by Jennifer Ladner
Allowing a child to watch television for a half-hour to get ready for work or to get dinner started is a common parenting practice, yet many parents feel guilty when they hand over a tablet or smart phone to their child, especially if they are in public and may receive a disapproving look from another parent. In a recent article titled, “The Touch Screen Generation,” published in the April issue of The Atlantic, author Hanna Rosin describes her conversations with app developers at the Dust and Magic Conference last spring. When describing their own children’s media use, developers used phrases such as “purely educational” or “Wednesdays and weekends for a half hour.” Even parents who work in the tech industry feel the need to justify their children’s screen time privileges. All parents want to make the right decisions for their children and sometimes that turns into judgment of others’ parenting techniques, including their rules for screen time.
Over half a century of research on the effects of television viewing on children tells us that excessive screen time can lead to things like language delays, aggressive behavior, and other health-related problems. At the same time, research has shown that limited exposure to carefully-selected media can increase cognitive skills and pro-social behavior in children. Clearly, navigating the media landscape is not simple. A recent study in Pediatrics, a publication by the American Academy of Pediatrics, showed that changing the content that children are exposed to on television, from programs containing violence to programs with pro-social behavior, can have a positive impact on children’s behavior. When making decisions about the role that technology plays in their children’s (and their own) lives, it is important for parents to have support and guidance.
The following tips provide guidance for parents to make informed decisions about the role that media plays in shaping their family’s lifestyle.
- Raise awareness & lead by example. The very first step to becoming media literate is becoming more aware of how pervasive media is in our lives. Be mindful of when children are competing with your computer or smart phone for your attention. Model the behavior that you want your children to learn.
- Make informed decisions about quality and quantity of children’s media use. When selecting media, use DVDs, DVR or OnDemand options. There is always another show “up next” when watching broadcast television and cable, plus it is easier to control exposure to advertising with recorded videos. Even in light of the study referenced above, the AAP recommends children are exposed to no more that 2 hours of screen time a day.
- Select media that is developmentally appropriate and encourages interaction. Experts recommend that parents co-view shows with kids (especially small children), but that expectation is unrealistic for many busy parents. Instead of feeling guilty about letting a child use media, parents can be confident in the media choices they mindfully select. Common Sense Media is a great resource for ratings and reviews of children’s media.
- Balance media use with other activities such as reading, creative play, and time outdoors. Every family’s media management plan will be different because every family is different. Spending time together is what matters most.
- Ask yourself, “How does this tool add value to my child’s life experiences?” Media do not replace real-world experiences, but they can provide a tremendous opportunity to enrich a child’s life.
The media are powerful tools and they can help parents connect with their children. There are also exciting possibilities for interactive technologies to enhance children’s educational experiences. As a media literacy educator, I believe that media and digital technologies provide an amazing opportunity to impact children’s (and adults’) lives in positive ways. As a parent, I feel that it is my responsibility to provide a balance of opportunities for my children to develop the skills they will need to become successful communicators, better critical thinkers, and positive contributors to society.
So the next time you see a parent hand their child a tablet in line at the grocery store, or you witness a child using a smart phone at a restaurant, think about the role that media and technology play in your own life. Afterall, media are communication tools. They are not bad or good in and of themselves. It is how we use these tools which allows us to maximize the benefits and minimize the potential harm that can come from the overuse and misuse of media.
Updated January 13, 2016. This article was previously published on May, 26, 2013 at Telegram.com (http://www.telegram.com/article/20130526/NEWS/130529725/-1/RSS02&source=rss)