One of the current conundrums in parenting revolves around how much time should children be spending in front of a screen, be it either a TV or a computing device. Statistics abound. Children aged 2 to 11, on average, watch 4 1/2 hours a day of recorded programming. More than 50% of Netflix accounts watch some form of children’s content. According to Dr. Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior, and Development at Seattle Children’s Hospital, every hour of entertainment programs that children watch in the first three years of life increases their odds of exhibiting attention issues at school at age 7 by 10%.
It would be easy to say that there should be a set limit on the amount of time a child spends watching a screen each day. However, this would be an over-simplification. A number of factors need to be added to the equation. An interactive experience has shown to be valuable, either educational programming that elicits input from the child, or even better, programming that involves both the parent and child in cooperative and supportive roles. In too many instances, it has been noted that admittedly busy parents are abdicating spending time with their children and replacing that time with a machine, and most of the readily available viewing material is passive in nature. It is this passive watching that research suggests is having a detrimental effect on the young.
So, is there an answer? Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (www.aap.org or #AmerAcadPeds) issued the following recommendations:
- For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
- For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
- For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
- Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
- Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
My recommendation is that instead of turning on the TV or giving your children a device to keep them occupied, give them a hug.