Debate continues as to how much ‘screen time’ kids should have with devices

Nov 22, 2015 by

By Maria Sciullo –

Lolly Grove is 3, but knows her way around a mobile device. Typical for a child of the American modern age, she has been sharing screen time with her parents and relatives for half her young life.

What makes Lolly different, however, is her parents’ studied approach to what she can and cannot access. On a recent evening at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library, Lolly happily bounced around the play room, stacking blocks and playing with puppets. There was nary an iPhone in sight.

Her father, Matthew Grove of Beechview, teaches language arts and media to high and middle school students in the Burgettstown Area School District. Her mother, Suzanne Grove, works in early childhood education. Between them, they limit her screen time to an occasional movie based on a book they’ve shared or an hour of so of TV as a reward.

“We just try to ease her into it because both of us are pretty aware of what’s recommended in that age range,” Mr. Grove said. And no social media, of course — “she’s way too young.”

Over a relatively short time, attitudes and recommendations have evolved to keep up with dizzying advancements in technology. In 2011, for example, a YouTube video of a 1-year-old “swiping” a glossy magazine as if it were an iPad quickly went viral. Many of the comments at the time were of the “aw, isn’t that cute” variety.

Now, perhaps not so much. Childhood development experts are constantly revising their recommendations when it comes to young people and screened devices such as smart phones, e-readers, tablets, laptops and that golden oldie, television. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a refresh of recommendations for parents and kids’ screen time.

In a 2011 study, the AAP suggested parents create “screen-free” zones at home, and that TV and other entertainment media be avoided by those under age 2. It hasn’t really softened its stance — but it has widened its focus to include the inevitable growth of children and teen use of electronic media.

“In a world where ‘screen time’ is simply becoming ‘time,’ our policies must evolve or become obsolete,” the AAP says in its Web introduction to its latest findings.

The December issue of Pediatrics notes that parenting has not changed, that limits must be set and that parents leading by example is still among the best ways to foster what is known is digital citizenship.

Media “is just another environment,” it notes. Parents have always been urged to interact with their children, and now that might include video games or carefully chosen apps on an iPad. It’s a given that teens will be using social media, and it’s up to parents to understand how their children use it.

This comes on the heels of a Common Sense Media report stating that high schoolers and middle schools now spend 9 and 6 hours a day, respectively, on screen time outside of school work. Teens, two-thirds of whom say multitasking between screen time and homework doesn’t affect the quality of their work, are diverse in their interests.

Girls, for example, are more likely to read and spend time on social media sites while boys are far more likely to play video games. Texting, which was difficult to measure, was not included in the survey.

It’s important to understand that teens are often juggling screen time with other activities, said Mike Robb, director of research for Common Sense, a nonprofit children’s advocacy and media ratings group based in San Francisco. They might be on Instagram but also are watching television. These activities are added separately for the daily totals, which means “9 hours” could actually be far less time.

“Is it [screen time] interfering with their academics, is it interfering with how they socialize, or their day-to-day living? If a kid is doing the things they need to be doing and they are reading, playing with their friends, they are going out, maybe it isn’t so much a cause for concern,” Mr. Robb said.

For today’s toddlers, screen time starts early. Who hasn’t seen a mom or dad settle a fussy kid in a restaurant by handling him their phone?

“I would say that parents should have a healthy dose of concern,” said Tovah Klein, “toddler whisperer” and author of the 2014 book, “How Toddlers Thrive.” She’s the director for the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and teaches at Barnard and Columbia University.

“One is that screens, particularly portable screens, are really quite new and we have no idea of the long-term effects. I don’t think any parent wants their child to be experimented on.”

Corinn Cross is a Los Angeles pediatrician and member of the executive board for the AAP’s Council on Communications and Media. Like other experts in this story, she is also a parent.

“Their brains are really set up for success in older age,” Dr. Cross said. “You start out with a ton of neurons and you pare that down, depending on how your brain is being used. So with the very young the recommendation was there be no screen time for children under 2.

“That’s a pretty good guideline, and it doesn’t mean if your child watches an episode of ‘Curious George,’ you’ve failed as a parent.”

At an early age, children need to learn how to deal with boredom and amuse themselves, Dr. Cross added: “Scores of parents before us have had to figure out what to do with the cranky, difficult child waiting in the doctor’s office, or at the dinner table… we all had to do that growing up. We had coping mechanisms.”

Giving the fussy child in a restaurant a screen to distract her often works, but it’s also risky.

”It gives them the message that when we go out, we’re not interested in being with you. We’re going to basically quiet you, silence you and it teaches them ‘This is how you act in a restaurant: you don’t communicate,’ ” Ms. Klein said. ”Mealtime is supposed to be social.“

Here, as with the other AAP recommendations, parental role modeling is important. Parents should put away the phones and tablets themselves, and not only at the dinner table.

How ubiquitous are screens? The AAP recently presented a 2014 survey of Philadelphia parents in a low-income minority community. Among its findings:

• Overall, 97 percent of the children had used a mobile device.

• About 44 percent of children under age 1 used a mobile device on a daily basis to play games, watch videos or use apps. The percentage increased to 77 percent by age 2 and plateaued after that.

• Perhaps most significantly, parents reported letting children play with mobile devices to occupy them while they’re doing chores(70 percent), keep the child calm in public (65 percent), while they run errands (58 percent) or getting ready to go to sleep (28 percent).

Despite cautions that too much screen time can hinder speech and social development, parents often view their kids’ interaction using a myriad of ”educational“ apps as justification, Ms. Klein said.

”One of the misguided notions is that somehow technology makes children smarter, and we don’t have evidence of that,“ she said. ”We try to rush development, and development is actually really slow. Learning takes time, and the notion that ‘my child is on it sooner and will be better prepared and successful’ really doesn’t have a science base.”

Studies have shown that when young children play with blocks, they use some of the same parts of the brain that “light up” when using a block game application on a screen. But there is a big difference, according to Dr. Cross:

“When we give kids actual objects to play with, the sky’s the limit what they can do with them. When you give them an app or a device, really for the most part, you have to do it as the adult who programmed it intended you to do.”

It’s not just younger people who are devoted to their personal tech. Ms. Klein is currently teaching an early development class to her college students that runs two hours. She noticed that when she gave the students a 5-minute break, they would often sit quietly, checking their phones and tablets.

“I now insist they get up and leave,” she said. “That doesn’t mean they aren’t still on their devices when they leave but at least they get up and walk.”

Source: Debate continues as to how much ‘screen time’ kids should have with devices | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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