In a simpler world, life would be much more like Leave it to Beaver. June would bake cookies with Beaver during the day, developing his language and math skills, and then the whole family would sit down together for dinner, helping their child's social and emotional development.
But current reality is very different from this with parents and caregivers busy working and trying to keep up with the fast pace of life. With children signing up for music and sports classes at as early as three months old, parents have to earn enough, schedule enough, and network enough so that their children can have access to the best our communities have to offer.
So instead of coming home to the aroma of home baked cookies, parents leave work, throw dinner together quickly and spend time making sure their child can get the last spot in the fall class.
On top of all that, there are household chores that need to get done and quick callbacks to family, friends, or business associates. As parents, it's so easy to hand your child an iPad, iPhone, or laptop, or sit them down in front of the T.V. while you take care of all your daily tasks. Before you know it, your child has had an hour and a half of screen time and it's time for them to go to bed.
As someone who has worked with many children both at home and in school, I have seen firsthand the negative effects screens have on children. For those children that are struggling in the classroom, some of their screen time needs to be replaced by time spent interacting with an adult or another child so they can learn how to pick up on nonverbal cues and voice tone.
Remember: You are your child's best advocate, and you have to recognize when they need help. I have worked on several cases where children as young as three can barely pull themselves away from the TV to greet me or follow a simple direction. Just as some kids need tutors to help them with reading or math, some kids need a professional to help with their pragmatic language and social skills.
While cutting down screen time may be challenging at first, it's an opportunity for your child to find purpose and joy in relationships with family and friends. It is through these connections that they will encounter more meaningful experiences.
How much screen time is too much?
Ideally, we would live in a video game-free world, or at least in a world where the only video games were educational. But, alas, that is not the case. Even video games that seem completely innocuous could be harming your child's development.
There are several ways to tell if your child spends too much time in front of screens. Ask yourself:
Does he frequently throw tantrums when you turn off the T.V.?
Would she choose to watch TV over playing with a family member, peer, or caregiver?
Is he not hitting the right developmental milestones ?
Is she rude or inappropriate to guests in your home, or people she meets at parties or in restaurants?
Are teachers and counselors calling home to say that your child is having a hard time following class routines?
Are you having a hard time setting up playdates for your son because nobody wants to play with him?
Does he seem misunderstood by most people that he interacts with?
Does her attention span seem really short?
Does he often talk about swords, ninjas, or violence when playing with friends?
If you answered yes to some (or even one) of these questions, then it's time to consider cutting back on your child's screen time. Don't feel bad if that's the case, because you certainly aren't alone. In this day and age, it's nearly impossible to avoid screens. In fact, according to commercialfreechildhood.org, 40 percent of three-month-old babies are regular screen media viewers! Another startling statistic: while the exact percentage varies from study-to-study, more than half of all iPad apps are geared towards children.
How to find the perfect balance
I'm sure you've found yourself thinking about your child's video game habits (I know I have). Video and computer games are easy fixes for when you need to occupy your child and get something done but how can we find the perfect balance?
Frequently playing video games is definitely not good for children, but video games are fine in moderation. They can even help your child learn! The key is finding the right balance. The best way I have figured out how to do this is by giving my son choices within limits. Be clear before handing him the screen so he knows what his expectations are. If you go out to dinner with mostly adults, you can give your child the choice to play chess on the iPad with Grandpa or play his Leapster before or after the meal comes.
This way you are empowering your child to make choices. I don't recommend doing this all the time, but on occasion it's fine. This way, you can enjoy yourself a bit, participate in adult conversation, and your child can bond with Grandpa.
It's important that your child participates in the conversation as well, so encourage them to ask questions. Be sure to set clear limits, too, with simple consequences for violating those limits. For example, you can tell your child beforehand that he has to put the screen away when the food comes, or he won't be able to play again at the next dinner. This strategy of giving your child choices within limits works particularly well when limiting screen time, but it can be helpful in almost any parenting situation.
Want more tips? Check out our other blog posts, or schedule a free 15 minute parenting consultation with Jamie on our homepage!
Thanks for reading!