Media screens. They are EVERYWHERE. You probably don't go through a single day without looking at some form of digital media as they have become ubiquitous in our culture and are often necessary to get through a typical day. This also means they are likely ever present in the lives of your children, or, if they aren't yet, they will be. Because of this, it is very important, as a parent, to know how digital media impacts your children and their development and what experts are recommending for proper use of screen time.
Let me first start by saying that while there are definitely negative aspects of digital media to the health and development of children, there are plenty of positives. The aim of this post is to help parents be more aware of how digital media affects their child (and themselves) and the best ways to incorporate it into their daily lives. The idea is for digital media to be complementary, not detrimental. Here are the recommendations:
So what happens when there aren’t restrictions placed on media use? There is concern that heavy use of media, especially during the preschool years, is associated with an increase in body mass index (BMI) and may increase that child’s risk for obesity later in life. There are also negative effects on sleep, especially when media is used prior to bedtime or when electronics are in the bedroom. There is also an association between fewer minutes of sleep per night when there is a television, computer or mobile device in the bedroom (that goes for adults too!). I don’t know how many times I’ve seen children in clinic who have difficulty in falling asleep at night and one of the first questions I ask is about screen use before bed and whether or not there are electronics in the bedroom. This is the first thing that needs to be changed and is often the solution to the problem in most cases. There also have been population-based studies that show an association between heavy television viewing in early childhood and social/emotional, cognitive, and language delays. Screens cannot take the place of what our children need from us for proper brain development — our presence. Hands-on, unstructured, and social play is essential to build language, cognitive and social-emotional skills. Things like task persistence, controlling of impulses, emotional self-regulation, and creative, flexible thinking are taught best by social and unstructured playing and through a responsive parent child interaction, not through a digital screen. In summary, digital media should not get in the way of activities essential for proper child development such as playing, sleeping, being physically active, down-time and time spent as a family.
I also get a lot of questions in clinic from parents, not only about what an appropriate time limit should be for viewing digital media, but also regarding the content of what their children are watching or playing on their screens. As a parent myself, I’m aware that there is a dizzying sea of available programs, movies, games that are accessible all day long. Knowing what is appropriate for your child isn’t always easy to figure out. Well, Common Sense Media to the rescue (see here)! Common Sense Media is a non-profit organization that is committed to providing unbiased information so that parents can decide what media is right for their family. They do the work of figuring out what is developmentally appropriate so you don’t have to.
So what happens if bad habits are already in place? And, what happens if you realize you, as the parent, may have a problem with media use yourself? The answer is, it’s never too late to change. And, the good news is, your children are learning by your example, so if you show responsible digital media use, they will too. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a handy Family Media Use Plan that helps you and your children to think about media and create rules and goals that align with your family’s values. Fill it out and then print and place it where it’s visible to the entire family. It’s a great tool to make sure that in this digital age, we are being responsible media users and we don’t let technology get in the way of what matters most, the health and well-being of our families. Thanks for reading, until next time!
Information presented adapted from:
Mary-Faith Fuller, CPNP
I am a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who has worked at ABC Pediatrics since January 2014.