Posts

Setting Reasonable Limits for Screen Time

I’ve seen many articles that talk about the dangers of screen time and heard many parents complain about children being exposed to too much technology. While tablets are a fairly new technology, guiding children towards spending their days in a productive way is not. The research actually shows that children who were exposed to educational technology early on performed better in school when they were older. Trying to ban screen time for children under 2 isn’t as effective as setting up rules and routines and teaching children how technology can be a healthy part of their lives.

Set a Good Example

When my husband and I think about our own screen time usage, we are constantly checking ourselves to ensure that there is a healthy balance. Sometimes, we have to stop for a minute and say,

“Okay, we are just looking at our phones too much.”

And then we put them aside, out of reach, and make an effort to connect with each other more. I think it’s important for kids to see us struggle, and to talk to them about it. Sometimes, I find myself caught up in the world of my computer, and when I pull myself out of it, I’ll apologize and say,

“I’m sorry I got so caught up in my computer. You guys are way more important to me than any technology.”

When kids see how we struggle and how we overcome it, it provides them with a model worth following.

Guided Use

Just as we reflect on what is appropriate and what is not for ourselves, children need the opportunity to reflect on this as well. If we don’t show our children how to find educational and stimulating programs and games and instead leave it up to them to find and use whatever they want, is it any surprise that they may choose “Candy Crush” and violent video games?

How are they going to know the good that is out there (and there is good out there, just as there is bad) if we don’t guide them? I know it can be hard to stay one step ahead of kids, especially as they get older and more “technologically savvy”, but it’s our JOB to stay one step ahead of them, and it’s our JOB to guide them.

We like to spend time WITH our children as they navigate technology. We research apps, games, and programs. We test them out, look at reviews, and watch what’s out there before we bring it to them. Then we sit beside them to play these educational games and watch these educational programs with them. In doing so, we figure out what they like and what they don’t like, and it helps us to figure out what to do next.

Using Screen Time As a Babysitter?

As a busy mother of five, yes there are times when I use screen time as a babysitter, and I think this is perfectly okay! I always strive to create a stimulating environment that encourages independence, creativity, and learning, and I try to involve the kids as much as I can when I cook and  do chores, but yes, there are times when I need them to park it, not make any more messes, and let me get caught up.

For me, it’s important to be able to prepare healthy food, keep the house clean, and find a little time for me to blog or whatever. Doing these things makes me happy…and this makes me a good mom. Some people talk about how messes don’t matter and how the most important thing is quality time, and I’m sorry, but if my house is a disaster, it makes me feel overwhelmed and out of control. I don’t need every thing to be spic and span, but a clean and organized home makes me feel in harmony. If allowing my children to watch some educational programs, play some educational games, or have some choice time to watch or play what they want (with things that we approve of), then I say it is very well worth it.

Rules About Appropriate Content

YouTube is a great portal for tons of videos, but it can be very easy for children to stumble across inappropriate content. At the very least, you can scroll down to the bottom of the YouTube screen (on a computer) and where it says “Restricted Mode” select “on”. This will make any content flagged as inappropriate off limits. When kids use YouTube on tablets, we only let them download YouTube kids. There are several options with this where you can tailor it to the specific ages of your children and choose whether or not to let them use the search bar.

Allowing for Choice

Some day, our children will be on their own. I know it seems like they will be under our thumb forever, but the reality  is that someday they will have freedom, they will make choices on their own, and they will pay the full price for those choices without us there to help them pay the price. What will they do with their freedom? Will we condition them to always do what we say just because we say it, or will they buy into the reasoning behind our choices?

I like seeing what our children gravitate towards during their “choice time”. When I was a kid, we got to watch one show and play one video game per day. My brother always chose Heman, I chose My Little Pony or Rainbow Brite, and we both loved playing our Atari 1200, especially Super Breakout, Joust, and Dig Dug! Now, there are so many choices it can be overwhelming. We like to introduce our children to what’s available and then let them discover what they like.

We recently bought a Wiiu, and Elliot LOVES Mario Maker! Ruby and Elliot both love Super Mario 3D World and Kirby because they can explore and play together. On computers and ipads, they also both really love watching toy reviews, game reviews, and video game walk throughs, and people making really fancy cakes on YouTube, and they have each had their passing phases with shows they’ve liked on Netflix like Zig and Sharko and Digimon. On their ipads, Elliot really likes playing Goblin Sword, Robot Gets Kitty, and Ruby really likes things like Monster Shave and Alice in Wonderland.

We also like to teach our children about educational choices (like my favorite teaching apps for preschoolers), and often times these are so fun that they choose them even during choice time!

Why We Don’t Set Time Limits

When I was a teacher, I learned not to set too many specific rules because it would just encourage kids to try to find the exception for breaking them. Instead of saying, “no throwing things, no blurting out, no running, no gum chewing”, and on and on, I said, “The number one rule is to show respect,” then we talked about what that would look like and what that wouldn’t look like. We even acted out scenarios.

If I set time limits on the technology, then the time is the enforcer, not me. I might need them to be occupied for 3o minutes or for two hours depending on what I need to get done. If I say, “Only one hour of technology a day,” then I have to stick with that. Consistency is so important and time limits do not help with this, in my opinion.

Setting Limits with Rules and Routines

With these rules and routines, I try to go through each day using as little screen time as possible and only use it when it’s really necessary. Mornings are when our brains are the most active, and so I like to limit screen time (sometimes we watch something while we eat breakfast) as much as possible. With my littler ones, I usually don’t bring out my educational YouTube playlists until they have had a full morning full of cuddles and activities and are getting a bit fussy while I need to get a few things done. It makes me happy to know that they are learning something valuable at this time. With my older ones, I have found that it’s really helpful when we stick to the following routine.

1. Morning Routine: We eat breakfast, brush our teeth, get dressed, and make our beds. 

If we’re not going anywhere or having anyone over, I don’t mind if kids stay in their pajamas for awhile. With the little ones still in diapers, they don’t really have pajamas, just comfy clothes that they can wear day and night. Sometimes we watch shows while we eat breakfast.

2. Do Something Creative: They can build with blocks, draw, make a craft, play an imagination game, or something else creative.

I like to make a charts of all of the different creative things to do in case they need some ideas. Sometimes, I have to really play with the kids to encourage them to extend their activities. I think that teaching kids how to play is very important.

3. Reading Time: They can read to themselves, to someone, or have someone read to them.

I like having baskets of books tucked pretty much everywhere around the house. I make sure to keep the books organized and rotate them so they stay new and interesting. I don’t ever say that they need to read for a certain time or anything.

4. Play Outside: We all have to go play outside together for an extended period of time.

I’ve found that if I let kids have their outside time one at a time, it’s usually pretty short. So I make it a point to get everyone out at the same time. Once this happens, they get so busy playing with each other that we can easily spend a long time outside.

5. One Chore: Do one chore before having a choice

I just added this recently, and it’s brilliant! Basically, I have them help me with whatever I need to get done: dishes, laundry, pick up rooms, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming, sweeping, etc. Knowing that they have to do a chore before choice time is a GREAT way to make them extend their activity time! (Why didn’t I think of this before???)

6. Choice Time: This might be short or long depending on how the day is going.

I usually try to make the choice time of the older ones coincide with either the nap time or educational video time for the little ones. This is when I like to prepare or clean up lunch, get dinner ready, make kombucha or sourdough muffins, clean up, call a friend, take a shower, blog, or whatever!

7. Repeat as Needed: This routine allows for a lot of flexibility.

Based on how our day is going, I can repeat this routine as needed. So if, for example, we go through all of our activities really quickly and have choice time early in the day, I may say that we need to go through all of the activities again before having more choice time.

*Rules and Routines Over Breaks: Be clear about expectations

Read my blog about how we set up a summer routine here. When all the kids are home for the summer, I like to have things a bit more structured than I do over winter or spring break. I call it “homeschool summer school”, and everyone has goals that they’re working on and certain activities to keep them occupied.

What Happens When You Stray From Your Rules and Routines?

It is inevitable that you are going to stray from your rules and routines from time to time. Routines work best when there is a tremendous amount of consistency,  but once they are established, you can stray a bit and still get things back on track. The important thing is to explain why things were different.

There was a time when both Julian and Ophelia were getting their molars, for example, requiring me to spend copious amounts of time soothing them, and so I let Elliot (who was 4 at the time) have more choice time than I would have liked. It happened gradually, and then one day, I was like, “Uh-oh, I have let things go too far.” After that, I just explained to Elliot that I had needed to spend more time with Julian and Ophelia and had as a result let him have more choice time, but now that they weren’t teething anymore, we would be going back to normal.

There have also been times when we have needed to give all technology a complete break in order to reset expectations. Read about a time that happened here.

Taking Away Screen Time as Consequence

Screen time, and especially choice time, is what we like to categorize as a privilege. We talk to our kids about how they have certain rights such as food, clothes, shelter, etc. which we will always make sure they have, but that screen time is not necessary for survival and so it is a privilege. Therefore, if they are not behaving appropriately, it is a privilege that they can lose.

In Conclusion

When we spend time with our children monitoring what they watch, use, and do, I don’t really see why “screen time” should be any cause for concern. I think that the reality is that it’s not so much about screen time as it is about being able to set rules and boundaries with your children. If you’re looking for some tips and tricks for eliciting positive behaviors with your children based on what I learned both during my teaching and parenting experiences, check out my blog: Guiding Children Towards Positive Behaviors. If you’re convinced to start incorporating some educational choice time into your day with your little ones, check out these blogs:

Embracing MotherhoodWhy We Shouldn't Ban Screen Time for Children...Especially for Children Under Two

Why We Shouldn’t Ban Screen Time for Children…Especially for Children Under Two

We all know that the American Academy says that all screen time should be banned for children under 2 and severely limited for all children, but do you know why? Have you looked at the studies they reference? Probably not if you agree with them because the studies actually show that children exposed to educational programming are smarter and there is, in fact, NO DATA on children under 2. In addition, the studies were all conducted before the advent of ipads and touch screens and involve television only.

We live in an age of technology, the future is going to be built on technology, and to ban children from the tools they will be using in the future during this crucial time of brain development is just absurd. What I have discovered while raising my five children is that by exposing them to educational and quality programming from a young age, they have all learned how to read as young as 2 and a half, love learning, and know how to discover new information on their own.

What the American Academy of Pediatrics Says

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all screen time be banned for children under two and that it should be limited for all children regardless of their age. I’ve never been one to just believe something because one institution or another makes a sweeping generalization about something that ALL people must do, and this was no exception. But eventually curiosity got the best of me and I decided to do some research about what exactly they are saying and why they are saying it, and this is what I learned.

First of all, I looked at The American Academy of Pediatrics, and this is what they have to say about screen time,

“Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.”

They claim that excessive media can lead to attention problems, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity and that the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors. They suggest  that we should turn off the TV during dinner, limit screen time for older children and instead encourage children to read newspapers, play board games, play outdoors, do hobbies, and use their imaginations in free play.

Why I’m Not Buying it

I agree that children’s brains are developing rapidly. (Check out my reading program to see what children are truly capable of at a young age.) And because of this, I believe in exposing children to all kinds of learning opportunities, including screen time. Appropriately used screen time can be an amazing teaching tool!

There is just something extremely disturbing to me about a large, revered, and somewhat feared institution making a claim of this magnitude. Ban ALL screen time for the first two years? Really? I mean, it’s just absurd! So no educational playlists, no ABC videos, no nursery rhymes, no home movies, no educational apps, no family movie night, no exposure whatsoever to something that is a part of our daily lives and that we as adults use constantly? Are we supposed to segregate our children from our lives completely in order to prevent them from the evils of technology? This sounds a bit archaic and very fear based to me.

I mean, wouldn’t it make more sense to acknowledge that our children will not only encounter technology at some point, but that it will be an ever increasing part of their lives as we continue to make technological advancements and that we should teach them not only how to navigate it but how to choose the good over the bad? How to enjoy the educational over the mundane? How to use it in a positive way? But that doesn’t make for a very good slogan does it?

The American Academy of Pediatrics must assume that everyone is stupid and so instead of making a recommendation about filtering the input we expose our children to (and why do we need an institution to tell us, “don’t show your kids inappropriate content” anyways?) they say just ban it all. Ban it all, because it’s obviously a choice of one or the other. We will either park our children in front of the TV, computer, ipad, or cell phone all day every day, or we will interact and talk with them, encourage them to play outside, and model behaviors that will lead to healthy choices and lifestyles, and so they say that we must choose the latter.

What Do the Studies Say?

First of all, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that “studies show”, but doesn’t link to any studies. Where are the studies? So I did some research and found an excellent data source through the Kaiser Family Foundation. They did a meta study of all of the research ever done about children and electronic media from the 1960s to 2005. Because ipads and such are so new, there hasn’t been enough time to conduct any significant longitudinal studies, but what this meta study found about electronic media up until 2005 is pretty interesting. They also conducted a phone survey with 1,065 parents, and although I think phone surveys are pretty ridiculous, this one pointed to some interesting information. So here’s what they found.

  • 36% of children live in a home where the TV is left on all of the time regardless if anyone was watching it.
  • 65% of children live in a home where the the TV is on at least half of the time or more, even if no one was watching it.
  • Most kids watch TV and are exposed to media.
  • Most kids have some kind of rules about how much TV they watch.
  • Most kids watch TV with a parent in the room.
  • Kids in this survey spent about 2 hours per day watching TV, 2 hours playing outside, and about 40 minutes per day reading.

The meta study was the most fascinating because after analyzing the salient points, I am surprised that the American Academy of Pediatrics didn’t issue a statement requiring parents to have their children watch a certain amount of educational programming per day. Here are some of the highlights about educational programming:

  • Children who viewed educational programs like Dora the Explorer, Blue’s Clues, Dragontales, Arthur, and Clifford between the ages of 6 months to 30 months of age had accelerated language growth whereas children who viewed adult programming had reduced vocabularies.
  • Children who watched Blue’s Clues scored better on problem solving and flexible thinking than children who did not.
  • When preschoolers who watched educational programming were studied once again in high school, they had higher grades and read more books than those who did not watch educational programming.
  • In low income homes, educational viewing at ages 2 and 3 predicted school readiness.

But what about the negative aspects of TV viewing? What evidence could the American Academy of Pediatrics point to that would link electronic media to obesity and  sleep disorders? Here is what I found:

  • The likelihood of obesity in low income multi-ethnic children ages 1-5 increased for each hour of TV or video viewed.
  • Body fat and body mass index increased most between children ages 4-11 who watched the most TV.
  • 40% of children had a TV in their bedroom and were more likely to watch more TV and more likely to be obese.
  • Advertising and its effects on consumerism in children has been a continuing concern since the 1970s because very young children are unable to recognize the persuasive intent of advertising.
  • Children (average age of four years) preferred specific foods advertised.
  • Viewing frightening programming raised children’s heart rates and caused PTSD symptoms.

There is another phone study that claims to show the negative impact of baby DVDs for children under two, but all it does is show how completely horrible Baby Einstein videos are…and yes, they are terrible. Just try watching one for a few minutes and you will immediately lose a few IQ points. (To see an example of the type of quality programming for young children like the Your Baby Can Read videos, check out this video that my husband and I made.)

What Do the Studies Mean?

So, from what I can gather, the studies show that children who watch educational programming are better off than those who do not. This makes me wonder why the American Academy of Pediatrics didn’t issue a statement encouraging parents to increase their children’s watching of educational programming rather than calling for a ban of all screen time.

Next, the studies make a correlation between the amount of TV that children watch and their levels of obesity. But when analyzing data and looking at correlations, you have to wonder when several factors involved, which is causing which. My best guess is that it’s not just the TV watching that’s leading to sedentary behavior that’s leading to obesity, but rather the massive amount of commercials geared towards manipulating children to want to consume copious amounts of sugary candy, cereals, and soft drinks as well as nutrient depleted fast foods and other such junk.

In our house, we never watch TV with commercials and so our kids are pretty much oblivious to the marketing. But I remember one time when my husband found some Internet channel that streamed old Nickelodeon programming from the 90s, and when the commercials came on, our kids were hooked! Luckily, when they begged us for Bubble Tape and Gushers we knew that they wouldn’t be able to find them anywhere. 🙂

Maybe you SHOULD consider banning the use of screen time in your home if you do the following:

1. Keep the TV on all day long, even if no one is watching it, and give your child unlimited access to  ipads and tablets with no time restrictions whatsoever.

2. Let your children watch whatever they want regardless of how appropriate it is or if it causes nightmares. What’s wrong with blood, gore, killing, bad language, mature content, and clowns who hide in sewers waiting to snatch children anyways?

3. Don’t worry about your children’s exposure to commercials. Also, when they ask you to buy them the food and toys from the commercials, do it immediately!

4. Never watch TV with your kids, never talk to your children about what they are watching, and never watch what games they like to play on their ipads and tablets.

5. Let children keep TVs in their bedrooms in addition to ipads and tablets. Never make sure they turn the TV or their devices off before going to bed.

6. Instead of talking and interacting with your children or letting them go outside to play, just have them watch TV or play their ipads and tablets instead.

How to Use Screen Time Appropriately

1. Give up your cable subscription and be intentional about what your children watch. Learn how to connect your TV to your computer here so you can access things like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube (find else what else we watch instead of TV here). And with the money you save from your cable subscription, you can buy entire seasons of your children’s favorite shows such as Dora, Blue’s Clues, Preschool Prep, The Magic School Bus and other educationally based programming! Not everything needs to be educational either. I like following my children’s interests to help them find fictional programs about dragons, adventure, or fantasy based on whatever they are interested in.

2. Download YouTube Kids on tablets. There is a lot of bad stuff on YouTube that children can stumble upon. You can always scroll to the bottom of the screen when YouTube is loaded and turn the restricted mode on and it will filter out content that has been flagged as inappropriate, but YouTube Kids is even safer. It’s an app that you can download for free on any tablet and you can choose if children can use the search option or not.

3. Find cool apps to download. With my little ones, it’s easy to engage them with great learning apps like Starfall and Endless Alphabet. I also like to download apps based on their interests like cars and trucks, Dora, or whatever they are interested in. With my older kids, I really have to do my research to keep finding apps that will engage them in a creative way. Minecraft and Terraria are definitely some favorites.

4. Do whatever you can to limit your children’s exposure to commercials. If and when your children do see commercials, talk to them about the persuasive techniques advertisers use to get them to buy their products. Also, don’t buy them everything they ask for. When children ask for things that I don’t want to buy for them, I either explain that we can’t afford it or tell them to add it to their Amazon wish list and maybe grandma and grandpa will buy it for their birthday.

5. Watch programs with your children and talk to them about what they are watching. Make sure that you sit down and watch TV with your children so that you can make sure what they are watching is appropriate. By watching TV with them, you will learn what they are really interested in and kind find ways to bring the favorite parts of their programs into imagination games and such. Once you are familiar with what your children are watching, I think it’s fine to have them watch it on their own. Sometimes you just need kids to be entertained for a little while so you can get a few things done!

5. Keep TVs, computers, video consoles, and tablets in common areas where you can monitor what they are being exposed to. Letting children lock themselves away in their bedrooms to watch content with no parental guidance is just a recipe for disaster. If they are using technology in a common area, not only can you protect them from inappropriate content, but you will learn about what they are interested in.

6. Allow plenty of time for talking and interacting with your children and encourage them to play outside instead of letting them sit in from of the TV all day every day. Saying that screen time should be banned because human interaction is better is just absurd because it’s not an either or situation. If we’re talking about extremes here, then would it be best for parents to have face to face time with their child for every minute of every day? Doesn’t that sound just as absurd as children being in front of a TV all day? (Well, maybe not as absurd, but still absurd.) Do you think that as parents you can exhibit some moderation and self control and maybe not have the only options to be no screen time or only screen time? Isn’t there some sort of middle ground that can be achieved without the government having to step in and tell you what to do?

7. Encourage a balance and set limits if you have to. I used to have this vision that I would let our kids have as much screen time as they want, and they would choose to have a balance…but that was not the case! I have since implemented some rules like: 1) While eating, they can only watch something educational 2) Before having choice time (during the summer and on weekends) they have to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush their teeth, make their bed, do something creative, play outside, and do a chore before having choice time. 3) The limits I set on how long choice time is depends on what I need to get done.

In Conclusion

The main point here is that it’s all about moderation. As parents, we have to moderate a lot of things in the lives of our children. There aren’t always (or ever?) times when things are just black and white. It is our job to sift through the gray and find things that work best for us, our family, our lives, and our children. So take the time to do the research yourself, see what works for your family through trial and error, but don’t blindly accept the fate doled out to you by some institution who only sees things in black and white.