How to moderate screen time for small children?
Photo by McKaela Taylor on Unsplash
Gen Z and Gen Alpha children grow up with a constant companion: screens. Even if they don’t get to have their own for a long time, they’ll most likely have at least on TV, a few LapTops, Desktops, phones, and tablets surrounding them at all times, constantly tying down their attention.
These screens, technologies, and gadgets are not only a distraction for the children but an invitation for the parents to make dealing with them easier. If they’re tired, fussy, or just loud and in the way, they’re stuck in front of the TV, or given a tablet or a phone as an “easy way out”.
First of all, why do we have to pay attention to the right amount of screen-time for children? The number one negative side of screen time for small children is the formation of tunnel vision. For example, in families where parents pay attention to never allowing screen time for their child until at least the start of preschool, children will be more creative, imaginative, proactive, and will experience everyday activities on a much deeper level. These children will role-play, invent crazy ideas and stories, and they’ll have a much more selected vocabulary. Children who grow up with shows and movies will develop tunnel-vision. They won’t have any use for their imagination, creativity, because the workings of the world, the “laws” of the universe will be spoon-fed for them. They won’t learn to question experiences. This tunnel-vision can be detrimental to their development. This tunnel-vision phenomenon is well-known by teachers and other people working with children, which is the main reason why schools are not – and hopefully will never be – digitized.
Still, sometimes, a show can be life-saving for a parent, but how much is too much? Studies show that from the age of 2 to the age of 5, the right amount of screen time for a child is one hour a day, and this should be exclusively high-quality programming. Such as shows that teach colors, numbers, music, vocabulary, etcetera. After this age, it’s up to the parents how much they want to include screens in the lives of the children. In order to successfully moderate screen time, and avoid the negative effects, here are a few tips parents all around find very helpful.
Be conscious of the visuals
Humans are visual thinkers. Some a little less, and some extremely, but we all are visual thinkers. For example, it’s much easier to build a complex Lego build based on photos, than a written manual. Because of this, it’s extremely important for children to widen and nurture their visual culture.
So when parents need a well-earned break, and they need to put down the kids for a longer amount of time to deal with other errands and tasks, they should make sure to be very cautious and conscious about what they are showing them. Make it instructive, and don’t plan screen time when not necessary. Have their experiences be the main plot of the day. Games, books, music, playing.
Never before bedtime!
It’s a common misconception that a movie or an episode helps children go to sleep. It just knocks them out. The physical radiations of the TV are very harmful to children and adults, but other than that, a complex story or visual stimulus is a burden for the mind of a child. Think about it this way. When you watch The Lion King, no matter how old you are, you cry. You’re overwhelmed. For a child, that’s a much deeper, much bigger, incomprehensible feeling.
So when planning screen time, never plan it before going to bed! After watching a morse complex movie, or an episode or show, children need time to digest during other activities, like cooking, playing, or music. Talk to them about what they saw, have them process their emotions, and store away these pieces of information before going to bed.
Kids don’t crave screens
If you don’t show a child what a movie or a show is, they won’t crave it. Screens are not like blocks, Legos, books, or pencils. They can quickly get “addicted”, and then you won’t be able to pull them away, so don’t introduce screens as a necessity. Introduce it as a luxury that adults earn. Their main stimuli should be all other activities, and screen time is just a time for learning and relaxing. And they should always have some downtime to process afterward.
Emphasize none-visual activities, such as reading, classical music, building, thinking, planning, and running around as every child should. The main things parents should watch out for are the quality of screen time and the healthy proportions throughout the day. Always be conscious, and never let that quality sink. Being a parent is hard, and these gadgets definitely make it easier but don’t go overboard. An hour in the daytime is quite enough to catch up on errands, and it’s always best to keep a reliable person around or schedule play-dates if you need more. And remember: this can become a bad reflex for the adult too, not just the kids.