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Monday, July 20, 2015

Attached to technology

Keeping your child ‘screen free’

It’s not uncommon in our technological culture to see a room of people with their head down and scrolling through their latest feed of news or social media. Information access and entertainment are at the touch of a finger, and the devices in which they are available are in the hands of almost everyone. Among those users are children – swiping left and right, downloading apps and using computers with the ease of their adult counterparts. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, leading to the question of how much is too much?

While television, smartphones and computers have become an integral part of modern parenting and growing up in the technological age, the AAP has suggested that it should all be in moderation and structured in a way that allows for appropriate content. The AAP recommends just two hours of screen time for children and teenagers per day and further suggests there should also be designated “screen-free” times throughout the day – meaning no television, computers or video games. The AAP suggests that television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under the age of two.

When television and media exposure becomes excessive, many studies have shown that it can lead to school and sleeping difficulties, attention and behavior problems and even childhood obesity. A study released by the University of California in Los Angeles suggested that spending excessive time in front of screens may inhibit children’s ability to recognize emotions and that poor social skills may be linked to decreased faceto-face interaction. The study showed sixth graders who spent five days without looking at a smartphone, television or other media device were significantly better at reading human emotions than their counterparts who continued use of their electronic media.

It is commonly known that in many developmental theories, infants and babies learn basic social cues and emotional recognition through faceto-face interaction and modeling from their parents. The need for that kind of appropriate learned behavior goes on as babies get older, and limiting their interactions with others limits their social capabilities.

According to The National Library of Medicine, the danger of screen time for children is that it is almost always a sedentary activity. The children are using very little energy and are physically inactive while using various entertainment media, sometimes leading to poor health. Additionally, there is a correlation between having televisions in the bedroom and obesity. The NLM states that commercials and advertisements also tend to market unhealthy food choices that are high in sugar, salts and fat.

Changing daily routines as a family may help in decreasing screen time for children. Removing televisions and other entertainment media from bedrooms and not allowing their use during meals and homework is a good place to start. Use a structure schedule to eliminate excess use and allow for more appropriate content, avoiding programs with violence or explicit sexual content. Parents can suggest to play board games or other activities and set an example for the children by decreasing their use of screen time as well. The NLM also suggests to keep a log of how many hours are spent in front of a screen and to be physically active for the same amount of time.

As children get older and explore other media such as social networking sites, the risks become greater. The AAP encourages parents to have open and honest conversations with their children about the possible dangers of the Internet and to know that privacy can never be guaranteed. There should be a discussion on appropriate and inappropriate websites and that Internet use will be monitored. Ultimately, the conversation and rules that follow are centered around keeping children safe and protected.

While there are many educational programs that involve screen time, moderation is still key. Quality and healthy family interaction, along with other face-to-face interaction, can never be replaced. Bonding and interacting with others are what help to create a healthy and balanced life. The limited amount of screen time also will help with adequate sleeping and eating habits, more physical activity and free play time where children can use their imaginations, and most importantly, more family time together.


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