Group of children of different nationalities sit in a row on the windowsill and with lack of emotion play online games or read social networks on mobile phones. Technologies that spoil childhood.

By Tashala K. Quick

You’ve probably seen a toddler gripping a colorfully encased tablet while being pushed through the mall and so fascinated by the content that the world around them doesn’t seem to exist. Perhaps you have observed a table of teens in a restaurant whose heads are bowed while texting or watching the latest reel, but not engaging with one another. I have witnessed both situations and wondered is this the new normal. 

Let’s face it; screens are everywhere. You can’t even pump gas without ads or some pseudo-news story playing on a screen. Households have multiple televisions and as adults we spend hours a day on computers, cell phones and tablets. Of course, some of that time is work related and some leisure. However, are we modeling for our kids the techy behaviors we see children as young as twelve months old emulating?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that children spend an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, which includes streaming services, video gaming, and social media platforms. Children learn early on how to operate tablets, television remotes, and cell phones and some can identify the logos of their favorite apps. According to AAP, there are downfalls to excessive media exposure such as obesity, aggression, insomnia, and learning difficulties. So, what are parents to do? How do you raise well-rounded, balanced human beings in a society that is so screen-saturated? 

It likely comes down to an individual family decision. Most parents would agree that their best efforts to limit media- especially entertainment media in their children’s lives is challenging. Experts with the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommend developing a plan. For example, restrict media during mealtimes and family outings, steer clear of using tablets and cellphones as babysitters or to quiet little ones, and take devices at least 30 -60 minutes before bedtime. Most experts urge no screens from birth to 18 months and limiting screen usage to video chatting with family and friends until at least 24 months. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests limiting screen time to one hour a day for children ages 2-5 consisting of educational content and video chatting with family or friends.  Limits for all types of media are recommended for children over the age of five.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a free online resource called the Family Media Plan. The resource allows users to identify their families’ priorities with categories such as Digital Privacy and Safety, Screen Free Zones, Using Media Together, and Choosing Good Content to name a few. The plan encourages dialogue among family members so that there is constructive discussion on the parameters of media usage, but also why. Once priorities are identified and a plan developed, the site provides a detailed blueprint for each family member, including adults. Of course, additional considerations should also be made, such as allowances for weekends and vacation periods. 

What’s clear is there will continue to be a tech tug-of-war between parents and their children. Parenting styles and family values are as different as our DNA. What works for one family may not work for another, but the fact remains that too much of a good thing-even technology can be harmful to young developing minds and bodies. Having a plan which sets parameters to address media usage appears to be a necessary tool in facilitating a healthy, balanced childhood.