Last week I attended a screening of Play Again, a documentary investigating the (possible) consequences of a childhood removed from nature.
This generation of children is one which is likely to spend more time indoors than outdoors, playing and connecting via screens as opposed to getting out and having real experiences in the real world.
The documentary raised some hair-raising points. US teenagers spend from 6-15 hours in front of screen – their phone, their computer, the TV. They average 3.5 minutes a day of meaningful conversation with their family. Kids who play a lot of computer games have trouble distinguishing the facial expressions of real human beings. Watching TV exposes children to advertising and the cult of acquisition and materialism, and really the only way to fulfil those needs is to use the planet’s resources, often thoughtlessly.
Tim ‘Mr Where’s-the-Data?’ would likely rip these ‘statistics’ and ‘research’ to shreds but I think it still raises some interesting points for us as parents as to how we manage screen time. We are her primary models for behaviour but I own an online store and I blog – I’m in front of a computer a lot. As well as being Mr Where’s-the-data Tim is Mr Gadget – he spends the majority of his days on the computer, his mobile phone and in front of the TV, for work and leisure. Most nights we watch some TV or read news on in the iPad or tweet from our smartphones. We don’t hang out outside very much and we certainly don’t meditate in nature.
I think the key is balance. As this Slate article suggests, there’s little to support a zero-tolerance policy on screen time (for under 2s, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics). The concern should be about excessive screen time (for instance, more than 5 hours a day) the quality of the programming and whether screen time is replacing other activites like reading or being read to.
Toddlers who watched entertainment shows saw an increased risk of developing attention-related problems five years later (and an even greater risk if those shows were violent). Kids who watched “educational” TV shows exhibited no greater risk.
…Barney, Sesame Street, Winnie the Pooh and Blue’s Clues…. all of these programshave a single thing in common—they’re all (agonizingly) slow. They feature long scenes, they often deliberately pause the action to let kids catch up, and they shy away from wild camera movements and garish colors. Christakis says that fast-paced television shows trip your child’s “orienting response,” which is a reflex triggered by novel stimuli. That’s why your kid can’t resist watching cartoons: Every millisecond, there’s something new and colorful on the screen. Not only could this overstimulation cause attention-deficit problems over time, but there’s pretty good evidence that such shows immediately change kids’ behavior.
Christakis points out that while educational TV isn’t detrimental, there’s no evidence that it’s beneficial for your child. The more time your baby spends watching Sesame Street, the less time he has to do other things that we know are good for him, like looking at picture books or playing with three-dimensional objects.
NKOTB barely has any screentime at the moment but already I’ve noticed that she’s fascinated by the iPhone, the iPad and the flat screen TV. Right now her days are mostly spent sleeping, eating, playing on her mat or getting out and about. However, when she’s a bit older I won’t have any qualms about putting her in front of a screen for a short period to amuse herself while I get some stuff done. Hopefully I’ll be able to balance her screen time with reading, board games, music, sport and outdoor play so that she is able to appreciate that what happens on the screen can’t replace real life experiences and real life people.