Be a media monitor

Our children today grow up in the world of “apps.” However, the increased amount of time spent on media and apps can have a negative impact on a child’s growth and development.

Media time for infants and toddlers

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that children younger than two years need hands-on exploration and social interaction with people they trust to develop their cognitive, language, motor and social-emotional skills. Because their brains are still developing and low attentional skills, infants and toddlers cannot learn as well from traditional digital media as they do from interactions with parents, family and caregivers.

Media time for preschoolers

The AAP notes that the use of media in learning can be introduced at age 2, but parents should be cautious of about the “apps” they choose. Many apps in the cell phone stores do not have an educational curriculum associated with it. It is important for parents to remember that the higher-order thinking skills crucial for kindergarten readiness, such as social, emotional and creative, flexible thinking, are best taught through social play with other children and interactions with adults.

Health risks of too much media time

• Obesity – Increased media time for preschoolers has shown small but significant increases in a child’s body mass index (BMI) over time. It may also lead to weight gain later on in the childhood.

• Decreased sleep – Studies have shown that the amount of sleep a child receives is less with increased media time over those children who had no media time. The blue light emitted by the screens is known to suppress melatonin.

• Decreased family functioning – Simply put, when the television is on, interactions among family members are low.

• Vision problems – A recent study by the National Eye Institute found that the frequency of myopia, also known as nearsightedness, has increased dramatically in the last few decades. Two clear reasons for this spike in myopia are an increased amount of time spent looking at things up close and also a lack of outdoor activities. Focusing on things too close to the eyes for a prolonged period puts excessive strain on the eyes and has been found to advance the progression of myopia.

Tips for parents from the American Academy of Pediatrics

• Do not feel pressured to introduce technology early.

• For children younger than 18 months, avoid the use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.

• For children two to five years of age, limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programming, co-view with your children, help children understand what they are seeing and help them apply what they learn to the world around them.

• Avoid fast-paced programs (young children do not understand them as well), apps with lots of distracting content, and any violent content.

• Turn off televisions and other devices when not in use.

• Avoid using media as the only way to calm your child. Although there are intermittent times (like medical procedures or airplane flights) when media is useful as a soothing strategy, there is concern that using media as a strategy to calm could lead to problems with limit setting or the inability of children to develop their own emotion regulation.

• Monitor children’s media content and what apps are used or downloaded. Test apps before the child uses them, play together and ask the child what he or she thinks about the app.

• Keep bedrooms, mealtimes and parent-child playtimes screen free for children and parents. Parents can set a “do not disturb” option on their phones during these times.

• No screens one hour before bedtime, and remove devices from bedrooms before bed.

Consult the American Academy of Pediatrics Family Media Use Plan, available at: www.healthychildren.org/MediaUsePlan.

There is no substitute for human interaction. Children need our attention, not our “apps.”