to consider when trying to figure out the best way to parent your child. You can’t do everything perfectly 100% of the time, it’s not possible. I choose not to be overly cautious about screen time. I feel that the combination of exclusive attention and enriching social activities contribute more to Norah’s development than the screen time takes away from it.
Screen Free Time
As a family, we’ve decided that dinner time is a screen free time. My husband and I aren’t glued to our devices. We prefer to talk to each other and make Norah part of our conversation. When we go out to eat, we bring books and small toys and use smartphones as a last resort to resolve a tantrum. We plan on keeping dinner time screen free permanently.
We also try not to be on our phones in front of Norah. When we’re playing with her, we give her our full attention. We do at least 2-3 activities per week with Norah’s peers. I recently joined a mom’s group and hope to participate in many more activities this summer. We signed up for swimming and tumbling lessons that start when Norah turns two. When she turns three, she will be enrolled in preschool. We want Norah to have a full life that includes technology as well as nature, science, literature, art, and anything else that interests her.
As technology become more and more prevalent in everyday life, we all need to set boundaries for ourselves and our families. Every generation has different challenges than the generation before and screen time is one of ours. The right amount of screen time is different for every person so have a conversation, set some guidelines, and decide what works for your family. Enjoy your time with technology and without.