Raising a child today is different from raising a child 5 years ago. Ipad was just a year old and had not reached every home. Smart phones had just entered the common man’s market. Google Glass and Samsung Gear VR were unheard of.
In 5 years, the world of technology has grown by leaps and bounds. IPads and tabs are common in every household. There are as many smartphones in a house as there are people. Or maybe more. Flat screens adorn the walls of every household. Laptops and PC have not disappeared. Screens are ubiquitous and cannot be avoided
So, how can we control screen time for children?
Hence, should we completely generalize that all screen time is harmful? Should we avoid showing our new-born babies on Skype to our extended families elsewhere?
With this fast evolving nature of digital media, American Academy Of Pediatrics announced revised guidelines for screen time for babies and young children, dated October 21, 2016. The earlier recommendation was no absolute screen time under 2. This rule is relaxed now.
Revised screen time guidelines :
Under 18 months – Absolutely no screen time other than for video chatting. Either with a parent abroad (expats will know this situation absolutely well) or grandparents in home country or relatives abroad etc. Video chat that mimics real live interaction bring in educational value. Eg : I have seen my daughter pick up words from her grandmother who sings to her via Face time or mimic her action.
18 months to 2 years – Highly educational videos like the Sesame Street series or videos by PBS is acceptable. Parents are advised to co-view with their children and explain to them what they are watching since they cannot relate to videos themselves. Research has shown contingent interaction – two-way interchange is far superior in promoting learning than passive videos. (While 80,000 apps are marked as educational, little research is done on its accuracy. Same goes for Youtube videos of rhymes and colours, I suppose)
2 to 5 years – An hour of highly educational videos is acceptable. Again parents have to co-view with their children to make them understand and help in applying it to the real world. Treat passive videos like a picture book. Explain to them as they go.
The changing guidelines do not effectively say what a single parent with no one to help should/can do to entertain their child for a few minutes, maybe to use the toilet or take a shower or cook a meal? What about long rides ?
For parents who strictly avoid any devices for children and worry if their parenting methods are wrong or if their child wouldn’t be able to adapt to the ever-changing tech world, AAP says these modern devices are so intuitive that children learn it’s working very easily. Pretty true. Give a phone to a 3-year-old for the first time and they can easily unlock and even start a game probably.
With this changing nature of media, how can parents change their parenting strategy ?
Recommendations for parents :
Set Limits – Media usage should be overlooked by parents. Set strict limits and schedule as like in other aspects of parenting such as sleeping, feeding etc.
Set media-free zones – We have a rule in the house of no TV during dinners. It really promotes conversation amongst us when there is no constant blaring of the TV. Similarly reading rooms, bed rooms, play areas etc should be devoid of screen.
Be a role model – Over usage by the parents should be avoided. Telling your child to switch off the Ipad while you hold the smart phone in your hand is not going to cut it. Children learn by watching adult action not hearing commands. Responsible adult digital media behaviour should be adopted.
Engage children – Involve older children in teaching you about new apps, games and gadgets and also even in setting rules.
Night usage – Avoid using of all digital media at night. Light from the screen inhibit melatonin secretion thus disrupting sound sleep.
Online behaviour – Parents should teach their children about online behaviour and etiquette, being a responsible digital media citizen and about leaving a beneficial digital media footprint.
Avoid displacement – Digital media should not be allowed to become electronic babysitters or given as rewards or taken away as a punishment. Rather a child should be taught its judicious use. Also give ample time for social activities, face to face interaction, creative play and fun.
Screen are everywhere therefore it is inevitable our children are going to be exposed early on. The guidelines will keep changing with evolving tech gadgets. For now, let us make sure our children have a healthy, happy childhood where they know how to interact with a guest, interact with their peers or take care of a pet.
(Since digital media has not been available in mainstream and everyday life until a few years back, long-term research of effects of media both on babies and adults is not yet available. Burden of proof lies with research in validating the pros and cons of digital media)
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