Screen Time for Young Children…?

“A prudent society controls its own ‘infatuation’ with progress when planning for its young”  ~Jane Healy

Okay.  I am weighing in on a subject that is very controversial and yet important to education and parenting today: Screen time.  This term refers to any type of interaction with television, computers, iPhones, iPads, video game systems, or DVDs.  Companies market heavily to parents of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, but does that mean that you should expose your young child to the DVDs, software, and programming that is available?  Do these companies have your child’s best interests at heart?  I doubt it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages two and under should have absolutely NO interaction with any type of screen imaging.  Why?  Well, research cannot yet completely confirm that screen time negatively affects brain development, but there is a lot of speculation to that end.  We do know, however, that very young children need to have experiences with real materials and people in order to learn about the world around them.  They also need to hear lots of language spoken to them, not at them.  A screen is a two-dimensional object that prevents real-life learning from occurring.  Research shows that even background television noise and images can have a disruptive effect on an infant or toddler.  A 2003 study found that background TV decreases interactions between parents and children by 22% and diminished both the length of children’s play episodes and their degree of focused attention during play.  Parents and child care providers need to engage in meaningful interactions with the children in their care.  Turn off the TV.

What about older preschoolers?  The AAP recommends that preschoolers (through age 4) spend no more than two hours a day engaged in activities with screens.  I, personally, think it should be even less.  Shockingly, research shows that in over 70% of child care centers, television is viewed daily.  Unacceptable!  At school, children should definitely interact with concrete materials and other children and adults.  Daily use of TV shows a lack of planning and understanding of developmentally appropriate instruction.  Parents need to advocate for their children in preschool, by making sure teachers and child care providers are aware of these recommendations.  Unfortunately, not many states regulate screen time in their licensing. 

Sadly, when children are watching TV or playing on the computer, they are not moving or interacting with others.  I am not saying that there is nothing good out there for young children, I am just saying be careful.  Encourage children to play outside and participate in imaginitive play activities before you hand them the remote.  The Wii and other video gaming systems have addressed the issue of movement while engaging in screen games, but nothing can replace actually going to play tennis or spending a a Saturday on a family hike.  A strong correlation exists between the amount of screen time and obesity in children.  In 2004, the Institute of Medicine found that one-third of American children are either obese or at risk for obesity.  An article this week in Science Daily stated that on average, preschool-aged children are exposed to 4 hours of screen time each weekday, with 3.6 hours of that exposure coming from home.  The article also indicated that, in addition to obesity, television viewing by young children has been associated with speech delays and aggressive behavior.

Perhaps most frightening to me is the blatant advertising companies present to young children through screen venues.  Two books that serve to combat marketing to children and heavily research this issue are Consuming Kids by Susan Linn and Buy, Buy Baby by Susan Gregory Thomas.  Marketing to young children is BIG business!  Susan Gregory Thomas found that it has been estimated that corporations whose marketing campaigns appeal to a toddler can expect to collect as much as $100,000 from her over the course of her lifetime- starting with money spent on herelf as a child and later, the money she spends on her own children and grandchildren.  And that’s from ONE corporation.  The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is committed to educating parents and teachers on issues related to marketing to children.  Here are some statistics they found:

* Children under 14 spend about $40 billion annually.

* Companies spend about $17 billion annually marketing to children.

* Children ages 2-11 see more than 25,000 advertisements a year on TV alone, a figure that does not include product placement.  They are also targeted with advertising on the Internet, cell phones, mp3 players, video games, and in school. 

* Until the age of about 8, children do not understand advertising’s persuasive intent.

* Very young children can’t distinguish between commercials and program content; even older children sometimes fail to recognize product placement as advertising.

For more information, check out www.commercialfreechildhood.org

I am not suggesting that you throw out your TV and ignore the technological advances of our society.  I just hope you will consider ways to limit screen time for your children and maximize meaningful interactions with children. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on screen time and how you manage screen time in your own homes and schools. 

 

 

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