Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen a family of four out to dinner, table silent, each person looking down, scrolling through content on a handheld screen. Now raise your hand if you’ve ever been a member of that family. Yeah… me too… and I’m not exactly proud of it. I guess the trouble got started when the first television set popped up inside the American living room and the nightly huddle over family dinner gave way to TV trays and zombie eyes. Next came the video game. Pretty soon, we had cable TV and VCRs. We called this progress.
But look, folks, that was nothing! Enter the age of personal computers. Internet. DVRs. Wireless connections. iPhones. Android. iPads. A screen in every pocket. It’s amazing how far we’ve come! It’s also amazing how far we’ve fallen.
They say all magic comes with a price. This includes technological magic. The average American child consumes more than 7 hours of screen-based entertainment each day. 7 hours! Can we agree that’s a crazy big number? And is it any wonder the cost of our flagrant over-use is so high? Study after study has painted a clear picture of the impact: obesity, poor school performance, attention problems, aggression, conduct problems, poor sleep, eating disorders, diminished mental well-being, illicit activities, risky behaviors, and disrupted interpersonal relationships between parents and their children.
Wow. Is all this screen time really worth the cost? TheAmerican Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t think so. In a recent statement on children and media, the AAP calls for parents to limit entertainment screen time to 1-2 hours per day of high-quality, supervised content. Here are some other suggestions based on their statement:
Develop a “family media use plan” with clear guidelines for each device, including how long and how often.
Keep all screens, large and small, out of the bedroom.
Don’t watch screens during meals. Look at each other. Talk.
Don’t allow children under the age of 2 to watch any screens at all. Their little brains are developing rapidly and need lots of human interaction.
Watch TV and play video games with your children and teens. When questionable content arises, use it as a teaching opportunity. When advertising persuades, counter with truth.
Useestablished rating systems to help avoid unnecessary exposure to violence, explicit sexual content, and the glorified use of alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs.
Be a role model. Moms and dads should follow these rules too!
Okay… I know what you’re thinking… “One to two hours of screen time per day? Isn’t that a little drastic? Weren’t you the one raising your hand, admitting to being a member of that family?” Yes. Guilty as charged. Truth be told, desperate times call for desperate measures when two-thirds of American children live in a home with absolutely no limits placed upon their screen time. Two-thirds! Another crazy big number.
Screen time is spinning out of control.
Why? Because parents are just as addicted as the kids! After a busy day of work, we want to kick back and escape behind a screen. Don’t do it. Moms and dads have a second shift. It’s what we signed up for. After work, get home and get involved with your kids. Play hide and seek. Read a story. Break out the deck of cards and the Monopoly board. Help your kids with a hobby. Go outside. Toss a ball. Run around.
Put those screens down and start building relationships with one another. Quick. Before it’s too late!
Dr Mike Patrick is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine and Medical Director of Interactive Media for Nationwide Children's Hospital. Since 2006, he has hosted the award-winning PediaCast, a pediatric podcast for parents. Dr Mike also produces a national podcast for healthcare providers—PediaCast CME, which explores general pediatric and faculty development topics and offers free AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ to listeners.
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