Thursday, April 24, 2014

Screen time: Do you have a love - hate relationship with it?

Screen time. Parents often have a love - hate relationship with it. We've all heard the warnings that it is bad for our kids, but we've experienced the benefits of it keeping our kids occupied while we get things done. And some programs and games have an educational component -- do we group those in the same category as purely entertaining ones?

Most parents by now have heard the recommendations that kids under 2 years should have no screen time. At all. And older kids should have no more than 10 hours / week total.

Most parents are also fully aware that their kids exceed those guidelines. Some by a little. Others by a  lot. There are all kinds of reasons parents have for allowing this. Some are good reasons, others are not.

To be honest, there is still a lot we don't know about screen time. Research continues. When I was a child, television and movies were just passive watching. Thankfully there wasn't much offered, and with a limited number of channels, we usually stuck to watching tv only on Saturday mornings. Other times we played outside. Shows were not as action packed and overstimulating as those of today. Compare Mr. Rogers to pretty much any show designed for kids today with quick scene changes, music in the background and motion everywhere. Now there are interactive games, many of which are educational, or at least they seem to be teaching letters, counting, or other skills. There's even Wii and Kinect that use whole body movements to get kids off the couch. One can get a good workout with some of the games, but Wii bowling is nothing compared to real bowling.

So how do you count educational and active game time? Should it be included in that 10 hours/ week, or should you allow extra time for it? Are e-readers a form of screen? They often allow interaction like a computer and many can show videos and offer games.

Short answer about counting total screen time: We don't know.  Experts can give thoughtful opinions, but really at this point it's all educated guesses.

Some studies show that kids learn better when things are presented on a computer or video format. Maybe it keeps their attention better than a paper workbook. I love the ability to hold my finger on a word in an electronic e-reader and have the pronunciation and definition pop up. How many times as a young reader did I simply skip over words I didn't know? My daughter likes to increase the font size so only a sentence or two are on the screen. She feels like she reads faster because she "turns the page" more often. Does this build her confidence reading? Does it actually slow her down? I don't know. But she's happier to read and it seems to work for her. (This does drive me nuts if I pick up the Kindle after she's changed the settings... but I can change it back to my preferences easily.) Are kids losing the ability to find things in alphabetical order, such as using an encyclopedia to look something up, since they just hit "search" and find the answers? Does it matter?

Parents must really pay attention to what kids are watching and playing as well as how much time they are spending on a screen. For every minute they are on a screen they aren't interacting with people to work on social skills, they aren't outside playing games and getting exercise. If the games they are playing help develop thinking skills, strategy, math, reading, and more, then some screen time every day can benefit. If the content has violence or other age inappropriate material, it can be very detrimental. If they are online playing against other people, dangers multiply. While I can see kids who hate to read actually not notice how much they must read to play a game on a computer or tablet, are there better ways to get them pumped into reading a book?

There's a time and place for everything. The dinner table and bedroom are never a good place for online/screen time. Watch and play with your kids. They will love the time with you and you can better supervise what they're exposure is and modify it as needed.

More information:
Media Resolutions Every Family Should Make in 2014 has some tips to help monitor and limit screen time.
For information on internet safety, check out YourSphere for Parents.
American Academy of Pediatrics Media page.

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