A decade from now it will seem ordinary for a two-year-old child to be an iPad whiz or for a newborn to practice tummy time in front of a bright screen. We know this because the next generation of kids will be the first ever to have access to gadgets, electronic games, and tablets from birth.
In fact, technology is constantly being handcrafted for this young group of digital citizens. There are so many spectacular apps out there that promote everything from reading to stargazing. Those apps, in combination with the bounty of educational websites and TV shows, might have parents wondering, how much screen time is too much? While there is no straight and simple answer, here are some guidelines to take into account.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests kids ages two years old and younger be completely screen-free. All other children should get no more than two hours a day. That might prove difficult when households, on average, have eleven consumer electronic devices, according to the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. That means TV sets, tablets, gaming devices, laptops, MP3 players and more.
Although not all parents seem to mind the constant stimuli. iYogi Insights found that parents are fine with their young kids spending two hours a day on iPads and about a quarter believe it’s OK to give their child unlimited access. Almost all parents (92%) approve of their kids using the iPad as a homework tool, but 57% also admitted to using it to keep kids “out of their hair.”
While the long-term effects of very early exposure to technology are not yet clear, it is certain that educational apps that require children to be active participants are a better choice than watching TV. Sharon Rechter, co-founder of BabyFirst, an interactive media site for toddlers, agrees that content is key and cites a Kaiser Family Foundation study that claims young children have a “unique responsiveness to educational programming that has been linked to both immediate and long-range educational benefits.”
The key is for parents to find the right media for their kids and figure out how much they should get. Common Sense Media is a great resource for researching the most beneficial content for kids with reviews on TV programming, apps, video games, and more. If it’s just video games you’re concerned about, the ESRB ratings on games is helpful for determining what content is included in the game and just how age-appropriate it is.
When establishing screen-time limits in a household, Dr. Jerry Weichman, adolescent psychologist at Hoag Hospital’s Neurosciences Institute, urges parents to take a look at the child’s age and maturity level and make the determination on an individual basis. He recommends that if kids are doing well in school, are respectful, and lead full lives outside of the home, parents can give a bit more freedom with gadgets.
Scott Steinberg, bestselling author of The Modern Parent’s Guide , adds that screen time is not an “inalienable right” and that it should be an earned privilege. He tells parents to ask, “am I really comfortable with how much time my child is sitting in front of the screen, and is this starting to become a bad habit?”
In an ideal world, kids are using only the most brain-enhancing apps, watching the most educational programs and are learning second languages on iPads. But in the real world, kids are turning to screens for an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants or a round of Angry Birds. That’s where a parent has to step in and assess the situation. A good piece of advice for kids AND adults? “Whether using high-tech devices for productivity or play, it’s just as important to know when to take a break and power down,”Steinberg says.
How much screen time do you allow your kids? Do you differentiate between games and educational content? Share your thoughts with us.