How much time are your kids spending in front of a screen?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no more than one to two hours per day of screen time, and advises that children should not have television or Internet access in their bedrooms. For children under the age of two, the AAP recommends no screen time.
Limiting children's screen time can be a real challenge, though. Screens are everywhere. In many families, it's common for the TV to be on as background noise; technology is being used more than ever in classrooms, and often, children's homework is computer-based. Educational games and websites might also draw children's interest, as might social media and video games. Data collected by the AAP shows that most kids spend seven hours each day using various forms of media.
Lesli Rotenberg, general manager of children's programming at PBS, has some tips for parents to use the limited screen time children should be exposed to as a springboard for other activities. "Content matters," Rotenberg said. "Children imitate everything they see. Kids pick up on programming for adults." Even if you believe your child is too young to understand the programming you're watching as you unwind for the evening, that might not be the case. "Content matters," Rotenberg said. "Time matters, but so too does content. Media provided for children must be developmentally appropriate."
What does developmentally appropriate content look like? First, it must be content that children can comprehend. Secondly, it should inspire activities that are not media-based. Rotenberg used PBS' new show Nature Cat as an example. Rotenberg explains that the show—inspired by Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods, which makes the case that today's children are nature-deprived—is designed to get kids to go play. "Our goal isn't to get kids to watch more, but to go play." The show features a house cat that is curious about the outdoors, and offers activities for children to take part in outside after watching the show, as well as games and activities that parents or teachers can lead. The goal is to spark children's curiosity and introduce them to science and nature.
Rotenberg advises parents to watch media with their children, and discuss what's happening. If a lesson is taught in a program, parents can reinforce that information by pointing out examples in real life, whether the lessons are behavior or academic-related.
The AAP offers additional advice: "By watching television with their children, parents can help guide their children's media experience. Putting questionable content into context and teaching kids about advertising contributes to their media literacy." Establishing "screen-free" zones and modeling limited use of media could also help to encourage children to play outdoors, read, pursue hobbies, and take part in creative play.
Written by Jennifer Reynolds, West Michigan Woman magazine staff writer.