Despite the growing body of evidence that tells us television, computers, and cell phones are not suitable for our youngest children, parents and caregivers continue to embrace technology for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. We know that these devices can overstimulate and rewire developing brains. We know that for every hour of television watched by a young child they have a ten percent higher chance of attention problems at age seven. We know that watching more than two hours of television per day increases the odds that children will be overweight. We know that the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly discourages any media exposure to children under age two. The fact is, technology is not teaching our babies to read and may be hindering their abilities to learn and develop at their full potential. We know this… but it’s just so hard to avoid! We are a plugged-in people like never before. Our inability to go without screen time may say something more true about the ill-effects of technology on brains than any study yet to date, but who has the attention span to delve into it? Instead, let’s look at a few practical ways we can really limit the screen time at home.
- Limit the number of screens in the household. It is recommended that children not have televisions and computers in the bedroom, but what about Mom and Dad? Consider whether or not you need a television or computer in this sacred space. If you do keep them in there, at least create some guidelines for yourselves as to when they’ll be shut down for the night. Studies indicate that screen time can delay the brain’s production of melatonin, leading to disrupted sleep.
- Perhaps it’s unrealistic to rid our homes of televisions, but it’s reasonable to set limits on how much time is spent in front of them (computers too!). Experts say children should be limited to no more than two hours per day. Try sitting down as a family to prioritize and organize your viewing. Use your time limits as a way to help your preschoolers and early elementary children learn about telling time. Make yourselves accountable to one another in regards to how much you’re watching and when.
- Schedule TV watching as an Event. Gather together to watch favorite programs. With the technology available to us today, we can watch what we want when we want to, but why not set a time and day for certain shows we enjoy? I remember how special it was when I was a child to be allowed to watch Fraggle Rock and The Muppet Show with my family. We all watched and enjoyed these shows together, and when they were over we turned the TV off.
- Don’t use the TV for background noise. Is there not enough noise in our lives? If you need the drone of something, put on some music — try different genres until you find just the right background setting. Turn on talk radio.
- When you’re with your child, treat your cell phone like a phone. Remember when phones were phones? We used them to talk to other people. No texting. No Google searches. No Facebook. Set it down, even tether it to the wall, and take a break from distraction. (Teach your children about when phones were phones.) Just as it has become habit to check it constantly, it can become a new habit to put it down.
- Speaking of habits, let’s create some new ones. Put reading material in every room of the house. Put your child’s reading material at their level (baskets are great). Create a habit of reading more than once a day! Your child learns so much when you read to him, but seeing you reading is equally important. If you’re out of the habit of reading books, gather some magazines and newspapers. There is one for every interest category (you can even sit down and read about all the television you’re missing out on), so there’s no excuse for not reading something. Try short stories. Graphic novels. Children’s books. Subscribe to some newsletters. Studies indicate it could take over two months of doing something every day before it becomes routine, so give it time and fake it until you make it.
- Increase your physical activity. Send the kids out to play for an hour before they have TV time. Go for a walk together after thirty minutes of computer time. Ride bikes as a family. Go play some tennis, even if you’ve never had a single lesson. Swim. Dance. Start a garden. Be more conscious about moving your body! This is another area where you can lead by example and form new habits that will make a huge impact on your children for the rest of their lives.
- Try new forms of entertainment. You’re only allowed two hours of screen time at the end of the day, so you need to fill the other hours with something. Get creative! Here are a few suggestions that are good for the whole family: board games, scrapbooking/journalling, jigsaw puzzles, Legos, cooking, or playdough (help your child strengthen the muscles necessary to write!). Think about what you loved to do as a child and how you can incorporate one of those activities back into your life.
Our children’s brains are too important for us to get lazy about something that could be so simple, if not easy. Media is a huge part of our lives, but unplugging doesn’t need to be a struggle — it could be an opportunity for real joy.