Screen Time: Create Your Family Plan

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“Mom, in the old days did you have T.V?” The “old days” often come up in conversations with my 7 and 11-year-old daughters. Of course I had television growing up, but it was more difficult to access in my childhood! When I was growing up we had two televisions. One in our living room, a 19-inch dial activated television and another 27-inch (that was big back then you know) in our family room which could be operated using a remote. We lived in the country near a small town in western Nebraska where you could get 2.5 channels, (one was always fuzzy so that one only counts for half). We didn’t have access to the internet or a computer with a modem until I was 10 years old and the internet was quite a bit slower and less reliable back then.

Screen time wasn’t something that needed to be discussed. We looked up information in Encyclopedias. We called people on a telephone, which was attached to the wall by a cord. We wrote letters using paper and pen. We played games with the whole family on boards and with cards. We watch T.V. on Friday nights (TGIF) and woke up early Saturday morning for 6:30 am cartoons which ended by noon. Children played outdoors in all types of weather and didn’t come home until dark.

Its 2017 and my daughter doesn’t even have a “real” science book that she can bring home to study with. Instead, we have a sheet of paper with a log-in for a website. This means she spends time looking at a computer screen when she could be reading a book. She spends time asking Siri what an igneous rock is rather than looking it up in a dictionary. What does all of this mean for us in 2017? This past October, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released new recommendations and resources for families regarding screen time. Screen time includes activities done in front of a screen, such as using an app on your phone or watching music videos on a tablet.

Infant and toddler’s brains are growing at an exceptional rate during the first two years of life. It is important for these children to have positive social interactions with the people caring for them. Therefore, the AAP recommends children younger than 18 months participate with screens only for video chatting. For children 18 months to 24 months only high quality programming (such as PBS or Sesame Street) is suggested. It is vitally important for an adult to be with the infant during the video chat and while watching the program to help them better understand what they are seeing and hearing. Research shows that unstructured playtime is more valuable for a young child’s developing brain than electronic media. Young children are more likely to remember doing an activity than watching an activity be done. Children ages 2 to 5 years should be limited to 1 hour of screen time per day. Again, the programs watched should be of high-quality, and be viewed with parents. For children 6 years and older, screen time should not interfere with time spent doing other activities. Sleep, physical activities, and mealtimes should be of top priority. Studies show a relationship between television viewing and young children being overweight. Caring For Our Children states that children 3-5 years who watch 2 or more hours of television per day have an increased risk of being overweight.

What does this mean for adults? It means that we need to be good role models for our children. Put the phone down and play with your child when they are at the park. Make it a rule to turn off the T.V. during meal times. Silence phones and charge them outside of your child’s bedroom at night.

To help families navigate the evolving digital world, the AAP has developed a guide for creating a family plan for screen time and media use. The plan is broken up into 9 areas: screen free zones, screen free times, device curfews, choose & diversify your media, balancing on-line and off-line time, manners matter, digital citizenship, safety first and sleep & exercise. There are examples and suggestions pre-populated and areas to write in personal guidelines. Create your own family plan by going to http://www.healthychildren.org. Delight in the company of your family, and treasure every moment.

Additional Resources:

Nebraska Extension NebGuide “Brain Development and Learning in the Primary Years” (G2198)

“The Importance of Outdoor Experiences in the Primary Years” (G2202) 

Nebraska Extension NebGuide “Enjoyable Time Together: A Journey of Happy Memories” (G1882)

Nebraska Extension’s The Learning Child Blog “Family Game Nights, a Win-Win for Everyone”

JACI FOGED, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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