By: Alex Chiu
What if you and your child were given the gift of seven extra hours to your day or even to your week? Most of us would probably be thrilled to have that extra time to do all of the things we complain that we never have the time to do! Looking at some shocking statistics from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it might just be possible to find those seven extra hours. According to the AAP, “today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones, and other electronic devices” (www.aap.org). Seven hours a day. That is longer than an average school day in the United States. And adults might be right up there with their own screen time, too, if they carefully and honestly looked at how they spent their leisure time.
So why should we be concerned, and what can we do? The prevalence of media and modern devices has many of us in a frenzy to keep up with the latest trends and to be ‘connected’ at all times. There are great advantages to having access to media and all of the new technology, and there are many excellent and appropriate times and places for its use. However, we need to be careful that too much screen time, especially for children, doesn’t negatively impact their growth and development.
And we do know that are consequences to our children’s media use. Childhood obesity and shorter attention spans are just two issues linked to media overuse by children that have raised the alarm for parents and experts alike. From a child development perspective, young children need hands-on, real world, sensory-rich activities that promote concentration, experimentation, and socialization much more than they need to leap into a cyber world. As Maria Montessori said, “It is through appropriate work and activities that the character of the child is transformed. Work influences his development in the same way that food revives the vigor of a starving man. We observe that a child occupied with matters that awaken his interest seems to blossom, to expand, evincing undreamed of character traits; his abilities give him great satisfaction, and he smiles with a sweet and joyous smile.” (San Remo Lectures).
The work that Dr. Montessori saw as crucial to healthy development in children was that related to real world, daily life activities where children touched, smelled, tasted, carried, tended, learned about, and experienced the world around them. She said, “The hands are the instruments of a man’s intelligence” (The Absorbent Mind), and it’s hard to imagine her thinking that little hands constantly holding onto electronic devices would lead to this goal.
To be fair, some of our children’s screen time is constructively spent on educational purposes and schoolwork. Schools rightly take pride in the technology they offer to their students. Teachers work tirelessly to find creative ways to incorporate technology into their lessons to capture their students’ attention and to make this very big world a little smaller and more accessible to their students. We do want our children to become familiar with cutting edge technology and to not fall behind on the rapid developments in that field. Staying savvy with progressive technological advances is necessary in our modern, fast-paced world. We can even find wonderful Montessori apps that extend traditional lessons, and technology certainly can be seen as something which promotes children’s curiosity and desire to learn more. It opens doors to places some children might not otherwise experience, and it has real benefits as children continue to broaden their scope of learning as they grow.
However, the emphasis from the AAP is that seven hours is spent on entertainment media. So, how can we limit our children’s media use and help our children find other ways to entertain themselves? Healthychildren.org suggests creating a “Family Media Plan” where you set boundaries for what media your children may use, when they may have screen time, where in the house screen time takes place, and how long your child may spend with entertainment media. But once the screens are powered down, what will your children do? Consider moving more, playing more, connecting more (face to face, not online!), and creating more. Just being aware of how much time your family spends in front of a screen may help you take a step back and start to brainstorm other things you’d like to be doing instead.
We know that childhood passes so quickly. Freeing up some of those seven hours spent on entertainment media may provide you with the opportunity to do more meaningful activities where you are engaged with your child. It may ultimately help to slow things down for a little while and result in some of your family’s best memories. You can share those memories on social media when you’re done!
A Few Tips for Monitoring Media Usage at Home
- Designate screen-free zones at home—especially consider no media in children’s bedrooms.
- Let your children know when they are permitted to turn on the electronics and set time limits.
- Utilize parental controls to keep your children safe from inappropriate content, websites, etc.
- Have a TV/Media “Turn Off” Week—no screen time for 7 days, not just 7 hours! Or consider “No Media Mondays” where at least one day a week is spent without any screen time.
- Make the media meaningful: watch television together and discuss and ask questions about what you are watching. Or research a topic of interest together online or help your child find a YouTube tutorial for something he or she is interested in learning.
- Mix up media with movement – decide that after 30 minutes of screen time that you and your child participate in 30 minutes of exercise. Dance, walk, play tag, anything that gets you up and going!
For more ideas and information about children and media, visit the sites used as references in this article:
American Academy of Pediatrics www.aap.org
American Academy of Pediatrics Information for Parents www.healthychildren.org
PBS Children and Media Site for Parents http://www.pbs.org/parents/childrenandmedia
Center on Media and Child Health www.cmch.tv
Solutions for your Life http://solutionsforyourlife.com