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.
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.