Baby development · Being a mom · everyday life · Inspiration · Life Changes

Screen Time, and why we don’t allow it.

Charlotte has discovered her sweet spot in the house – when standing in the far corner of the large back door she can look into our neighbor’s house and watch their 60 inch television ’til her heart’s content. Very sneaky kiddo, very sneaky. She is a bit starved for television these days now that she actually knows what it is, but Chris and I are standing firm with our goal of not letting her watch television until after her 2nd birthday. She’s already starting with the negotiations, though: “mommy, I watch tv… one minute”. I resist giving in to her little plea every time, and here’s why:

It’s no secret that our society today is driven by technology, and that doesn’t just apply to adults. I am constantly within arms reach of my phone and, as a result, it didn’t take Charlotte very long to recognize that phones were important. I don’t think there’s a child alive in the US that hasn’t seen a television, phone, iPad, or movie; I’d bet most kiddos encounter all of those numerous times a day. In the US, almost 90% of infants and toddlers are exposed to TV programs before they turn 2 and by age 3 almost 1/3 have a television in their room {source,source}. Frankly, that’s startling.

Now before I go any further I don’t want you to think I’m putting on my judgmental hat or that I sit here on my hoity toity throne dishing out advice I gained from all my awesome parenting experiences. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m new at this. I only have 1 child whom I have parented for all of 23 months so far {even less, since the first months are more about keeping the fresh baby alive and less about shaping them to become an awesome human being}.  I do, however, consider myself a kid professional: previously a preschool teacher, swim and gymnastics instructor, tutor, babysitter, and now a pediatric speech therapist.Please read this post in its entirety; I’m just like you, I skim through some blogs and form my opinion based on the phrases and power words I gleaned. I think this post may brush some nerves, though, and I don’t want someone walking away with the wrong idea. Parenting choices are always a difficult topic to approach, but I’m feeling quite brave tonight so let’s dive in.

I am so thankful I recently (about 2 years ago) stumbled upon several articles that offered some interesting information which confronted most of my previous assumptions about babies and toddlers watching television. Previously I was in the same mindset as most other parents out there: “TV is ok as long as the shows are educational”. I am writing this today, as both a mother and a pediatric speech language pathologist,  to provide you with the same information I stumbled across so you can then make your own educated decision.  I’m not quite sure how this research about television viewing and kids has not become part of the mainstream parenting mindset, other than that there may be some big corporations who make big money on children’s television programming at work keeping things under wraps. That, and the simple fact that television + children = quiet. Quiet means moms and dads and caregivers are able to do what they want or need to do without distraction. Quiet is good, tv quiet is really good and, I’m just going to come right out and say it…. quiet is easy. I’m sorry if that feels like a sucker punch, but it’s not like this is new information. Turning on the television to entertain a child is easy. Don’t be mad, really, I am not saying this to make anyone feel guilty. There are a million reasons why people let their children watch television/movies, and not all of them are selfish ‘because I need you kids to be quiet’ reasons. I have a feeling that some of you set your wee little babe in front of the tv simply because that’s what everyone else does. Or maybe you are just in the habit of keeping the tv on in the background all day for yourself? Let’s look at some research {I never thought I’d be saying that}.

When Charlie was still a fresh baby {maybe 1 month old?} I came across an article from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending no television/movie time for children under the age of 2 (source). I was honestly really shocked. I mean, what about all those Baby Einstein videos?! Aren’t they for, ya know…. babies?  I was confused, so I did some more digging. As it turns out, there is quite a bit of research out there regarding the negative impact of television viewing and babies/toddlers. But not in the way you may think:

“Infants’ attraction to screens is driven by the visual-orienting reflex. Our brains our wired to respond to novelty, especially bright colors, loud sounds, and flashing lights. This is basically a startle reflex, and it accounts for why infants stare at video screens. It does not mean they are enjoying the stimulation- rather, they are slaves to their own reflexes and actually do not have the control to look away. This can actually be stressful to infants, and may have harmful effects on a developing brain that has not evolved to tolerate all this stimulation…”

{source}

So basically, if our babies are ‘captivated by’ a specific show, it truly has little to do with the content, and more to do with their little brain reflexes on overdrive. Their startle reflex is being triggered over and over and over again, their brain unable to relax or shut down. This has big implications for the success of a child’s brain development in those first few years of life. Several recent studies outline numerous negative effects of screen-time in babies and excessive screen-time in children: sleep problems, obesity, decreased ability to concentrate, delayed language acquisition, reduced creative play, reduced problem solving skills… and on and on (source, source).  The captivating reflex aside, research has not been able to support the idea that children under 2 glean information from shows deemed ‘educational’ (source), so even if it wasn’t harmful, it isn’ helpful either.

 Unstructured play time is more valuable for the developing brain than electronic media. Children learn to think creatively, problem solve, and develop reasoning and motor skills at early ages through unstructured, unplugged play. Free play also teaches them how to entertain themselves.

(source)

The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends less than 2 hours a day of screen time for older children (source), since there is a negative correlation between the hours a child watches television and their reading skills (source). Regardless, the time a child spends watching television is time taken away from them engaging in other, more cognitive enriching activities.

I’ll be the first to say I haven’t parented long enough to see how this ‘no tv under age 2’ thing plays out when an older sibling is already allowed to watch television. I’d imagine it’s difficult, but I also know it can be done {i’ve experimented by borrowing my nephews, ages 7 and 4}. Here’s the thing about toddlers under age 2 – they nap. And it’s wonderful. Charlotte and I have gotten into a pretty good routine: she goes down for a nap, I grab a snack and turn on my guilty pleasure show {I can’t even bring myself to type it}, she wakes up, I turn off the television and go get her out of bed. It’s the perfect check and balance system because the beginning and end times for television are set and regulated by a tiny monster sleeping upstairs. Afternoons can’t be wasted away with me lying on a pile of unfolded laundry in front of the television. There is a small window of  opportunity for glorious tv viewing and once she wakes up it’s over. and sometimes it’s annoying {not gonna lie, sometimes I roll my eyes…. hard}. and there have been so many times I’ve just wanted to snuggle up on the couch and show her the Lion King and see her reaction to all the animals {the zebra seems to be her fav at the moment}. but I resist. mostly out of principle. I’ve made it 23 months without letting her watch television or movies. I can make it one more month. And once she is 2 we won’t let it be a TV free-for-all. We will continue to follow the guidelines recommended by the AAP {1-2 hours a day of high quality content only source), we may even offer less.

Now, you may be thinking that because I don’t let Charlotte watch television I probably have to lay on the floor and play with her all day long or she’d have nothing to do. but I don’t. I can’t. I would go mad. I have been very impressed with Charlotte’s development {her creative play, her ability to entertain herself, her ridiculous vocabulary, and mostly her language development}. I have seen the benefits of allowing free, unstructured play that requires creativity and active participation as opposed to the passive participation television requires of us. I also know that Charlotte has watched television under the care of other people {even my own husband admitted to letting her play a wildly stimulating alphabet game on his phone}. And that’s ok. And she has survived folks! But I’m calling all parents to truly think about what their child is gaining from television that they couldn’t gain from a conversation with us or play with a peer or even play by themselves…. the answer is nothing (and I know that because I’m a speech therapist. that’s what I do in life).

Since that was a ridiculously long post, here’s a recap:

  • AAP recommends no tv before age 2, after age 2 they recommend <2 hours a day of high-quality (read ‘educational’) programming
  • Any videos/shows geared towards babies are actually not best for baby
  • If your child seems ‘glued to the tv’ it’s because THEY ARE, thanks to a startling reflex triggered by the screen. aka: not good
  • Negative correlation (one incidence raises as the other lowers) between tv watching and reading skills, attention skills, ability to problem solve, creative play, and language acquisition.
  • Positive correlation (one raises, the other raises) between tv watching and obesity and sleep issues.
  • Not allowing Charlotte to watch television has helped curb my appetite for tv/movies (it’s not totally gone, but definitely diminished), and I am more productive throughout the day without TV being an option to distract me.
  • No television program/movie/app can deliver more educational/fundamental information for development than a warm, talking human being {at least while a kiddo is young. Once Charlotte starts asking me what the square root of 8,945 is or how many different types of kangaroos there are I’m sending her straight to the Discovery channel and a computer}

Are there ways you can begin implementing reduced television/movie/iPad/phone times in your home? Now is the best time to start; let’s not wait until more research comes to light in 10 years touting the negative effects of screen time on entire families. I think everyone can benefit from unplugging and connecting face to face.

mmmkay, are we still friends? Oh I hope so!

3 thoughts on “Screen Time, and why we don’t allow it.

  1. Beautifully written!! I agree 100%! Thank You for putting this out there… Parents need to be educated — and the info you provided is wonderfully supportive! 🙂 ❤

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