When my son was born, my wife and I had vowed to keep him out of eye’s reach of a screen, any kind of screen for a long, long time. We had read up on much of the data linking frequent and habitual TV watching to everything from obesity to learning difficulties, and it wasn’t a Herculean task to convince us to severely limit any sort of “screen-time” for baby. This included TV, computer, and smart phone time. A few years on, while we still firmly believe the in the findings of the data, we have considerably relaxed our rules. He gets to watch one age-appropriate video a week, has maybe 20 minutes total looking at age appropriate web content, and out of desperation (as in trying to keep him from prematurely falling asleep) he gains temporary custody of my iPhone for infrequent ten minute intervals (this, to me, is the pinnacle of lazy parenting). All things considered, our son likely gets a fraction of the screen-time that most children his age get. Actually, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, forty percent of 3-month-old infants are regular viewers of screen media , and 19% of babies 1 year and under have a TV in their bedroom. If I feel the need to assuage my guilt a bit, I could consider whatever backsliding I may be engaging in as a parent to be more like the wear and tear of parental mores over time.
But depending on whom you are speaking with/listening to, screen-time for children is a problematic issue. Obviously generous amounts of screen-time are well received by most children, as for them, there is nothing better than meditating in front of Yo Gabba Gabba. However, the statistics that I alluded to before are fairly alarming and should be carefully considered, especially as we close out the National Screen-Free Week (who knew, right?). Here are a few of those stats from the National Screen-Free Week website to consider:
• Screen time for children under 3 is linked to irregular sleep patterns and delayed language acquisition.
• Toddler screen time is also associated with problems in later childhood, including lower math and school achievement, reduced physical activity, victimization by classmates, and increased BMI.
• Adolescents who watch 3 or more hours of television daily are at especially high risk for poor homework completion, negative attitudes toward school, poor grades, and long-term academic failure.
• On average, preschool children see nearly 25,000 television commercials, a figure that does not include product placement.
• Children with a television in their bedroom are more likely to be overweight.
And the list goes on to demonstrate that the problems just become more acute as children enter adolescence. However, there is time to reverse the direction. As it turns out, although TV viewing at a young age is associated with later behavioral problems, parents could undermine this result if heavy viewing is discontinued before age 6. But, as we know, patterns like these are enormously difficult to break, and a certain amount of pushback should be expected. But the alternative, having an antisocial, obese, underachiever, should be motivation enough.
Some parents express concern that keeping children out of the media loop and away from the various forms of electronic entertainment will yield children who are increasingly out of sync with their peers and the rest of the media-obsessed world. Is this a concern for you? What are you doing to temper your children’s exposure to media? Is it worth the battle?