Screen Time: How Much is Too Much?

By Tracey Dowdy

Any parent who has ever braved a road trip with a toddler or simultaneously attempted to make dinner, placate a wailing, teething infant and tried to answer a phone you can hear ringing but can’t find, understands the occasional need to buy yourself some time and sanity entertain a child through the magic of television. Not that I’ve ever been in that situation. It happened to a friend of mine.

Many moms I know were adamant that their children wouldn’t sit in front of a screen and were more or less successful with their first child. The challenge came when the second child arrived and, instead of being twice as busy with two kids, Parenting Math meant that they were exponentially busier with two.

I myself thanked the heavens for Arthur and Little Bear when my girls were little; TV allowed me to grab a quick shower, make dinner or just sit and catch my breath. In the years since, tech has moved from the living room to our laps. Instead of turning on the TV or popping a video in the VCR, toddlers today can pull up an app on an iPad and entertain themselves.

But according to guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should be limited to at most two hours of entertainment-based screen time per day, and those under the age of two shouldn’t have any screen time at all. None. Zero.

According to Jim Steyer CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, "The number of kids under 2 years old who have used mobile media has increased almost fourfold, and as many children today under the age of 1 ... have used smartphones or tablets as all kids under 8 years old had done just two years ago".
That’s a staggering number of tech-savvy toddlers or “digitods”, as Patti Wollman Summers refers to them in her new book, Toddlers on Technology.

But let’s be real. In a perfect world, our kids would watch minimal amounts of TV and videos, never turn up their noses at broccoli, and would never strip a sibling down to their Little Mermaid panties and cover them in Vaseline from the top of their head to the soles of their feet. Not that something like that has ever happened in my house. Ahem.

As with most everything else in life, the key is moderation. We’re all aware that kids who spend too much time with electronics are more prone to obesity, lower academic achievement, and sleep issues. But the upside is the power of media to educate. How many of us learned how to count in Spanish from Sesame Street and still wouldn’t understand conjunctions without The Electric Company?

Just as an occasional ice cream cone won’t ruin your child’s eating habits, an occasional episode of Dinosaur Train or Adventure Time isn’t going to keep your child from getting into a good college. Balance screen time with imaginative play, whether it’s building a town out of Lego or a fort out of blankets. Make your child put down Madden NFL 14 and go outside and throw a ball with him instead.

The world will be even more immersed in technology when our children become parents themselves. Modeling good boundaries by monitoring their own screen time will help your children find that balance and hopefully establish life-long healthy habits.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, Ontario. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.

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