New Year's Resolution: Watch less TV and/or spend less time on the computer.
Since 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics has been sharing ways in which parents and caregivers can be media wise with babies and children; including the famous recommendation of avoiding screen time altogether for babies under two. Fast forward sixteen years and it seems almost impossible to follow their suggestions in 2015. You may not agree with the recommendations, but it would behoove you to set up some ground rules that make sense for your family. Here are some tips on managing screen time in your home.
- Be Informed. Take advantage of streaming services (like Netflix, CraveTV, or Shomi), PVR, OnDemand, and the library to be sure that TV and video game time is age appropriate and stimulating. Take the time to watch an episode, or visit a website, or play a video game, before your child does to make sure that it fits into your value system and you approve of it. Don't flip on the Cartoon Network and leave it to chance. It's good to make use of websites like Common Sense Media for research, but, in the end, you're the best judge of what is okay for your child.
- Be Involved. Children need some exposure to screen time in order to be socially connected to their peers, and to be prepared to be successful in a technologically dependent world. Denying them time on a computer, or watching a popular cartoon, is doing them a disservice. However, sitting a toddler in front of the television and walking away, or leaving a 13 year old alone on the internet for several hours a day is not okay, either. For young children, screen time should be mediated, meaning you should be experiencing it with them so that you can have an open dialogue about the actions of characters or the choices of advertisers. For older children, some independent screen time is okay, but computers should be set up in open family rooms, and the conversation should continue as media gets more dicey.
- Be Consistent. If you elect to set rules about screen time in your home (ie. No screen time under 2 | mediated screen time 2-7 | some independent screen time 7+ and less than 2 hours weekdays | less than 4 hours on weekends) then stick to those rules. If you give in once - whether you're giving in to your own need for a few hours of peace, or to your child's whining - your son or daughter will believe the rules are flexible and will ask until you give in. Five more minutes means five more minutes and no violent videos games means just that!
- Be Prepared. Keep colouring supplies, play dough, Lego blocks, a jigsaw puzzle, or another quiet, independent activity handy for times when you would be likely to turn the TV on to get some uninterrupted time to accomplish a task. Set up at the kitchen table or island while you're making dinner, so that you can have a conversation while you cook. Take a minute here and there to comment on their drawing skills, or add a piece to the puzzle, but make it the routine that this is a calm time. This will help to keep you from going over the allotted screen time just to get things done. It is also recommended to establish no screen zones within your home (like bedrooms) so that imaginative play can happen with no distractions or temptations.
Screen time is a hot button issue. Families that outlaw it all together can clash with families that eat dinner together in front of the TV. There is no absolutely correct answer to how much screen time, or what kind of media, is right for your family, but I think it is very important to set some boundaries. The research suggests that there are behavioural and developmental repercussions to a totally limitless media policy, so it is worth it to take some time to consider and plan your screen time approach.