Digital diet for your family

little boy using phone

Children are growing up in media-rich environments that include television, computers, phones, tablets, video games, and other mobile devices. Although these technologies open doors to a wide range of education and fun, there are risks associated with overuse, especially for young children.

Researchers found that increases in media use during childhood led to increases in BMI; fewer minutes of sleep per night; delays in cognitive, language, and social development; and poorer executive functioning.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children younger than 18 to 24 months have no screen time at all. At around 18 months, the possible exception becomes video chatting with relatives and friends. From about 1½ to 5 years, the AAP recommends allowing no more than one hour of screen time. After age 5, the recommendation is that screen time decisions be made factoring in the educational value and interactive quality of the activities, and that screen time doesn’t interfere with sleep or exercise.

Under the age of 2 years, children’s brains are developing fast. They need communication, hands-on exploration, and social interactions to help develop cognitive, language, motor, social and emotional skills. They are not able to generalize images from a TV or iPad to a real-life experience.

Preschool-age children are developing higher-level skills, including task persistence, impulse control, emotion regulation, and creative, flexible thinking. These skills are best taught through unstructured play and parent-child interactions.

Remember that all children are learning from their family members’ examples, so think about your own screen use. Increased use of mobile devices by parents is associated with fewer verbal and nonverbal interactions with their children. Over 40 percent of parents report that their children ask them to put down their devices, and about half indicate that screen time takes time away from reading and other activities.

Of course, tablets and phones are a good way to calm your child in the airport or while checking out at a store, but try to avoid using media as the only way to calm your child. Finding the right balance of real-life interactions and technology is important for children to learn and grow.

When you do use screens in your home, make them interactive:

  • Pause a video and talk about what you see.
  • Use the same toys, or do the same activities as what is on screen.
  • Apply information to real life.
  • Sing songs from shows during those routines at home.

Experts recommend a Digital Diet for children, customized to your family. Consider the following ideas for creating rules and sticking to them:

  1. Earn screen time by completing a non-screen activity:
    • Worksheet/summer homework page
    • Real play with siblings for 20 minutes
    • Exercise or outdoor play for 20 minutes
    • Completing a household chore
  2. Require siblings to agree on a show before watching.
  3. No screens before or after certain times (e.g., not before breakfast, not after dinner, etc.).
  4. Avoid screens in the evening, as this is related to poorer sleep.
  5. Create media-free zones in your home (e.g., no technology at the dinner table).
  6. Don’t leave the TV on in the background.

For the American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on Media and Young Minds, visit:

Additional information can be found here.

– Kellie Bouren, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health

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