“Don’t sit so close to that TV, it’s going to rot your eyes out!” My grandmother’s words still echo from my childhood. I was fully engrossed in my tenth viewing of The Indian in the Cupboard and reluctant to move. However, the gore of her visualization was enough for me to scamper back to the couch where I belonged.
As parents, most of us grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons, movies and some after-school TV. But, we are raising the first generation of children to have non-stop access to the internet, movies and other visual media. Researchers are constantly finding new information about the effect this is having on their brains.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 18 months should avoid screen media and children under the age of five should be limited to one hour a day of high quality programming, preferably co-viewed with an adult. Correlations between child viewed screen times and obesity, poor behavior, delayed language development and inadequate social skills have been noted in recent research.
We know that “too much” screen time is not good for our children. So, in our households, many of us have created clever reward systems such as sending our children outside to play before they can have their tablet or downloading apps to monitor their usage.
We are great at setting limits in our children’s lives to help them be the best they can be, but what about setting limits in our lives so we can be the best parents we can be?
Whether we watch Facebook videos while our children are playing on the playground, check our email during bath time, or start up Candy Crush in the middle of playtime, the effect this has on our children is not a positive one.
Every step of the way, our children are looking to us. They look to see if we notice when they make it across the monkey bars, they want us to see the soap bubble beards they create in the bath, they want us to clap when they build a tower taller than they are. In everything they do, they look to us, but we aren’t looking back. As parents, none of us would believe that any app on a phone is more important than our children. However, in this new era of “continuous partial attention,” they often feel this way.
After hundreds or thousands of missed opportunities for connection, their brains begin to change. Not only do our children stop looking to others for approval, but they also stop looking to others for social cues. In turn, they lose the ability to read these social cues, robbing them of the opportunity to learn by example. Their language development suffers because fewer words are exchanged and their behavior suffers because they have to compete for their parents’ attention. This is not a reality that any of us hope for our children. We want them to be effective communicators who are empathetic, driven, socially adept and confident.
So here’s what we can do. Let’s dedicate our attention to our children. No TV in the background, no radio, no phones… just you and your child. If you do need to attend to something, tell your child, “I need to read a couple of emails, I’ll be back in 5 minutes.” If you slip-up and take a peek at your phone, just apologize. “Oops, I forgot, this time is just for you!”
And while an episode of Gilmore Girls after a long day of work or scrolling through Facebook for cat memes may not “rot my eyes out,” I will forever be mindful of the impact it will have on my children. Rory and Lorelai will have to wait until after bath and bedtime. I have parenting to do!
Speech pathologists Shelby Nation and Maeci Evans own and operate SpeakIndy, a speech therapy clinic on the northeast side of Indianapolis. SpeakIndy offers innovative services including individual speech/language therapy in Spanish and English, social learning groups, and an Early Learning Program (Developmental Preschool). Interested in a screen-free week survival kit? Contact speakindy.com to learn more.
National Screen Free Week is April 30-May 6. Visit www.screenfree.org for ideas on how to participate!